Imagine this scenario: a couple hits a rough spot in their marriage. “We need to talk about our relationship,” the woman tells her husband one morning.
Does he look up from reading the paper, stride across the room, take her in his arms, and exclaim how thrilled he is at the opportunity to hash it out? Umm, no. Most likely he reacts with something ranging from annoyed impatience to outright avoidance or anger. But why?
Because when the woman wants to talk about the relationship, the man feels like she’s disappointed in him. He feels like he’s failed somehow and that makes him ashamed. So he distances himself. That distance makes the woman feel anxious and afraid, like she’s being abandoned. So she tries to connect by talking about it. Which makes him feel criticized, so he retreats. When he withdraws, she feels isolated and scared, so she wants to talk. And so on and so on.
According to therapists Patricia Love and Steven Stosny, this pattern is all too common. In How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, they argue that couples aren’t disconnected because they have poor communication. They have poor communication because they’re disconnected. And the two things that create disconnection most are fear and shame, which are often triggered by the “we have to talk” approach above.
So if you’re not going to improve your marriage by talking about it, how will you do it?
Practice the Power Love Formula
1. Fix your partner firmly in your heart during four crucial times of the day: when you wake up, before you leave home, when you come back home, and before you go to sleep.
2. Hug your partner six times a day for six seconds. Failure to touch is a recipe for disconnection. You probably hug just once or twice a day and too quickly for any real closeness to set in.
3. Hold positive thoughts about your relationship. During the day, stop for 10 seconds to think good things about your partner.
4. Make a contract to hand out love with compassion and generosity. Both of you should write out a contract, beginning with “This is how I will show my love for you every day.” Be specific. Keep it simple. Make it doable.
Use these practical steps to improve intimacy and strengthen your marriage, beyond words.
Illustration: Marie Guillard