There are whole days and even weeks when my husband and I literally don’t have time for a five minute conversation. We have two kids, and we both work full-time. We do a lot of tag-team parenting, too, because we don’t hire outside childcare for our kids.
So there are many days where he’ll come from work in the early evening, and rather than spending family time together, he’ll have to take over with the kids while I go into my office and work. Then the shit-show of bedtime comes along, and once the kids are finally down, neither of us feels like doing much besides staring into the abyss of our phones.
I know we are not alone. Whatever circumstances you’re dealing with, marriage is hard. Raising kids together is exhausting and relentless. There is just so much stress, so little time, and many of us don’t have much outside support. All of this can most definitely take a toll on your marriage.
It’s so easy to forget that you even have a romantic or intimate relationship with your spouse – one which requires maintenance and attention – because most of the time you end up feeling more like roommates or co-workers.
Obviously this can lead to all kinds of resentment and strain and feelings of neglect in a marriage. Of course, many marriages have deeper, more complex and serious problems that go beyond simply not having enough time for each other. But even the most solid marriage can become unsteady if not regularly tended to.
But here’s the good news. Psychologists say that married couples can do one important thing to keep their marriage healthy and strong, despite the stress and time constraints they face. It’s all about emotional connection – and it doesn’t take much of it to keep your marriage afloat.
“Emotional connection is the bond that keeps people together,” writes psychologist Angela Bisignano, in Good Therapy. “It is the glue in relationships. Many couples don’t realize that if they are not regularly connecting on an emotional level, the link that keeps them together weakens.”
Once emotional connection breaks down, so can the marriage itself, says Bisignano, because when you feel emotionally disconnected from someone, you actually experience profound bodily changes that can alter the way you feel about and relate to your spouse.
When we experience emotional disconnect from our spouse, writes Bisignano, “[w]e can feel like our sense of security is threatened, causing us to become fearful. The amygdala, the almond-shaped region in the midbrain, acts as an alarm system, and a sense of panic can set in.”
This puts us in a “hyperaroused emotional state,” which can cause our cortisol (stress) levels to rise. “Physical and mental health and well-being may suffer if cortisol stays elevated over a long period,” writes Bisignano.
Bisignano is partly basing her advice off the research of John Gottman, psychologist and founder of The Gottmann Institute, who spent many years studying married couples, and trying to isolate what the magic ingredients were of couples whose marriages lasted.
What he found was that couples who “turned toward” one another at least one time per day were more likely to stay together than couples who did not. These moments of connection – or “bids,” as Gottman referred to them – do not have to be extravagant or even time consuming. It’s all about effort – and connection, of course.
“Bids are attempts to connect using affection, support, humor, or attention,” says Bisignano. “These interactions can be verbal or nonverbal. Bids can result in deeper intimacy, greater romance, passion, and a more satisfying sex life.”
These “bids,” or moments of connection, can be as simple as a touch on the shoulder, or a kind remark. They can be a wink across the room, or a simple “How was your day?” even if you know your spouse probably won’t have more than 30 seconds to sum it up.
These small things really do make a huge difference, Bisignano explains. And couples who make a conscious effort to do them are making a more profound impact on the strength of their marriage than they might realize.
“Couples who don’t practice daily bids can more easily lose their way,” says Bisignano. “When we are not emotionally connecting on a regular basis, our loved ones can feel uncared for or unvalued. The trap of taking a spouse or partner for granted can sneak up, especially if the couple has been together for a long time.”
Yes, it really is easy to take your partner for granted. I often feel like keeping up with my marriage is kind of the last thing on my priority list – and honestly, sometimes after I’ve had kids climbing on me all day and asking for everything under the sun, it’s hard to make myself emotionally available to my husband.
But I’m glad to know that it really doesn’t take much to make a serious impact. And when I thought it through, I realized that I pretty much do the minimum of what is described by Bisignano each day. So I guess I’m doing better than I thought I was.
I love the idea of these little “bids” of connection, because I think we all want to do what it takes to keep our marriages solid, and it can get so easy to feel like these sorts of things are impossible given the realities of our busy AF lives.
But if all it takes is a nice “hello” or a playful slap on the butt as we walk by, I bet many of us are doing a lot better than we thought we were.