When it comes to building a love that will last, experts say there’s one activity all couples should learn to do well together—and it doesn’t involve taking your clothes off (though of course that’s important too).
According to Dr Jeffrey Bernstein, and author of the couples’ book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind, it’s actually pretty simple: Happy couples are comfortable just doing nothing together.
“Couples who fear slowing down don’t have the ability to be as mindful and appreciative of being in the moment as those who are open to going at a slower speed.”
According to Bernstein, it’s pretty common for couples to fear slowing down, and the roots of of those fears can often be traced to what he refers to as “emotional ghosts.”
“There are people out there who were brought up with a good deal of emotional chaos,” Bernstein says. “Perhaps they grew up in families with addictions, or emotional distance or neglect. Others may have grown up in emotionally volatile, overly reactive families.
Being haunted by those emotional ghosts can make us afraid of falling into the same patterns from our childhoods, Bernstein says. “Staying at a frantic pace, for some individuals and couples, may keep them from feeling like that they are going to re-enter the ‘gravitational pull’ of past dysfunctional family dynamics.”
Getting comfortable doing nothing together can be hard work, but according to Bernstein, it’s well worth the effort, since just sitting and talking with each other is a powerful way to forge a lasting connection—and because a constant flurry of activity can sometimes cover up serious relationship issues.
“I think sometimes couples numb themselves with lots of activity to avoid looking at the patterns that don’t work so well or in the future could be unhealthy for them,” says Bernstein. “For example, I’ve seen many women, and at times men, afraid to disengage from the chaos of raising children because they don’t want to face the faulty, or even abusive dynamics of their marriages.”
"I think sometimes couples numb themselves with lots of activity to avoid looking at the patterns that don't work so well."
For younger/newer couples, Bernstein says it’s common for one or both partners to avoid facing unpleasant relationship dynamics by immersing themselves in their work lives. And while avoiding looking at those potentially hard truths might feel like it’s keeping your relationship together, it likely isn’t sustainable for the long term.
“An authentic relationship is truly the most healthy kind of relationship,” Bernstein says. “Couples that make it have the courage to talk about what works and does not work.”
This doesn’t mean your relationship is inherently flawed if you both like to keep busy—just that it’s worth making sure you’re also comfortable sitting still together from time to time. Bernstein emphasizes that every couple’s needs are different, and that only the people in the relationship can truly know what’s best for them.
"Couples that make it have the courage to talk about what works and does not work."
“I’ve known a few cases where couples would spend every opportunity they could together and be very happy,” he explains. “[But] forcing people to be in a pattern other than what they want to be in because it is ‘more healthy’ when what they’re doing already worked for them makes no sense.”
If you feel like your partner is afraid of slowing down, Bernstein recommends avoiding the phrase “do nothing,” and instead focusing on all that your relationship stands to gain—hopefully, expressing a desire to be close and to truly enjoy the quiet, intimate time you spend together will make your partner feel like they’re aquiring something instead of sacrificing other activities.
“Gratitude is the most undervalued path to emotional health,” Bernstein says. “Couples who have gratitude for being together, and don’t take each other for granted, will relish the time that they share. Gratitude for each other’s love is a wonderful antidote for boredom.”
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