Beyond Functional (part 1)
Many years ago I organised an event for married couples called “beyond functional”. Many of the couples had been together for some time and had gotten into a rut, including my husband and myself.
Conversations became about who was cooking dinner, or taking kids to activities, who was going to be taking the rubbish out or why one of us left dirty clothes on the floor of the bedroom again. That initial spark seemed to have been smothered by responsibilities and the daily functions of life.
When Paul and I married I was so full of hope and promise. It was easy to say for better or worse because there was no way it was going to be worse. But years later it felt like we were going through the motions and I couldn’t understand why.
Our relationship wasn’t focusing on some key ingredients to keep it healthy. Here are two of the things we needed to work on.
- Bids for emotional connection. All of us are made for relationships and want to connect with others. We particularly want this with the special person we have made promises to. A bids for connection is when one of you will raise something hoping the other will responds with interest. We do this all the time. We can be looking out the window at a beautiful sunset and comment on it, seeking a respond, a connection where the other person sees it too and you are able to share the experience.
There are four ways a partner can respond. Firstly, they can turn toward the other person with interest and enthusiasm. “Wow, thats is a gorgeous sunset, look at the oranges and pinks”.
Secondly, they can look up and just see it. Even this is a positive response, you have heard what was said and have taken an interest in it.
Thirdly, you can choose to ignore what was said and keep doing what you are doing.
Finally, you can do the opposite. Instead of turning toward the bid for connection you can tell them off for disturbing you, “I don’t want to look at the sunset, can’t you see I have so work to do.”
The third and fourth responses lead the person trying to make the connection to feel rejected and make them less likely to keep trying to make connections over time. The relationship slowly heads into frostier waters and distance is created. The person you would naturally want to turn to first no longer takes that role and chances are you may start daydreaming about being in a different situation.
Various experts say that to keep a marriage healthy you need between five and 20 positive interactions to help mitigate one negative interaction. Bids for emotional connection is just one way to increase the balance in favour of the relationship growing.
The second thing we have decided to work on is
2) Shared fondness and admiration: Those of us with children would have heard the phrase – “catch them doing good”. The same principle applies in a romantic relationships. Catch each other doing something you appreciate and let them know. This is an issue for many people who feel they are constantly doing something for the other person and it just becomes expected. Whether it is doing another load of washing, mowing the lawn or simply putting a dish in the dishwasher.
It is so much easier to see what hasn’t been done than looking for what has been done and how to appreciate it. Many of us are wired to look for the next “threat”, the next task, rather than appreciating what has been done already. Take time in your day to stop and notice the good your partner is doing. This is an antidote to contempt and builds appreciation, fondness and respect.
So the challenge I put to you is to do two things to help your relationship from becoming “mearly functional”:
– Notice when your partner is making a bid for connection and respond positively
– Thank your partner for the little things they do. Name them and show you appreciate what they do in a day.
If you are able to keep these two things up it is a great start to having a relationship that is closer and more enjoyable for you both.