The material on the history of marriage that has been written by Stephanie Coontz makes it clear that expecting emotional closeness and affection in a marriage is a relatively new phenomenon and is related to western economies having accrued enough resources so that marriage is about other variables than having enough to eat or having children to work the land. Tying marriage to love in the twentieth century increased the divorce rate and the lack of stability of marriage. We are now far enough in the process of studying this new kind of marriage to have some data on what makes marriages work when they are based on affection and connection.
Many times per day, a partner will make a subtle bid for connection. When these attempts are rebuffed or treated with scorn, the marriage begins to enter the danger zone. A text or email to say some personal news is often an attempt to reach out. A return text or email that just acknowledges receipt and says let’s talk about this more later is a positive connection. A text that says “I’m working now” and means “Don’t bother me” is a rebuff. In the evening, an invitation to “sit and watch this TV show with me” is also an attempt at connection. If the response is something like “That’s a really stupid show and I can’t believe you would waste your time on it” you will be doing damage to the relationship. Happy couples make and accept a number of bids for connection daily. Try to be more aware of this process and if you decline a bid, be sure to let your partner know that you would like to have time together and give them an alternative connection. In the example of the TV show above, propose getting together after the show for a short talk or snack if you really don’t want to do that activity.
Happy couples also bring up troublesome or difficult issues but do it in a skillful way instead of a harsh way. If your partner has said or done something to bother you or make you angry, start the conversation with what we call a “soft start.” Say something like “I need to talk to you about something that is bothering me. When is a good time to do that?” instead of starting with an angry attack. Those 2 little changes can interrupt negative patterns in a relationship and help build a sense of connection and safety in a marriage. Spend some time understanding, studying and learning positive relationship skills to make the relationship last because it is now built on something that is more fragile than a survival partnership; it is built on having good feelings towards each other.