By Rev. Jeremiah L. Peck, MA, LMHC
During these strange and unprecedented times, many couples and families find themselves navigating unique challenges and changes. While there are a variety of concerns that many are facing, namely that of health, finances, and emotional disturbances like fear and anxiety, many couples are also managing new relational dynamics in the context of increased time at home with one another. Consider how this increase of time together is not only a change in routine and a couples’ sense of normalcy, but additionally how increased feelings of stress and anxiety could result in relational distress if left unmanaged.
“Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse” – John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
Here are three quick tips to thrive as a couple while spending more time together.
Get to know each other again
While this may seem strange or even elementary, many couples do not continue to get to know one another after years of being together. Whether you and your partner have been together six months, six years, or sixty years, it is a friendship-building habit to continually cultivate closeness by updating how intimately you know one another, a concept John Gottman calls love maps (Gottman, 2000). Plan a time to sit with your partner and ask them about themselves. Get to know what they are feeling, what they are struggling with, what they are looking forward to, and so on. The Gottman Institute has a free app with questions like these and many others at the following link: https://www.gottman.com/couples/apps/
Touch frequently and intentionally
Touch is important for a relationship, but touch doesn’t always have to be sexual. Take the time to sit next to your partner, hold hands, and hug one another before departures and when reuniting. Studies have shown that prolonged hugging, namely for approximately twenty seconds, increases levels of oxytocin, a hormone which among other things helps facilitate relational bonding.
Play together and pray together
Certainly, you’ve heard and can finish the phrase, “all work and no play…”. In my work with couples, I’ve witnessed the monumental difference that regular recreational playtime can make in facilitating relational closeness. When choosing a way to play, do not get too bogged down by trying to find a certain game or activity you both love. Instead, focus on enjoying one another in a lighthearted context. Similarly, I would suggest that all work and no pray(ing) can make for a mechanical relationship. Take the time to pray with each other and for each other.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2000). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.