Would you believe that the boring moments in your life could be the key to marital satisfaction? According to therapist and researcher, John Gottman, Ph.D., the key to making your relationship last is to connect over the mundane stuff of life. Gottman provides a practical roadmap on how to do this well in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, co-authored with Nan Silver.
Take Maya and her husband Bobby, for example. They have a three-year-old son and they both work full-time. Recently, Bobby was sick with the flu. Just before Maya was about to leave the house to take their son to daycare and then go to work, she took the time to leave some flu medication in the bedroom for Bobby. When Bobby woke up and saw it, he was pleasantly surprised by the small gesture. The authors explain that when couples do this sort of thing for each other consistently, it helps to build and strengthen the connection between them.
However, it can be tricky trying to maintain a real connection to your spouse. Between the house, kids, work and other commitments there is so much vying for your attention. Instead of seeing the daily grind as a hindrance to romance, use it to connect over. If your husband is clearing out the garage and asks your opinion on reorganizing it, don’t brush him off thinking you normally have to figure this kind of stuff out for yourself. Engage with him. You don’t have to help him with the entire project, but you can help him problem-solve.
Maya stated that her husband really appreciates it when he can vent to her about work stuff and she helps him think it through. Of course he could do this on his own, but doing it together creates a feeling of being in it together. Gottman and Silver explain that when one person in the relationship turns to the other for attention, affection, support or share something humorous, these are all bids for connection. “Couples who turn toward each other remain emotionally engaged,” say Gottman and Silver. They explain that when you take the time to acknowledge your partner during the daily grind with attention, affection, support or a joke, your partner feels valued and you grow closer together.
What if you and your partner work opposite schedules? How do you stay connected then? Carlos and Bernadette have two girls ages six and 16. The couple both work full-time, but Carlos also does shift work. “When he is working five nights in a row, he is gone before we even get home, and we are gone before he gets up for the day. Essentially, we do not see him for five days,”says Bernadette. They stay connected by using pen and paper. “I find with texting we often use shortcuts and half sentences, and stuff gets missed or misinterpreted,” explains Bernadette. “I leave him a note every night before bed just touching base with him about our day, and he usually leaves some comments about our days. I like notes because we tend to write more to each other,” says Bernadette.
When Bernadette and Carlos actually get to see each other, they stay connected with simple gestures that go a long way. “I find that when life is busy, you are just trying to get from one task to another,” says Bernadette. She remedies this by remembering her basic manners and complimenting him, saying thank you to him and smiling at him. “It can be as simple as a smile across the table at dinnertime.”Bernadette will also look for ways to be present in Carlos’life by asking about his hockey game and checking in on things he has shared with her before. Gottman and Silver explain that when couples know details about what is important in each other’s worlds, it increases the couple’s love for each other and helps them weather the inevitable storms of life.
You can even connect over shared frustration. Maya and Bobby’s three-year-old son can be a force to be reckoned with. The couple regularly bond over the joy and misery that comes with kids at this age. The connection between them is deepened because they can share openly with each other and trust the other person will not judge them, explains Maya.
Maya also connects with Bobby by encouraging him to do his own thing. Bernadette agrees with this strategy. She provides some insight into how this works in her relationship: “We both need time to do activities that fill us up since we are so busy doing things that empty us. Balancing ‘me time’ with ‘us time’ is so important for us.” Bernadette shares that they refuel separately by doing things they love like hockey and book club. Then when they are home together, they have the energy to enjoy each other’s company.
Remember, regular and mundane is what you are surprisingly going for. Keep the grand romantic gestures for the movies. Your relationship has a better chance of surviving if you regularly laugh while cleaning the kitchen together.
If you have less than 15 minutes to connect with your significant other, try these suggestions:
If you have 15 to 30 minutes to connect to your significant other, try these suggestions:
Karyn Robinson-Renaud, MSW, RSW, is a writer and a social worker. She lives with her husband and two daughters. She and her husband love playing board games together after the girls have gone to bed.
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