Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Emotional Attraction

        In Monday's post, we introduced the idea of building physical attraction in your relationship as a way of increasing the level of emotional connection and passion in your lovemaking. This can be done in a variety of ways, the most simple being making an effort to look good for your partner by wearing nice clothes and taking care of your body.

        Today however, we want to talk to you about creating a different kind of attraction: emotional attraction.

Woman hugging man from behind while smiles and does the dishes.

       When you are emotionally attracted to your partner, you value them for more than just their physical appearance. For example, you might find it incredibly sexy that your partner can carry out an intellectual conversation with you, and talk about a novel that you've both read or a current news story. 

        The kind of attraction we are talking about here goes much deeper than the physical. Think of it as an expansion of the idea, "looks aren't everything" in a mate. Emotional attraction means being attracted not just to our partner's hot body, but also being attracted to their aspirations, goals, and dreams. You value them for who they are and what they stand for. While you may already be naturally sexually attracted to your partner because of their physical appearance, developing an emotional attraction for them will make these feeling much more pronounced. 

       Your emotional attraction to your partner is largely determined by the ways in which you communicate. If you are communicating well, you are most likely comfortable opening up to your partner about your opinions without having to worry about being judged for them. This high level of intimate trust is reaffirmed in daily conversation, specifically the conversation that we call the, “How was your day, dear?” conversation. While it is a conversation that we all have, it is not necessarily always a positive one in relationships. 

        What this conversation does (or ought to do) is to help each of you manage the stress in your daily lives, stress that is not caused by your relationship, so it doesn't spill over into your relationship. According to Dr. Gottman’s University of Washington colleague Neil Jacobson, Ph.D, one of the key reasons that couples relapse after solving their problems in marital therapy, is that stresses from other areas of their lives affect their relationships. In other words, stress that is caused in outside environments such as work, often ends up coming in fueling the fire of conflict between couples.

        Couples who are overrun by stress and who don't talk about it with their partner see their level of emotional attraction drop and subsequently see their relationships and sex lives suffer. On the other hand, those who talk about the stress of daily life with one another and help each other cope with it keep their relationships strong. 

        Many couples automatically have this sort of calming down conversation, perhaps at the dinner table or while they are undressing for bed. Sadly however, this discussion does not always have the desired effect – instead of decreasing stress, it actually increases your stress levels. While there is a time to talk about relationship 'issues' with your partner, this is not the time to do so, especially if you are already feeling stressed after a long day at work.

       Do these conversations stress you out? If this is the case, you need to change your approach to having these,“How was your day, dear?” conversations to make sure they are helping to actually calm you down. 

        For starters, think about the timing of the chat. Some people want to unburden themselves when they’re barely through the door. Others need to decompress on their own for a while before they’re ready to discourse. Talk to your partner and see if you can find a solution that is convenient for both of you.

        The cardinal rule in having this conversation is that you talk only about what is stressing you out outside of your relationship. This is not the time to play the blame game and discuss areas of conflict between you two. It’s an opportunity to support each other emotionally in other areas in your lives.

        However, even though you are not talking about your relationship, you are improving your relationship by connecting with your partner on an intimate level. You will be more emotionally attracted to your partner because they are listening to you and genuinely caring about what you have to say. This heightened level of emotional attraction will translate into improvement the bedroom.

Couple sitting on the couch emotionally connecting through conversation.

        We have created a quick exercise that focuses on active listening to help you build emotional attraction in your relationship. The goal of active listening is to hear your partner’s perspective with empathy and without judging them. That’s all well and good. But this approach usually fails because couples are asked to use it when they are airing their gripes with each other. You certainly will not be feeling emotionally attracted to your partner if you feel like they aren't listening to you. 

        We have found that this same listening technique can be extremely beneficial if you use it during discusssions where you are not your partner’s target. In this context, you’ll feel far more free to be readily supportive and understanding of your partner and vice versa. This can only heighten the love and trust you feel, thus also increasing your emotional attraction for each other. Here are instructions for having this discussion:

1. Take Turns. Each partner gets to be the complainer for fifteen minutes.

2. Don’t give unsolicited advice. The major rule when helping your partner de-stress is that understanding must precede advice. 

3. Show genuine interest. Don’t let your mind or eyes wander. Try to stay intently focused on your partner.

4. Communicate your understanding. Let your partner know that you can and are empathizing with what they are saying. 

5. Take your partner’s side. This means being supportive, even if you think his or her perspective is unreasonable. 

6. Express a “we against others” attitude. Let him or her know that the two of you are in this together. 

7. Express affection. Hold your partner, put an arm on his or her shoulder, and say “I love you.” 

8. Validate emotions. Let your partner know that his or her feelings make sense to you by telling them just that. 

        Emotional attraction is just as important as physical attraction in having great sex. If you are not feeling emotionally attracted to your partner, chances are you will not be in the mood to make love. Try this active listening exercise tonight and see how it affects the level of emotional attraction you feel for each other. You'll thank us for it. Good luck! 

All for now,
The Gottman Institute

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