#45 — How to Reboot Your Relationship in 90 Minutes
The year 2020 has been a total romance killer. Most of us are stuck at home with our partners, juggling childcare, Zoom schooling, and full-time jobs. We’re stressed about money, Covid, and politics. Plus, we’re all wearing sweatpants… all the time. It’s no surprise that divorces are spiking.
I know of what I speak. The other day, I referred to my husband as “what’s-his-name.”
I asked relationship experts to weigh in and tell us how we can start to heal the cracks that 2020 has made in our relationships. Disclaimer: This is not going to be the hottest date of your life. But you’re not going to get Covid either. So in 2020 terms, that’s pretty hot.
The staring contest (five minutes)
Set a timer for two minutes. Sit across from each other and stare into each other’s eyes without breaking eye contact. Afterward, share any feelings or realizations that came up for you during the exercise.
Eye contact is vital for creating intimacy and attunement. Humans have developed the ability to read subtle emotional cues simply by watching each other’s facial expressions. (If you need inspiration, watch this incredibly touching video.)
I’m very cerebral (which is fancy talk for “afraid of intimacy”) so I found this exercise… awkward. But I did feel much more open with my husband. It created a warm vibe between us that lasted the entire evening.
The roller coaster (20 minutes)
Set the timer for 10 minutes and have one person describe one of their highest moments of 2020 and one of their lowest moments. The other person should only listen, and make sure not to interrupt or add details or comments. Then switch.
This exercise is something that Kiaundra Jackson, a marriage and family therapist, suggests couples do every week. And she says it’s not too late to start now. “This year has been a doozy, so this [exercise] is going to be even more impactful this year.”
Clearing (30 minutes)
Set a timer for 15 minutes. Sit across from each other and have one partner finish each of these statements as many times as they can:
“Something I want you to know is…”
“Something I see in you that I see in myself is…”
The other partner should listen without responding or commenting. Then switch.
Clearing is a powerful way for couples to connect. According to Jordan Gray, a relationship coach and the author of Overcoming Intimacy Anxiety, this exercise helps couples practice “clean listening,” and clears out the cobwebs that build up in every relationship. “Engaging in a clearing exercise with your partner is the most direct route of doing the necessary cleanup work to get back to a place of clarity and connection.”
We found that forcing ourselves to keep answering the statements as long as we could compelled us to reveal more than we normally would. But the guidelines gave us a safe space for honesty.
Gray says, “I’ve witnessed countless couples who were unknowingly harboring years-old resentments have them bubble up to the surface during a clearing exercise and have the healing and connection take its place.”
The seven-second kiss and the 15-second hug (under a minute)
Do this: Kiss for seven seconds and hug for 15 seconds. Repeat if so desired.
According to Diana Wiley, PhD, a marriage and sex therapist and author of Love in the Time of Corona: Advice from a Sex Therapist for Couples in Quarantine, “seven seconds is the minimum length of time it takes for kissing to stimulate the release of the hormone oxytocin. Hugging takes a little longer. The idea is to prolong your kiss and hug so that both of you can experience warm feelings of well-being — the benefits of an extra shot of oxytocin.”
Make your ask (30 minutes)
If this year has taught me anything, it’s that I have to ask for exactly what I want. If I want an hour alone in the house to take a bath, I have to ask for it. If I feel nervous about social distancing with our families, I have to clearly state what I need. This is difficult, even more so now, when the options and resources are so limited.
Each of you should take a piece of paper and write down two things that would improve your experience of your relationship. Take some time with it, and really think about small and big changes that would improve your life. When you’re finished, fold up your notes and exchange them. Take turns reading the requests out loud, and discussing which ones feel doable and which ones don’t.
Writing down a request is often easier than saying it out loud. It also is a chance to practice creative brainstorming. Sharon Gilchrest, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage, says creative problem-solving is the number one skill set for couples and families. “When couples need to make decisions together there are often feelings of unfairness and getting pushed into something they haven’t been able to explain well, or been heard well.” Her advice is to take the ideas and talk them through, giving the pluses and the minuses, asking sensible questions, and staying calm with each other.
This exercise made me nervous. I knew my husband was going to ask me to be more affectionate and to remember to lock my car, both things that for years I’ve tried and failed at doing. But using Gilchrest’s brainstorming approach, we actually were able to just throw around ideas without getting frustrated. He appreciated that I could simply acknowledge that he wanted those changes.
At the end of the hour and a half, we’d stared, we’d talked, we’d shared, we’d asked, we’d even hugged and kissed. And you know what? What’s-his-name and I felt way more connected than when we’d started.