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Tips for couples looking to reconnect

Lisa Gordon, Ph.D.
• February 07, 2022

We all know how to spot the couple in the throes of early-relationship dopamine bliss. They physically space themselves close together and very likely touch. They focus on each other, oblivious to external distractions. Unless being used to take selfies, their phones are tucked away in their carefully chosen garments and accessories. Certainly feelings of love, interest, and passion fuel these attunement behaviors.

But what about couples who have been together for years, who have fallen into stale habits, lost communication or drifted apart?

Research in cognitive-behavioral therapy indicates that the relationship between feelings and behaviors is bidirectional, meaning that attunement behaviors can fuel feelings of love, interest, and passion, even if you’re starting from a place of rutted staleness and apathy. To warm up feelings for your partner, focus on increasing awareness of your partner in any of the following ways:

  • Face your partner during conversations. Rather than multitasking — i.e. “listening” to your partner while also creating a grocery list and feeding the dog all at the same time — set the single goal of making sure your partner feels heard. When you face each other, you ensure that you fully receive your partner’s input, and that your partner, rather than the carrots in the refrigerator or the dog’s bowl, fully receives your feedback. 
  • Notice your partner’s physical presence. Do you know what your partner is wearing right now? Many partners go separate ways for the day, each focused on the agenda ahead, rather than being present in a last moment of togetherness. Create a ritual for saying goodbye — one that includes noticing hands that make you feel safe, a scent that reminds you of home, or eyes that convey honesty and commitment. 
  • Kiss for at least six seconds. Marital researchers, Drs. John and Julie Gottman state that six seconds of kissing separates the couple’s moment from the otherness of the day, triggers a release of oxytocin (a hormone involved in social bonding) and reduces cortisol (a hormone connected to stress). So lengthen that p-e-c-k to a s-m-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-c-h, and enjoy that there’s nothing more pressing to do in those six seconds than to press your lips to your partner’s. 
  • Keep your love maps up to date. A love map is your knowledge of your partner, and initial love maps from the beginnings of a relationship often rezone. Is his best friend still his college roommate? Is her biggest stressor still her mom, who has now passed away? Ask these questions, and listen to the answers so that you know your partner’s most accurate love cartography.
  • Notice the positive. Our brains are innately more aware of and sensitive to negative input, which has enabled humans to survive for generations. To notice your partner’s positive attributes and moments of caring, you will need to intentionally invest time and attention to this pursuit. Set a goal for yourself to notice each day one way your partner showed commitment to you. Pair a daily ritual, e.g. brushing your teeth at night, with identifying your favorite moment with your partner that day. Mark on your calendar each day how your partner demonstrated a strength. 

Couples often cite lack of time as the cause for disconnection. Six seconds of kissing, plus asking a question and listening to the answer, plus thinking positive thoughts while brushing your teeth — the idea is that richness in a relationship stems from numerous minuscule, mindful moments of being present with one another. Mindfulness is such a catalyst for loving feelings that perhaps one day, Brach’s will add the following phrases to their candy conversation hearts: Pause. Notice. Be Aware.

Lisa Gordon, Ph.D.


Dr. Lisa Gordon is a seasoned clinician who specializes in treating anxiety and mood disorders, couple distress and the bidirectional relationships among these entities. Working within a cognitive-behavioral therapy framework, she strives to understand how automatic thoughts and harsh self-talk underlie individual and couple pain and dysfunction.