It’s time to get connected

Mon, 5th Jun 2017
PREVIEW

Maintaining a happy relationship with your partner is about creating positive interactions, explains Dr Rhiannon Bell.

Thanks to technology, we are more connected with the world than we have ever been. But sadly, many feel more lonely and disconnected than ever before. We wake in the morning and reach out for our smartphone instead of our partner, respond to work emails before our children, and check in with Instagram over our own selves. By tuning in with a cyberworld that’s tirelessly flirting for our attention, we tune out from those who most deserve our devotion.

At the Psychology Cafe, we see many men and women who feel disconnected in their relationships. The cycle is a common one. The demands of work, bills and children consume our attention, schedules misalign, harsh words are spoken, hearts are wounded, walls are built, resentment breeds, and withdrawal becomes the norm. 

Lifeline’s 2016 Loneliness Survey found that 60 per cent of Australians often feel lonely, and despite an increase in our digital relationships, respondents described feeling “more lonely than ever before”.

Loneliness isn’t so much about a lack of relationships, but more a lack of true connection in relationships. When speaking of the disconnect felt within their marriage, many couples describe not feeling understood by their partner, having very little time for each other, and a lack of true intimacy in their relationship.

According to relationship researchers John and Julie Gottman, there are different types of interactions that contribute to or detract from our connection bank account. Positive and negative interactions are like income and expenses. 

Four decades of couples research has revealed that when conflict occurs in a marriage, a positive interaction deposits 

$1 in your account, while a negative interaction withdraws $5. To compensate for the loss, healthy connections require a 5:1 ratio between positive and negative interactions. 

The stronger the connection bank account, the more likely couples are to work together to solve problems (typically when conflict occurs). In the absence of conflict, successful relationships maintain a 20:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions, often described as ‘bids’ for connection. 

The Gottmans’ research has revealed that happy couples can make up to 100 bids for connection over the course of a meal. A smile, brush of the hand, open-ended question, kiss and eye contact are some of the ways we can make a bid for connection.  

If you’re struggling to remember the last time you felt a genuine connection with your partner, it’s time to bridge the gap. It’s never too late to repair, and enhance, the bond that once existed. 

Prioritise your relationship, turn towards your partner, tune into their needs, make regular bids for connection, and seek to genuinely hear, value and see them for the person they are. 

Dr Rhiannon Bell is a clinical psychologist at Mooloolaba’s Psychology Cafe. To find out more visit psychologycafe.com.au.