A quick peck on my cheek, as he dashed out to catch the train for long days at work in New York City — that’s how Tim and I parted each day. We came together again in the same way with a greeting that acknowledged we occupied the same space, but left me longing for a racy Hollywood embrace.
I didn’t have much hope for change. I’d complained about Tim’s lack of enthusiastic greetings after returning from exhausting work trips (“I just need time to ease into being back in the family,” he’d say.) We’d been doing it this way for a long time, and that’s just the way we are, I sighed to myself.
Then one evening I heard Gretchen Rubin speak about her investigation into happiness, which grew from an “ah-ha moment” on a New York City bus into a book called the “Happiness Project.” She was talking about the small things she discovered that made her family happier. A key move: purposeful greetings between her husband and children at the beginning and end of the day.
I was inspired.
The next day as Tim was putting on his coat, I grabbed his shoulders and turned him toward me and took a breath in. “Bye,” I said. We kissed quickly, on the lips. Not exactly the impassioned smooch I wanted, but it was a start.
I had already noticed that we often communicated while passing in and out of rooms or while brushing our teeth. Many of those conversations ended with miscommunication that required time to rework issues we thought we had already settled. More important, we created disconnection and resentment. And we complained and blamed each other for not listening or paying attention.
So I began making an effort to put down any distracting thing — book, cellphone or child — and turn toward Tim and greet him fully. I began doing it even when I didn’t feel like it, even when I felt resentful about my married life. I did it even when turning toward Tim felt like turning an ocean liner through a swamp. I had become really good at showing my unhappiness by turning my body against connection. Now I was creating a new physical practice to connect with Tim.
I later learned that by turning toward each other when either of us made even the smallest bid for connection (like putting down a cell phone, closing the computer when the other person speaks, or simply exchanging warm looks), I actually improved the odds that we’d stay married. Marriage researcher John Gottman studied newlyweds and found that those who were still married six years after the initial observation had responded to their partners’ bids for attention 90 percent of the time. The divorced couples had responded to their partner’s bids for connection just 30 percent of the time.
As for hello and goodbye kisses, let’s just say we could be in the movies…
TRY THIS AT HOME
Make Turning Toward Your Partner a physical practice, like going to the gym and lifting weights. It’s something you need to get a body feel for by doing it over and over again. Notice how you feel when you are fully available to communicate with your partner and all of your attention is focused on the interaction.This is called being present. You are available without distraction, if only for the brief interaction. (This means no attention is paid to TV, phones, and other people.)
The average American marriage now lasts about seven years. By that measure, Meg Dennison and Tim Peek are on their fourth marriage — still with each other. Tim and Meg believe that relationships of all kinds are created choice by choice. They advise couples, individuals and businesses on making conscious choices in life and love. Are you making the worst relationship mistakes? Click here to find out.