Three Ways for Couples to Create Connection

It's a few days shy of Valentine's Day, and of course, we're flooded with pink, red, and white everywhere we go. Such a lavish celebration of love begins 12:00am and ends 11:59pm on February 14. Once the clock strikes midnight, green and gold hit the shelves for a different Saint's day, and the doors to love lock shut until a whole 'nother year later.

(Can you tell that I'm not a holiday person?)

My biggest beef with holidays is NOT that I'm opposed to the decorations and excitement per se, but that so many people jump through so many hoops to make that one day count, while leaving the other 364 days hanging. It's as if that one fancy-schmancy dinner, card, flowers and gift can offset the stress, the fighting, and the disconnection that so many couples experience the rest of the year.

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By all means, DO celebrate Valentine's Day (and birthdays! and Thanksgiving! and New Year's!)! But please celebrate love on the other days of the year as well!

Is there a way for couples to maintain connection throughout the year without waiting for a special day? Is there a way to make each day special?

Why, yes! Here are three quick ways to turn every day into a Valentine's:

1) Nurture Fondness & Admiration
2) Be Your Partner's Safe Haven
3) Be Your Partner's Secure Base

1) Nurture Fondness & Admiration

According to John Gottman, one of the leading marriage experts, the number one predictor of divorce is contempt - the disregard and disrespect for the other person that leaves him/her feeling despised and worthless. Contempt (which says, "What's wrong with you?") is a powerful toxin that erodes the relationship at the core; once this sets in as the norm, the relationship is in deep trouble.

The antidote to this potent poison is fondness and admiration - identifying and communicating what you value and appreciate about the other person, leaving him/her feeling seen, wanted, and loved. Fondness and admiration says, "I value all of who you are, your strengths and limitations, your beauty and your pain."

These two things are probably what led two people to fall in love in the first place, but are unfortunately also the very first things to disappear after the honeymoon phase, when their respective differences and flaws come to the surface. It is essential that this foundation be laid and reinforced regularly for the two to be each other's safe haven and secure base (more on this below).

So how do you "do" fondness and admiration?

  1. Pick one character trait you appreciate about your partner (e.g., strength, playfulness, courage, vulnerability, kindness).
  2. Think of one specific memory you have that demonstrates this.
  3. Verbally say (or write) to your partner some variation of,
    "I see your ___________ (trait) when you ________ (memory)."

Example: "I love how hospitable you are. Thank you for helping my friend feel welcome at the party."

This may be awkward at first, the but more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more your partner will feel loved (and love in return!).

2) Be Your Partner's Safe Haven: Someone to Come Home To

Life is hard. It really sucks sometimes. Every day, we all experience stress from different sources - work, parenting, finances, health, etc. - and express it in different ways - verbally, emotionally, physically, explicitly, implicitly.

After a long, heavy day, we reunite with our loved ones with the hope that, with them, we can show up as ourselves - without any masks, helmets, or shields that we used to protect ourselves throughout the day. We reconnect with our significant others with the expectation that we can find comfort, rest, solace, encouragement, and company. Our partners are supposed to be our safe haven, our refuge from life's harsh realities.

Unfortunately, for many couples, this is not the case. Some people:

  • spend longer hours at work because they dread coming home to a critical spouse or to the daily fights.
  • busy themselves in their career or their kids, because they don't want to feel alone or disappointed.
  • feel panic when their partners pull away from them, wondering whether they're having an affair.

In these cases, the very person who's supposed to be the safe haven becomes the source of pain. When there's no assurance of a loving, lasting bond, people resort to their survival modes of fight, flight, or freeze, which more often than not makes things worse.

The best way to disrupt the escalating negative cycle is for YOU to be your partner's safe haven. Here are some ways how:

  • Listen when your partner is worried
  • Be attentive and help practically when the other is sick or exhausted
  • Ask about your partner's feeling and experience.
  • Provide non-sexual physical comfort (hold hands, rub back, hug, kiss on forehead) when your partner is feeling sad or hurt

One quick way to make this a normal part of your relationship is to ask your partner every day, "What was the most stressful part of your day? What do you need?" This one thing signals to your partner that you care about their well-being and will invite them to connect with you more deeply, more regularly.

3) Be Your Partner's Secure Base: Someone to Help Launch

All of us have deeply embedded dreams that don't always have the chance to show up and shine. These dreams are stirrings within our hearts of what we can do, who we could become. We are boomerangs that are meant to be thrown. We are made to soar high and far, to return to the ones who launched us (safe haven!), to be thrown again, to be safely caught, so on.

Our significant others are the primary attachment figures (besides our parents) to assume this role. They are the ones who are supposed to:

  • know who we really are and who we really want to become.
  • know our deepest passions and summon them forth.
  • instill hope, courage, and strength so that we can go much further than we could go on our own.
  • remind us who we are when we forget
  • celebrate whatever victories we have.
  • be our number one fan.

Rather than waiting for your partner to be this for you, how can YOU first be the secure base for your partner? Ask your partner, "What have you been working towards today? Anything I can do to help?" This communicates to him/her that her values and dreams matter to you, and you want to help them get there.

How to "Make" Love Each Day

In summary, here's how you and your partner can create a deeply loving, lasting bond that gets better each day:

1) Nurture Fondness & Admiration
"I appreciate how you _________." "I love that you __________. " "Thank you for _______."

2) Be Your Partner's Safe Haven
"What was the most stressful part of your day? What do you need?"

3) Be Your Partner's Secure Base
"What have you been working towards today? Anything I can do to help?"

Here's to a lifetime of love!

Need more support in your relationship? Click here to learn more about couples therapy.

© Copyright 2018 Joanne B. Kim. All rights reserved.

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Joanne B. Kim, AMFT

Joanne is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in San Jose, CA, who loves empowering individuals and couples to create emotionally thriving relationships. She fully believes that emotional health and relationship health have everything to do with each other: when one part hurts or heals, so does the other.

She holds a special place in her heart for adult survivors of emotional abuse/neglect and for high-conflict couples - those who desire deep connection, but feel stuck, anxious, and frustrated in their significant relationships.

What began as her own mission towards wholeness became a passion and calling to accompany others on their own journey to love and be loved. She loves creating a safe space for others to cultivate their curiosity and courage to explore the deeper places that hold the secret to meaningful relationships.


Further Reading

John Gottman & Nan Silver (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert.

Dr. Sue Johnson (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

Dr. Sue Johnson & Kenneth Sanderfer (2016). Created for Connection: The "Hold Me Tight" Guide for Christian Couples.