These scenarios that come along with a busy lifestyle are familiar to most of us: When your date arrives at your place while you’re in the middle of an important phone call, you gesture for this person to come in and finally get around to greeting each other 10 minutes later, still feeling a bit frazzled from your conversation. Or maybe you just spent a great weekend together, but when it’s time to say goodbye, you realize that you’re running late for an appointment — so you rush out the door in a hurry, barely kissing your date goodbye.
These rushed instances are as understandable as they are commonplace, but they inevitably take a toll on relationships, because these transitional moments often set the tone for both a couple’s time together and their time spent apart. Dr. John Gottman, a leading relationship researcher and the author of What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, asserts that our “rituals of connections are crucial,” because they serve not only to re-establish the connection with our partners, but also to protect our relationships from betrayal. “The parting and reunion [moments] turn out to be really important,” asserts Dr. Gottman. Attention spent on each other in transitional junctures communicates that “you’re important to me, and when you come back at the end of the day, it’s an event. You matter to me.”
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How momentary transitions can safeguard your romance from betrayal
Being present for each other and asserting the importance of the relationship during these transitional moments is part of how couples establish what Dr. Gottman refers to as “attunement” — i.e., a deep level of understanding that couples both possess and lovingly express to each other. In his book, What Makes Love Last, Dr. Gottman asserts that this level of mutual attunement is a way for couples to inoculate themselves against falling down the slippery slope of negative thinking about their relationship that can ultimately lead to betrayal. “One of the other important things we discovered about betrayal was not only about turning away from one another, but it’s also about this negative comparison where one partner is saying in [his/her] mind, ‘Who needs this crap? I can do better,’” Dr. Gottman explains. “And that negative comparison gets people to start detaching from the relationship.”
Six seconds to a better relationship
The “six-second kiss” is one simple and fun activity that Dr. Gottman advocates couples incorporate into their everyday moments of transition. Described by him as “long enough to feel romantic,” the six-second kiss serves as a temporary oasis within a busy day and creates a deliberate break between the on-the-job mentality (i.e., going to or from work) and a couple’s one-on-one time together. In fact, the six-second kiss makes up just a fraction of what Dr. Gottman has dubbed the “magic five hours,” which is the amount of extra time he’s found that the most successful, happiest couples began devoting to their relationships each week after completing his workshops together. Time spent intentionally focusing on their partners during “reunions” and “partings” also comprise an important component of the “magic five hours” that these couples invest into their relationships on a weekly basis.
Reunited, and it feels so good...
We’ve all heard the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The same could be said for the moment when you’re reunited with your date. Those first few moments set the tone for your time spent together — either positively or negatively. Greeting your sweetheart with affection communicates this person’s importance to you while reminding your partner of the good feelings you share when you’re in each other’s company, and trigger reciprocal feelings of his or her own.
A number of small gestures can be combined in order to ensure that your reunion goes well:
Make sure to set aside your phone and any other distractions first, and then give your partner your full attention as you exchange greetings.
Share a six-second kiss.
Say that you’re happy to see your partner again.
If you’re used to a more casual way of saying “hello” and “goodbye,” these seemingly simple gestures of affection might feel awkward at first, but letting your partner know that you’re happy to see him or her creates an important, positive transition between your time apart and the time you spend together.
In a long-term relationship, Dr. Gottman says that having a “stress-reducing conversation” is a great way to kick off a couple’s reunion time together. “The one thing research has discovered,” says Dr. Gottman, “is that if they take 15 minutes apiece to talk about what’s stressful about the day, and their partner is an ally in listening — without giving advice or problem-solving — that can be very important. You have to have a time when you really have your partner’s ears; it’s a time when you really can connect.”
How to make saying “goodbye” even sweeter
Setting a few minutes aside to properly say “goodbye” to each other can make a dramatic difference in a couple’s thoughts about the relationship during the time they spend apart. So before you zoom off into the world going different directions, take a minute to communicate how much you enjoyed your time together — and maybe touch base about when you’ll be getting together again in the near future. If you don’t have a plan for your next date, just establishing when you’ll be talking to each other next (“I’ll call you tomorrow”) can help a couple maintain their feelings of connection with each other.
You should also make a point of asking what’s ahead for your sweetie so you can provide the right kind of support later on. “One of the most important things to do in parting is to find out what your partner’s day is going to be like,” Dr. Gottman says. “Find out about anything that is important that’s going to happen to your partner that day. If she’s going to have lunch with a friend or he has a critical phone call or important meeting scheduled, know about that and what it means to her or him.”
And yes, before saying goodbye to your partner (for now, anyway), don’t forget to savor that six-second kiss!