Do the experiment
We invite you to reconnect with the ones you care most about. The experiment takes only four minutes of looking quietly and intently into one another’s eyes. Take the time to observe and think about what that person means to you and what you mean to them. Try to look at life from their perspective. Afterwards, if you want, take a minute or two to talk about what you felt. Most people who have completed the experiment have felt several of the emotions described below.
Ambivalence is far more common in relationships that we realise; it simply means I’m not sure how I feel about this relationship.
The state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about someone is normal and can exist in any kind of relationship, such as: a parent-child relationship, a platonic relationship or a romantic relationship. For example, a mother can feel strong emotions of anger, irritation and love towards a child, at the same time. The presence of anger does not negate her feelings of love; nor does the presence of love diminish the reality of her anger.
However, if you are feeling intense and chronic ambivalence regarding the future of a relationship, this will ultimately affect the quality of the relationship. Prolonged ambivalence may cause one to withdraw or disengage from the other, which may cause high levels of tension and result in the pileup of unresolved issues.
Steven M. Harris, Ph.D. LMFT, Professor of Family Social Science and Director of the Couple and Family Therapy program at the University of Minnesota observes that each person lives with a degree of ambivalence in their marriage. When we are highly frustrated with our partner, we become more aware of that ambivalence. When things seem to be going well, we are less conscious about our conflicting emotions and are less likely to dwell on what-ifs.
Dr. Harris concludes: “Ambivalence is part and parcel of being in a long-term relationship. How we handle that ambivalence—whether we choose to turn toward, instead of away from, our partners—is what matters.”
Some information for this profile was taken from The Institute of Family Studies’ article “Feeling Ambivalent About Your Marriage? So Is Everyone Else” published 31 Dec 2013.
If you start getting a little worried during this exercise, it could simply signal: a) you have no idea what to do during the four minutes and this makes you anxious, or b) connecting intimately with the other is anxiety-provoking because you are afraid of what you might discover.
Both are really normal, human reactions to such an exercise and most of our anxiety will pass.
However, when you start to experience anxiety towards the relationship as a whole, it can have a profound impact both on your relationship and on your quality of life.
Relationship anxiety is complex and can be caused by so many different things, and often that anxiety differs depending on what brought it on. If you feel unsafe in the relationship in anyway- for instance, due to the threat of emotional or physical abuse- the anxiety that develops differs significantly from the anxiety that arises from raising children.
Most people feel anxious in their relationships for three main reasons: loss of trust, unresolved issues and chronic stress.
Anxiety becomes problematic if instead of gathering information and creating a plan of action, you stay immobilized. Anxiety can undermine relationships if it blocks you for talking together about issues so that you can move forward.
Some information for this profile was taken from Psychology Today’s article “Worrying in Relationships: 3 Habits that Invite Anxiety” published 27 April 2012.
When we connect to a loved one in an intimate, authentic way, we feel less alone and even find joy within. To feel connected to someone is one of the most wonderful experiences in life.
When we feel connected, we are essentially saying this person really understands me, really gets me. Of course, this person might not get you all the time, but for this issue, for this moment, he does.
A healthy, fulfilling relationship consists of many moments of connection, sustained over time. It doesn’t mean that this relationship is devoid of conflict or misunderstanding or even boredom, but the regular, intimate moments of connection function like a safety raft that carries both of you through rough times.
What if you have connected with your partner, child or parent in this exercise but find difficulty doing so in the day-to-day? Margaret Paul, Ph.D., a bestselling author of eight books, a relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® process, suggests that you must first look within yourself. She observes that a person cannot connect with his partner if he is disconnected from himself. If a person is constantly trying to deny or disengage from his feelings, he cannot be open or present to his partner or child. Before trying to connect with his partner, she recommends that he do some inner work to allow himself to get to a curious and compassionate space.
Some information for this profile was taken from Huffington Post’s article “7 Ways to Create Connection With Your Partner” published 15 May 2013.
If you find yourself being curious about your partner, child or friend while doing this exercise- try to stay right where you are.
Curiosity is the often forgotten but essential ingredient in human connection. Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., couples therapist, founder of Imago Therapy and author of “Getting the Love Your Want”, encourages us to create a ‘state of curiosity’ by spending a small amount of time each day simply listening to your partner. The listening he refers to is a kind of conscious, curious listening that is open and accepting of whatever your partner is communicating to you.
Hendrix recognises that it is hard to sustain authentic connection through the day-to-day grind of jobs, household chores and paying the bills. And if you are also tending to the needs of children, pets, or aging parents, sometimes being attentive to your closest relationship can seem like just another duty in a long list of responsibilities.
Most of us fall into a kind of mindless, dismissive, passive listening when our loved ones begin to tell us about their day.
That is why the state of curiosity is something to savour. Curiosity helps us to re-experience our loved ones as if we are meeting them for the very first time and may also reignite feelings of excitement and attraction.
Some information for this profile was taken from Huffington Post’s article “Curiosity Killed the Cat, but It Can Save Your Marriage” published 06 Dec 2012.
If connecting with the other person makes you happy, enjoy it!
Perhaps through this exercise you have realized how meaningful and satisfying your relationship is or has been, and this brings you joy. Perhaps just this very act of taking time out from your day to connect in an authentic way brings you happiness.
The question is, how do you come back to this feeling again and again?
Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specialises in couples therapy and is the author of “The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong & Loving Marriage”, suggests that you might want to do a ‘joy audit’- basically, to ask yourself how much time do you devote to activities that bring both of you joy? Then, to craft a ‘joy plan’- to consciously add more fun into your regular routines. This simply means taking that weekly walk with your teenage daughter while she shares about her troubles at school, or scheduling in movie nights with the family or going for language classes with your boyfriend.
Fun, and the joy that comes with it, doesn’t have to be extravagant or extraordinary - it simply has to be regular.
We all want to be happy in our relationships. The wise among us though, just make a more intentional effort to sustain that happiness.
Some information for this profile was taken from PsychCentral’s article “2 Simple Ways to Enhance Joy in Your Relationship”.
In some ways, regret is inevitable in every relationship. We have all done something we felt we should not have done in most of our intimate relationships.
Why? It is in these relationships where we bare our souls, where our masks come down. And very often, our parents, spouses and children are privy to all sides of us, even the ugly ones.
If you feel regretful after this exercise, perhaps those moments of connection have brought to mind memories filled with things you felt you should not have done to your partner, or desires that you have not fulfilled.
Although healthy amounts of regret can lead to positive change, unhealthy amounts can turn into fruitless rumination and self-criticism that can lead to anger, resentment and even depression. Even though regret can be a helpful and corrective tool for many, the less opportunity one has to change the situation, the more likely regret can turn into chronic stress that may impact both mind and body.
If you feel resentful towards the other person, this might indicate that you are annoyed or angry about an unresolved issue.
The issue or issues could be a recent or longstanding one that might have been compounded over time. You might feel that:
- The other person has done something that was unnecessarily mean, hurtful, and thoughtless.
- The other person did not do for you what you feel they should have done.
- The other person has not done enough for you. Resentment refers to the mental process of repetitively replaying a feeling, and the events leading up to it, often from a negative and/or unhealthy point of view, causing us to re-experience and relive them in ways that affect us emotionally and physiologically in potentially destructive ways. The problem with resentment is that it often accumulates over time, sometime without your knowledge. Resentment is often the result of mismatched or realistic expectations.
When you are resentful, it is difficult to find empathy for the other; thus this can become a serious impediment to repairing or reconnecting in our most intimate relationships.
Some information for this profile was taken from Psychology Today’s article “10 Steps to Letting Go of Resentment” published 03 Mar 2011.
You could be feeling sad for the other person - for what he or she has gone through, or you could be feeling sad for yourself - for what you have gone through in this relationship.
Sadness is often an indicator of grief, itself part of the process of overcoming loss. The loss that you or your partner could have experienced could be tangible, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of youth, the loss of physical or mental health. Or it could be intangible, such as the loss of a dream, the loss of a relationship, the loss of hope.
Loss is part and parcel of the human condition, and thus, so is grief. So don’t be afraid or ashamed to express your sadness, because most likely, the other person feels the same way too.
Too often we are uncomfortable with sadness, so we try to avoid it, deny it or push it away. But if we take the time to express it, and share it with people we love, we are also inviting them to an authentic moment of connection. When we become vulnerable with those close to us, they will allow themselves to become vulnerable too.
Everyone may have different perspectives on what characteristics make a satisfying relationship.
It boils down to having your needs met in ways that you prefer, writes Dr. Willard F. Harley Jr., clinical psychologist and marriage counsellor in “His Needs, Her Needs.” Most people who report satisfaction in their relationships feel secure and know that the other is committed to growing the relationship through good times and bad times. Satisfaction not only comes from a sense of security, but also from meaningful communication, physical and/or emotional intimacy and healthy connection.
Every successful relationship takes work and commitment and if you would like to feel more satisfied about your relationship, Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author, recommends that you add flexibility, acts of kindness, similar goals and fighting fair to your relationship to-do list.
However, every relationship is a continuous work in progress. Even the best relationships can fall into a rut sometimes, and feel boring, empty or disconnected. The ones that stay the course usually consists of two mutually committed individuals with a common vision of a shared future.
Some information for this profile was taken from Psychology Today’s article “Ten Actions That Create Relationship Happiness” published 17 June 2013.
When we are thankful, we are more likely to feel connected to our partner or child or friend. When we are thankful, we are in a great position to feel joy or satisfaction.
Research has demonstrated that expressing gratitude- the simple act of giving thanks- can vastly increase our physical and emotional well-being. So don’t just stop at feeling thankful, express your thankfulness freely!
Sara Algoe, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her colleagues, in a study, found that grateful couples were more satisfied in their relationships and felt closer to each other. This makes perfect sense, as gratitude is the direct opposite of taking the other for granted.
When both parties focus on what the other is lacking, the relationship is filled with resentment, hostility, and tension. When both parties can see the positive in one another and feel appreciative, the relationship is filled with love, connection, and unity.
Some information for this profile was taken from Psychology Today’s article “Is Gratitude the Antidote to Relationship Failure?” published 01 Mar 2013.
Jolene Hwee, M.A.(Psych), MSPS
Director & Counselling Psychologist
Womancare Psychological Services LLP