“To me, connecting is saying, ‘I see you. I love you just the way you are,’ and having that sentiment returned,” said Meredith Richardson, Esq., a mediator, conflict coach and trainer who creates retreats designed to help partners be their best selves.
She and her husband connect in small ways every day. For instance, they kiss each other goodbye and say “I love you,” when one leaves the house.
Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in couples therapy, and her husband have a similar ritual. When they’re leaving, they put their hand to their hearts and open it out. “It’s a visual symbol of ‘you have my heart.’” Then when they reunite, they hug for 20 seconds, “long enough to stimulate the bonding hormone oxytocin.”
Bush described connection as feeling like you’re close to your partner and you both understand each other. “You feel like you’re true partners in every sense of the word,” from making decisions together to supporting each other.
Because she and her husband were both previously divorced, they have “a heightened sensitivity to creating an environment where we connect.” For instance, they regularly look at how they’re spending their time. If they’ve spent a few nights doing separate activities, they schedule time together.
They also hold “evening meetings.” They go in their bedroom, light a candle, and sit side by side for 10 minutes (without talking about work, money, kids or to-do lists).
Below, relationship experts share other ways they connect with their spouses.
They cook together.
Psychotherapist Christina Steinorth, MFT, and her husband connect by preparing meals — from going to the farmer’s market to picking the wine to plating the food. “[W]e sip wine and laugh while we prepare our meal and because we created something together, it gives us a shared experience.”
They do chores together.
Steinorth, author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships, and her husband also work on chores together. “We get our chores done faster when we work together, plus it gives us extra free time to do something fun.”
Aaron Karmin, MA, LCPC, a psychotherapist at Urban Balance, and his wife organize their home and work on renovations together.
They touch each other.
“Touch has a really powerful effect,” said Bush, co-author with her husband of 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage. They regularly hold hands, give each other neck rubs, touch legs or arms at dinner and touch each other when they’re passing in the hallway.
They get out of the house.
“We regularly get out of our environment to share joyful activities like boating, skiing, kayaking, or rides in the country,” said Susan Lager, LICSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Steinorth and her husband bowl, golf, travel and exercise together.
They do thoughtful things.
Trevor Crow, LMFT, an expert on modern relationships, and her husband regularly do small thoughtful things for each other. For instance, he recently fixed Crow’s calendar on her laptop. She recently bought new bowls after he mentioned he didn’t like their old ones. These small gestures convey that they hear each other and want to make the other happy.
Lager’s husband welcomes her home with a fire in their fireplace. “Every single night he does this, I shriek with delight and thank him profusely, even though it’s a regular event.” When she’s home first, she welcomes him with hors d’oeuvres and dinner.
They engage in activities that are meaningful to each other.
“I am a kinesthetic person and touching or rubbing relaxes me, calms me, and makes me feel connected,” said Erik R. Benson, MSW, LCSW, a private therapist in the Chicago and North Suburbs area. Even though this doesn’t come naturally to his wife, she’s learned to use touch to connect with him daily.
Benson’s learned that she appreciates what he does, especially when it’s without asking. “When I stepped back and looked at all that she does from the big picture perspective, I mean really saw and acknowledged what she does – and admitted I have no idea how she does it, that was a moment of deeper connection for us too.”
He also spends at least 30 minutes listening to her. When his wife was a stay-at-home mom, this was especially important. “[S]ome days I was the only adult conversation she had in the day.”
Karmin’s wife loves to sew and knit. He watches the kids so she can focus on her crafting.
They stay in touch throughout the day.
All the experts mentioned texting each other during the day. For instance, Karmin texts his wife photos of silly things he sees to make her laugh. He also emails her poems (“Neruda and Shel Silverstein are favorites.”)
They pay attention to their passions.
“I find that in my own relationship, as well as that of my couples clients, it is very important to be interested in what your partner values and spends their time doing,” said Douglas Stephens, Ed.D, MSW, LICSW, co-author of The Couples’ Survival Workbook.
“There are thousands of ways to [connect with your partner],” Richardson said. Every individual is different. Every relationship is different, and thereby, the needs of every relationship will be different, too, she said.
So what are the special needs of your relationship?