How to Emotionally Connect With Your Spouse
Why does it feel like the very thing that precipitates and establishes a relationship becomes the hardest thing to maintain just a few years into the relationship? Why is it that many couples give up on their marriages because they “are just not in love anymore”, or “have grown apart?” I think the dating process sets us up for failure when it comes to maintaining and strengthening the emotional connection in a long term relationship. Think about it. When you are dating and really like the person, everything just seems to click. You enjoy time together, prioritize the relationship, freely compliment each other, and express affection almost without even thinking about it. Every conversation you have seems to strengthen the emotional intimacy in the relationship.
Fast forward a few years into marriage and now you’re struggling just to stay connected. When you were dating, the novelty and discovery of getting to know this new person was enough to keep you emotionally connected but now you’ve come to believe that you pretty well know everything about your spouse so conversations become logistical and functional. No more conversations about which family member is the craziest. No more pondering and laughing about what animal you would be if you had to choose. No more discussions around your hopes and dreams for the future. All your interactions have become logistical, problems solving or conflict resolving….and the emotional intimacy and connection has faded.
What’s the answer you might ask? If you want the right answer you need to be asking the right questions, so let me give you 3 Questions to regularly ask your partner if you desire to stay emotionally connected in your relationship.
1. THE EMPATHY QUESTION
What are your greatest stressors right now?
You ask this question and then just listen. Allow your spouse to share with you the things at home, the people at work, the expectations their family puts on them or the perfectionism they put on themselves. If your spouse has been telling you that you don’t hear them, don’t understand them or don’t care about them….this one question will single-handedly solve that riddle for you!
Empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to consider how it might feel to be them given their current circumstances. This question moves you in that direction. When your spouse shares their answer to your question, make sure not to minimize, discount or explain why they shouldn’t be stressed about that thing right now. That will invalidate their experience and cause more distance between the two of you rather than increasing your emotional connection. The Empathy Question is about connecting on an emotional level to what your spouse is feeling and experiencing right now. Question #2 is about taking some action.
2. THE SUPPORT QUESTION
What is one thing I could do to take some weight off your shoulders?
If I had to pick just one question to ask your spouse on a regular basis it would be this question. This would be a great question to ask every Sunday evening before the week kicks off again. But remember that if you plan on asking this question you also have to be willing to follow through on what they share with you or this will simply be added to the list of things you don’t follow through on. If you’re anything like me, you don’t really need to be adding to that disappoint list as it’s already long enough!
One of the reasons this question is so vital is because there is nothing more frustrating than feeling like you are intentionally trying to help your spouse only to have them tell you that “you never do anything to help out.” That’s the kind of stuff that will make you want to give up altogether on doing anything in your relationship. Not only did you not get credit for what you actually did, but you got chastised for doing nothing at all. These types of responses from your spouse are good reminders that not all activity is equal. The key to supporting each other in a relationship is not just doing SOMETHING but doing the RIGHT THINGS! If I spend three hours cleaning the house but what my wife needed most from was to help our children finish their homework, I won’t get the appreciation I desire and she won’t get the help she desperately needs. We both walk away frustrated even though I spent three hours trying to help out.
That’s why this question is so important to maintain emotional connection in a relationship. Rather than assuming we know what our partner needs, we need to regularly ask them because their answer will vary depending on the season of life they are in. When my wife and I had three children under the age of six what she needed most from me was a break from the kids when I got home from work. This meant keeping them busy or getting them out of the house for a little while so she could either relax or make dinner without them hanging all over her. There was another season when giving the kids baths and getting them ready for bed was the help she most needed from me. When they were older it was getting them ready for school in the morning or helping with homework in the evening. The answer to the Support Question will not be static throughout marriage so it needs to be asked often.
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3. THE PRIORITY QUESTION
This is a 2-parter: What do I do that makes you feel most cared for? and What do I do that makes you feel like you are not a priority?
Much like the support question, you may feel like you are loving and caring for your spouse only to find out the things you are doing are not the primary ways they feel cared for. I’m guessing that you and your spouse are not wired the same so it’s likely you both receive love in different ways. Asking them what you can do to make them feel cared for will give you insight into how they feel and experience love in the relationship.
The second part of the question is vitally important as well. Sometimes we are completely unaware of things we are doing that make our spouse feel like they aren’t valued or prioritized. I am twenty-seven years into marriage so you would think that I’ve got all this figured out by now. Definitely not the case! A couple of years ago I was sensing that my wife and I were not very connected so I asked her about it. Her response was that she didn’t feel “SAFE” with me. WHAT?!? Are you kidding me? I rarely get angry. I’ve never put my hands on her or thrown anything around the house. I’m one of the safest guys I know. After I got over myself and asked for more detail on what she meant, she explained that she never knew when something she shared with me might become the butt of one of my jokes. I wasn’t a safe place for her and it led to her disconnecting emotionally from me.
Emotional connection is about regular and clear communication around what you both desire and need in the relationship. Seasons change, we change, our environment changes, and so we need to consistently ask the right questions to maintain emotional intimacy in our relationships. These three questions will serve you well to ensure that you are connecting with your spouse and supporting them in the right areas. Commit them to memory and commit to asking them regularly in your relationship. If you do, the connection will grow and the emotional intimacy will strengthen year after year.
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