5 “G” Spots to Improve Your Relationship
Thanks to Matthew Driggers, LPC for this blog post. Matt is a former colleague and now owner and clinical director at East Cobb Relationship Center in Marietta, GA where he works with couples, sexual addiction, enmeshed men, and couples recovering from betrayal trauma.
When people sign up for couples therapy, the number one request is to help us work on our communication. The moniker of "communication problems" covers a multitude of problems. When couples come into therapy, they often look for something to make a difference quickly. In reality, good marriage therapy takes time. I usually ask couples for a six-month commitment. However, there are some minor changes that you can make to create a significant return on the quality of your relationship.
When you married, you asked God and the state you live in to create a new entity. This entity is your relationship. Your wedding vows are an implicit or explicit agreement to nurture that bond. However, very few know how to care for our relationships. Marriage is a state of continually renewing and rekindling the attraction you have for each other. Without consistent care of your marriage, your relationship will suffer from the effects of neglect and distance.
Creating a bond means knowing that you and your partner are working together to create a safe and secure relationship. When we feel safe and secure, our nervous systems respond differently. Hormones are released that help us feel relaxed and connected. Our brains are less reactive to danger and more likely to respond to our partner rather than react.
Part of nurturing your relationship is knowing basic practices that can create feelings of safety and relaxation. To that end, I want to share the 5G spots to form a connection. Enacting these practices can make positive changes in the quality of your relationship.
Our first "G" is gazing – eye contact. It sounds simple, but making and sustaining eye contact - within three feet of each other - is difficult for many couples. Sadly, many married couples haven't held sustained eye contact since their wedding day. Here's a video showing the effect and difficulty of eye contact. As you watch it, pay attention to your reactions. I am aware that in a few cultures, direct eye contact is considered polite, and if this cultural dynamic is a part of your relationship, then please adjust this exercise to honor your culture.
Try making time each day to sit directly across from your partner and look into their eyes while discussing your day. As an exercise, keep talking and notice what happens if you increase the distance. Does it feel better or worse? What cues is your partner giving that they desire more or less distance? This exercise requires high attune
ment to make your partner feel comfortable. To connect with the emotional side of your brain, focus on the left eye, which processes information in the right hemisphere.
Greetings and Goodbyes
The first few minutes of a greeting can set the tone for the next few hours. Coming home is more than entering a building. It is returning to a place of safety. In times of stress, people don't look for shelter first – sorry, Maslow. In times of stress, people look for a connection. Contrary to Maslow's theory on the hierarchy of needs, people do not seek shelter first in times of disaster. Their first concern is for connection with loved ones. Studies show that after a disaster, connecting quickly with social support is a significant mitigating factor in developing PTSD.
When you first see your partner after a prolonged absence, make it a point to connect until you feel a change in your nervous system. These absences can range from a weekday apart to multiple days of travel. Renowned marriage therapist and researcher John Gottman recommends the "Six Second Kiss" when first greeting your partner. That's right, the first thing he recommends doing is kissing your partner for six seconds. David Snarch, another well-known couple's therapist and author, recommended hugging till relaxed. Whatever you choose, the point is to intentionally connect with your partner until your nervous systems start to register safety and relaxation. I suggest doing this before greeting children, pets, or guests. Prioritize your spouse and your relationship during reunions.
Likewise, leaving each other is a time that needs special attention. In this fast-paced world, most spend mornings rushing to responsibilities, young children, and getting ahead of morning traffic. Remembering to say "goodbye" to your partner is often an afterthought or a brief moment with, at best, a peck on the cheek or a quick hug.
When couples leave each other for the day, letting their nervous systems calm each other down is a relationally rewarding practice. Six to ten seconds is usually enough. These seconds won't affect your morning much but will profoundly impact your relationship. The world can wait for ten seconds while you demonstrate the importance of your connection to each other.
Goodnights and Good Mornings
When I ask couples if they could implement any therapeutic moments into their lives outside of my office, I often hear the excuse that "we have been so busy." I get it. I can't change the pace of life. I wrote an article about the speed of life vs. pace of life in Plane and Pilot magazine, which you can read here.
Regardless of the pace of your life, the burden of finding and creating opportunities for connection rests upon you. After all, your wedding vows were an explicit agreement to continue to find ways to nurture your relationship.
Couples serious about protecting their relationship find ways to connect at the beginning and end of their days. If you are a night owl, this may mean going to be early a few nights a week, and if you are an early riser, it may mean staying up later.
Creating these 5 G spots in your days is not about doing what is best for you - they are unnatural and require developing new habits. Instead, they are about doing what's best for your relationship.
Good luck, have fun with these and let me know how they impact your relationship.