I’m so excited for the couple’s workbook that I brought out this month. Try it out by clicking Here.
It’s not uncommon for me to ask a partner to “look your partner in the eye and tell them,” something important they just said when looking at me. I can predict that most of the time I’ll get a “I’m pretty sure you just heard me” protest that I’ll say, “Right, but it’s so different if you – can tell them Do you just try it out, look him or her in the eye and say what you just said to me? “
This may sound a little awkward, and I try to reduce the awkwardness with the space as much as possible, but awkward or not, it doesn’t seem that difficult – just make eye contact with a partner and maybe say something to them a little bit vulnerable that you shared with me with eye contact?
Eye contact is susceptible
Most of the time, couples have really trouble making eye contact, let alone maintaining it for more than a few seconds. Generally, even when couples turn to each other to initiate an interaction, they look anywhere except in the eyes of a partner. If I ask them to look into their partner’s eyes, they will quickly look into their eyes and look away.
Another thing that happens is that they could take the risk of looking a partner in the eyes, but the partner is also looking elsewhere so the couple literally take turns and NOT looking at each other. It’s really very interesting to see because it happens so often how vulnerable it can be to make mutual eye contact, and most importantly, maintain mutual eye contact.
When I see it happen from the outside, I usually feel a little bit sad because I know it is probably the symptom of emotional stress. My informal assessment is that the more emotionally insecure the relationship feels, the more partners struggle to make and maintain eye contact.
Look and couple bond
Looking at the eyes is a common bond behavior in couple bonding and is associated with the release of oxytocin. Courting couples look more in the eye than couples who are not romantically involved. Some studies have shown that the higher the relationship quality, the more couples look at each other’s eyes.
Presumably, most of the couples visiting me experience at least some mild stress, so it makes sense that eye contact is difficult. Many couples report that they cannot remember the last time they made eye contact with their partners. It’s a common symptom of breakup.
When couples have gotten into the pattern of avoiding the kind of closeness and intimacy associated with eye contact, it becomes increasingly difficult to feel comfortable with that level of closeness again.
I’ve adapted three exercises for couples below to practice eye contact variations. The first two have other roles in reducing the raw vulnerability of the simple gaze with no aim. For couples who want to try to practice emotional presence, this is a starting point. The exercises are most effective in relationships where security is a foundation or where both couples are actively working to create security for each other.
Eye observation exercises
Don’t worry about the blinking during any exercise. The blinking is normal and expected.
Exercise No. 1 (looking at the eyes with synchronization of breathing)
- Set a timer between 90 seconds and three minutes
- Stand an arm apart
- Grasp your partner’s palms with your palms and place them as close together as possible without touching them
- By looking each other in the eye, you will align your breathing with your partner
- When you feel confident, you can opt for a tight hug and keep breathing in sync
Exercise 2 (look with emotional communication)
For this exercise, one person must be the emotional “communicator” and one person the “receiver”. Then switch roles.
- Set a time between 90 seconds and three minutes
- Stand or sit an arm apart
- While looking into your partner’s eyes, try to convey an emotion to your partner with only eye contact
- While maintaining eye contact, the other partner tries to grasp which emotions are being communicated
- After the timer runs out, check in and see how close you have been to capturing your partner’s emotions. Do not be alarmed if you have been absent – this is a practice exercise and is for information only to help improve voting in the future
- Switch roles and repeat
Exercise 3 (simple look at the eyes)
- Set the times to 3 minutes for 90 seconds
- Spread an arm apart
- Just look into your partner’s eyes and try to both grasp nuances of non-verbal communication and to communicate with your partner
- If you feel uncomfortable and don’t know where to look, slowly look from your left eye to your right eye and back again
- When you are distracted, notice your breath and return to the gaze
- When the timer expires, answer the following discussion questions:
- Did you experience any emotions during the exercise and if so, which ones?
- Did any memories arise during the exercise, and if so, which ones?
- What was the best thing about the exercise?
- What was the biggest challenge?
- What did you learn about yourself
- What did you learn about your partner?
- How Can Eye Contact Improve Your Relationship?
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