I'll come clean. This article has nothing to do with sex, or at least not directly. But it does focus on the most important thing you and your partner can do (in bed) to strengthen your relationship.
Ask yourself this -- when do you and your partner fight the most? Think about it, or track your fights when they happen. I bet it's when you're both really busy, or haven't been intimate in a while, or when you're in the car.
Why? Because most fights happen when couples aren't connected.
Now wait -- before you dismiss this as obvious or glib therapy-speak -- I urge you to consider what connection really means. Most of us have a vague concept. But what does it mean in real, practical terms? And what does it mean for you?
Researcher and couples therapist, Stan Tatkin, makes it all about connection in his book Wired for Love. From his perspective, and other attachment-based theorists, the relationship comes first. It's the foundation. This means that if we feel our partner isn't there for us, or if we feel disconnected or alone, then this becomes a threat to our sense of stability. And when we feel threatened, we respond by fight or flight -- so literally we fight with our spouse or run away and retreat into ourselves.
The key then, is to stay connected.
Think of it as a vaccine, if you will. Staying attuned to each other and connected each day reduces the risk of a major rupture. It helps prevent the insecurities, doubts, anxieties, or irritability that can arise for all of us in some way. Sure, you may still end up fighting, but it won't be nearly as acute. And haven't you noticed how much easier everything seems when you and your loved one are close? How life feels better? Deadlines seem less daunting, children seem less demanding, and other stressors become more manageable.
All it takes are a few small modifications to your daily routine, and most of it in bed:
Go to sleep and wake up together -- Tatkin calls this "launchings and landings" because you and your partner are there to help each other start the day and end it.
Create a ritual at bedtime in which you are both engaged (so no perfunctory kisses with your mind on the next day and your eyes already closed) that helps you unwind and re-connect. Many of us actually struggle with sleep and nighttime, with insomnia, anxiety, restless sleep, nightmares, and difficulty waking up. Not only can connecting at bedtime help you and your partner sleep better, and improve your health, but it strengthens your relationship as well.
So what if you're not on the same schedule? For you night-owls, put your early bird to bed. Spend quiet time holding one another, talking, reading to each other, or listening to music, even if you don't actually fall asleep together. The emphasis is on soothing, reassuring, and making each other a priority.
The same goes for the morning. Start the day together. If one of you is an early riser, and the other is not, try and spend a few moments in bed connecting before you get up. Or leave your late riser a loving note, or make plans to speak once you're both awake. The way the two of you "launch" each other into the day can have a major impact on your energy, confidence, and the support you feel all day. Really. Just try it and see for yourself.
Pay attention to other transitions -- After time apart or a day at work, make a concerted effort to reconnect again. Create a "welcome home ritual" that helps each of you relax and leave behind the day. Greet each other with affection and reassurance before attending to anything else (that includes pets and children, who will benefit from closer and contented parents).
Make eye contact -- Consciously look into each other's eyes when you're talking. Many fights happen in the car or over the phone, or when you're not actually looking at each other. If you need to re-connect after a transition, or when things feel tense, spend a few moments gazing into your partner's eyes. And if you want a gold star for your efforts, try and say something loving at the same time. You may even end up back in bed together, and this time it won't be about sleep!
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