Emotional Intimacy: Thinking Your Way to Greater Intimacy

Emotional Intimacy: Thinking Your Way to Greater Intimacy

Relationship Help Quick Tip

Can you take a moment and feel your spouse’s/partner’s presence right now?

This is what I asked a group of men and women during a couples communication workshop. In response to the question, several people reached over and actually touched their partner and said, “Now I can.” But that’s not what I meant when I asked the question.

So I reframed the question into a series of questions:

  • Can you think about your partner, visualize and picture him/her at will?
  • As you see him/her in your mind’s eye, can you also connect to his/her energy and essence?
  • Can you also capture the way your partner makes you feel when you’re actually together just by thinking of him/her? 

Relationship Help: Remembering the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Some couples at the workshop immediately nodded or responded in the affirmative to these questions and one wife shared, “Yes, I do that all the time. It makes me feel close to Ian throughout the day… Since we both have long work days, this is really helpful. I’ll think of something he said or did that made me smile, and it’s like he’s with me in that moment.”

Other couples didn’t realize they could use visualization in this way to feel closer to their mate. And one husband stated that he seemed to think about his wife only after they had a conflict; in particular he would think about her whenever he was still feeling angry with her. In those instances, his angry feelings evoked her presence, but in a way that only served to feed his anger toward her—not what I had in mind!

But if this husband isn’t alone, and if we’re more likely to automatically think about our partner when upset or angry with them (and in doing so, re-experience and feed our emotional venom), doesn’t it make sense to deliberately think about our loved ones in ways that deepen positive feelings and intimacy?

Think of it this way: Remembering is a form of reliving or re-experiencing—in essence, you are mentally visiting an event that already happened. So every time you think about an unpleasant exchange or argument that occurred between you and your partner, you are hitting the mental “replay” button over and over again. This has the potential to regenerate (and keep alive) waves of negativity associated with the original event. And before you know it, this cumulative negativity starts to follow you around and color your perceptions of your partner. This also happens when you think about your partner in more general negative terms (e.g., “He’s always in a bad mood”; “She’s such a complainer”; “He’s just lazy”)–these generic, negative attributions bias you away from the positive end of the perception scale. 

If remembering more of the negative creates waves of negative energy, then the opposite (focusing on positive memories), has the potential to build a surplus of positivity between you and your partner.

Please note that I am not suggesting you ignore or deny marital or relationship problems by keeping your head in unearned clouds of positivity while the relationship is crumbling around you. It’s a given that couples must work to overcome important and sometimes troubling relationship issues. However, it is also important to be mindful of where your attention gets pulled and what relational events you mentally highlight (and therefore repeatedly relive). If you look back over the last few weeks of your relationship and can recall some good times, a handful of uneventful experiences, mixed with a couple of disagreements, then you have a choice before you: Will you make the decision to highlight the negative? Or will you try to understand the negatives while also giving ample mental energy to reliving the positives in your mind?  

If your attention seems naturally pulled to the upsetting relationship events (misunderstandings, arguments, big blow outs), you’re definitely not alone. But would you also consider choosing to focus  on and/or remembering positive relationship events, no matter how brief or infrequent?

Relationship Help: Fostering Intimacy (Emotional Closeness) From Afar

Eric tried the following experiment for one month: He set his phone alarm to ring twice a day as a reminder to think about his wife, Maria. He was instructed to think of her in positive terms:

He could mentally list or write down certain personality traits she possessed that he admired (good sense of humor; emotionally sensitive; attentive, for example);

or

He could mentally list or write down specific experiences that occurred with Maria—recent or past (she hugged me last week while I was upset; she encourages me to do things to take care of myself; she called each time she was running late after work so I wouldn’t worry about her).

Eric was also instructed to notice and focus on the positive feelings/energy associated with each recollection and to savor these feelings for a least several minutes (or longer if possible). 

Here’s what Eric reported after his month-long experiment:

“It’s interesting, the process seems to feed upon itself. During the first week I had to force it, but it’s becoming easier and easier, and all of a sudden, positive things I had totally forgotten about are popping into my mind… and now even without the alarm reminding me, I find myself spontaneously thinking about Maria and smiling. It’s not like this is solving all our problems, but I do feel closer to her because of this…”

Are you ready to join Eric and give it a try?

Until next time!

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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