How do you approach your spouse when you first see them after a day away from one another? Do you
seek out your spouse greeting him or her with enthusiasm? Or are you one who “does your own thing”
and your spouse discovers you at home? In my experience personally and as a therapist who has seen
hundreds of troubled marriages, my advice to you is to connect first. Connecting first means purposefully
on the computer, watching TV, or taking a rest. Find your spouse, greet with affection, ask him or her on
the computer, watching TV, or taking a rest. Find your spouse, greet with affection, ask him or her about
their day, and be interested. You can rest, play, watch, and read later.
Though not all your marriage issues will be resolved, greetings and partings are some of the most
frequent and important interactions you will have with your spouse. Most couples do greetings and
partings well naturally early in their marriage. After several years though, we sometimes assume that our
spouses no longer need special attention. Not true! We all need special attention especially after being
married a while. Ever hear of the seven year itch? It itches much more if we are not getting attention,
respect, and affection from our spouse.
If greetings and partings are done well, your relationship will continue to have frequent and meaningful
boosts of energy and connection. Experienced happily married persons know that taking care of the
relationship first leads to freedom and positive feelings. This means freedom to play golf, visit with your
friends, spend time on projects, etc. On the other hand, if your spouse feels starved for attention and
connection, then you are likely to feel pressure, resentment, and a desire to avoid. You will feel like your
spouse is never satisfied. You’ll have a harder time enjoying that sports event or time off because you’ll
feel like your spouse resents your time away.
A vicious cycle results from negative interactions of this kind. Your own avoidance or neglect of your
spouse leads to him or her feeling hurt. Usually spouses either react with anger or distance. If your
spouse spews sarcasm or insults, you’ll be offended and more likely to distance yourself. If your
spouse withdraws, you’ll probably interpret it as your spouse not really caring or wanting you. Either way,
you will probably withdraw or hit back with anger leading to a dangerous spiraling vicious cycle.
It does not take long for vicious cycles to do major damage to a relationship. Alternatively, the idea of
connecting first sets up what might be called a “eucious” cycle. A “eucious” cycle is one where one good
experience leads to another creating an environment of alternating constructive interactions. By greeting
your spouse positively with warmth, eye contact, and physical affection, you are sending the powerful
message, “I am glad to be with you and desire you.” When you leave for the day, make sure you connect
by finding your spouse, informing him or her of your plans, and give affectionate words and touch. The
message is “I respect you. I am connected to you. I care for you.”
There are many other important keys to relational success, such as, communicating vulnerably, clarifying
expectations, dealing with boundaries with friends and in-laws, parenting issues, money issues, one’s
own family of origin issues, etc. Be on the lookout for more articles in the future on these topics. For
now, though, start connecting purposefully during your greetings and partings. Connecting first is not that
hard. You might be surprised by how such simple interactions can change your relationship.