Art of coupling

Sustaining a relationship requires effort.

Coupling is complicated. And yes, marriages are a covenant designed to last a lifetime. But, alas, when the honeymoon headiness gives way and the curtain drops, marriage becomes a gentle dance between two people trying to keep up with the rhythm. Couples agree to stick it out through sickness and health, rich and poor, but martial vows do not address the other big things that can untie that knot — boredom; feeling out of touch; fear of honest conversations; or being in a platonic friendship.

Although the romance might take a nosedive over the years, the good news is that your relationship does not have to. Here are some science-backed tips to strengthen your relationship:

Initiate touch

A touch says, “I want to connect with you more”. I value you. And I value us. Touch is the most primitive form of communication and since birth, we are all wired for it. Science shows that just the physical act of a kind and warm touch lowers one’s blood pressure and releases significant levels of oxytocin “the love hormone”. Marriage experts, Dr Charles & Dr Elizabeth Schmitz write, “To touch someone you love is to acknowledge their presence and to communicate your desire for them.” They even go so far to say that consistent touch ‘outranks sex’ in characteristics of a successful marriage.

I recently read an article stating that our current societies are dangerously becoming touch deprived — suffering from a shortage of tactile stimulation. There is even a name for it — “touch hunger’. The problem in relationships, is we often hold back — shy or afraid of rejection — waiting for the other person to initiate contact. The key is for you to initiate contact first, especially if it’s been a long time since you have shared some intimacy. 

Soft on the person, firm on the issue

At times, we might worry when we feel irritated with our partner, and might even take it as a sign that our marriage may be on the rocks. But according to a University of Michigan study, feeling irritated with each other is a sign of being healthily engaged with one another. “It means you’ve become comfortable expressing yourself over time,” says study co-author Kira Birditt, PhD. “Relationships that are close and positive can also be irritating.” That said, there is a limit. Things get a bit more serious if we engage in showing contempt or resentment for one another.

Dr John Gottman, an expert on couple studies, concludes that the best predictor of divorce is when one or both partners show contempt in the relationship. Contempt, the opposite of respect, is often communicated through negative judgment, criticism, or sarcasm regarding the worth of an individual. Instead, if you find yourself arguing, the best technique to use is to separate the person from the issue (the behaviour). The idea is not to “get personal” by attacking the person while ignoring the issue. 

Make time vs find time

With our hectic schedules, we take our partner for granted and hence, we might fall victim to the “get in where you fit in” mentality. But the key is to demonstrate to your partner that he/she is important enough for you to ‘make the time’ and is a priority in your life.

Schedule a date night every Friday; pray together in the temple as a bi-weekly ritual, or just simply schedule a 10-minute session to share your day with each other. These things can vary and do not have to be written in stone. As we get caught up in our lives, we tend to forget that any form of a shared experience is a vital contributor to bonding. In fact, even laughing together or having inside jokes strengthen ties between couples. The more experiences you have together as a couple, positive or negative, further deepen your bond.

Switch roles

If you usually book the movie tickets, let your partner do it for a change. Or play hooky from work — pretend you’re both tourists, and go visit the latest art display; or become sports enthusiasts for the day, and go for a hike at the nearest nature spot. Rewarding experiences flood your brain with dopamine — a ‘feel-good’ chemical — and according to research if your partner is present, the feeling becomes linked to them.

Small acts of kindness

Don’t forget that small gestures towards your partner which say “I’m thinking of you” have immense power. You can do this in many creative ways: surprise your wife at work with some flowers, slip in a small love note in your husband’s lunchbox, or even just a simple SMS “thank you for everything.” These are all small but effective ways of showing affection. In fact, research shows that the combination of a few small gestures is much more powerful than a few grand or expensive gifts every few years.

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