I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Great relationships aren’t built in a day. Great relationships are built daily. While date nights and vacations are wonderful, either we don’t do those often enough to keep emotional intimacy going, or there’s so much pressure to have fun and connect they can do the opposite. What’s the answer? Instead of focusing on date nights, focus on daily micro-connections to create real connection and closeness. Today, I’m sharing my top 10 micro-connection tips, so stay tuned!
Whenever I go to restaurants, I love looking around to see who’s on a first date (I can tell because there’s a lot of hair tossing, attentiveness, laughter, active conversation, and quick touches to the arm). Then I like to look for who’s on the dreaded “date night” (key music from Jaws).
I can always tell when some therapist or well-meaning friend told a struggling couple to have a date night. I mean, what a great idea; we’re barely getting along, just about everything you do bugs me, so let’s definitely spend some forced hours together trying to get that spark back. Brilliant plan! I see them sitting at the table, having a stilted conversation (God forbid they were ordered not to talk about the kids or work – then there’s really nothing to say), they’re gulping down a too-expensive bottle of wine, they order quickly because they’ve been ordering the same meal at this restaurant for years, and there’s no touching, flirting or playful banter.
And I know exactly what they’re thinking:
- Let me see, the babysitter is going to be at least $60, and the bill for this meal –wait, did she just add shrimp to that salad?! This “date” is going to cost at least $200, and I’m still not going to get sex later.
- Oh God, he’s going to expect sex later. I really don’t want to have sex when all I can focus on is the way he’s chewing on those ice cubes. Who the hell puts ice in wine anyway?!
Now, I know that some of you love your date nights. You get away from the kids or the house and have time to relax and connect. However, for way too many of you, it’s not something you really look forward to. I know for a lot of women, just finding a new thing to do (new restaurant, play, or movie), taking care of the logistics with kids and pets, and getting everything done so you can “relax” makes the date night feel like one more thing on your “to do” list and not something awesome to look forward to.
Let’s think about the idea of “date night” for a minute. There’s just too much pressure to make a big connection. You’re supposed to have fun, and there’s definitely pressure to have sex later. I mean, it’s friggin’ date night! So, you finally get home (exhausted after the week and the pressure of date night), and now you’re supposed to have rockstar sex to show that you’re interested in improving the relationship. The inevitable result: non-rockstar sex (if any happens at all) because women have to feel some connection and closeness to get excited about sex, and being tired at the end of a long and stressful day and date is not getting her there.
This can definitely be true for you men out there, too. You’ve also worked hard all week, and this big build-up is not helping you to feel relaxed or sexy. You know you need to “wine and dine,” and it just ends up feeling like too much.
So, why do therapists and friends recommend a date night? It’s to connect. I will tell you right now that the vast majority of people I work with complain about one thing the most in their relationship. It’s not actually money or sex. It’s about feeling emotionally disconnected. The issue is that lasting emotional connection does not come from big, grand gestures. It’s not from the whirlwind vacations, big date nights, or sex (although all of these things can be great). I listen to many couples who say they watch a show together after a long day and think that’s connecting, but it doesn’t build true emotional closeness and intimacy. When you’re watching a show together, you’re adjacent, not connecting on an emotionally close level.
Lasting emotional connection is built from micro-connections. These don’t happen in one fell swoop. These happen over the course of a day, that builds into weeks and months. You’ve got to build the trust to create this connection, and that comes from consistency. You don’t build trust in your relationship on a once-a-week date night. You build it daily.
These micro-connections are important, ultimately, so you can also have constructive conversations to problem-solve and better the relationship. What do I always say? You have to connect to correct! Connections like these build the foundation for being able to “correct” later. If you’re feeling connected and then later ask your partner to listen to something that’s bothering you, they are much more likely to do it.
So, I want you to focus on building these small connections and intimacies throughout the day and week.
Here are my top 10 tips for making it happen:
- If you’re in the house and your partner comes home, go to the door and greet them. Yes, stop whatever you’re doing, go to the door, and create a real connection. Make eye contact, say something thoughtful like, “I’m so happy you’re home.” Extra points if you make out for a minute in the doorway.
- Make a point to kiss your partner good morning and good night (or at least go out of your way to say it to them) every day.
- Continue to make bids for time together. If you’ve been asking your partner to go to church with you for years and they “always” say no, think of something different to ask them that you think you might get a “yes” for. Start somewhere smaller and build to going to church.
- Touch your partner more often, even if it’s just getting their attention. A good trick is to touch your partner every time you touch your phone!
- Make it a goal to consciously do one nice thing for your partner, every day. This could be putting away the dishes without being asked, cooking a favorite meal, filling up the gas tank, or any number of other tasks to make your partner’s life just a tiny bit easier. Just the act of thinking of nice things to do for your partner will have you in a better headspace.
- Don’t make any statements and, instead, ask your partner questions (open-ended) about themselves (not just their day). “If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?” “What’s one thing you’d like to change this month?” “If I was the perfect partner, what would I be doing more of?”
- Make it a point not to criticize or judge at all! This will be easier if you’re not making statements and only asking questions. Making comments on your partner’s driving, how they “could” or “should” do something, or comparing what they’re doing to how you’d do it are all ways you judge without realizing it.
- Make it a goal to catch your partner doing something right every day and tell them what you see. Compliments and appreciation that are real feel great for the receiver and the giver.
- Kiss your partner for more than five seconds once a day.
- Have time each day that’s an electronics-free zone (if it can be more than a meal time, then great)! This means no phones in the room, no TV on, etc.
If you are going to try to grab a bite or if you need to mattress shop or something, I highly suggest doing it on a Monday or Tuesday night. One of the reasons date nights fail is that couples schedule them on a Friday night at the end of a long week, and everyone is tired going in! On a Monday or Tuesday, you’re feeling rested from the weekend (OK, those of us with kids aren’t so much rested as “less exhausted,” but anything helps when you’re trying to connect). There are also less people out on these nights, so if you do end up sharing a quick bite to eat, you won’t need a reservation. It makes the night more casual and easier to “go with the flow.” Relaxed couples are much happier couples.
If you start practicing this combination of doing random acts of kindness for one another and creating time that’s more relaxed together, you’ll find that you’ll start to talk more and argue less. You’ll find yourselves moving towards one another again. It took time to become distant, so give yourselves time to become close. If you do these practices consistently, you’ll be going on that date (and enjoying it) before you know it.