We fall in love at close proximity. I mean real love, not the imagined kind that some can conjure up through fantasy or at a distance, or that is really just lust masquerading as love.
The eyes play an important role in igniting real love. When you gaze into your partner’s eyes, you can see not only his or her essence but the entire play of the nervous system. You can witness the live, exciting, and rapidly changing inner landscape of emotion, energy, and reality that belongs to and defines your partner.
It is an unavoidable fact that the body shows signs of deterioration as we age. The most obvious signs, such as changes in hair color, weight, posture, or agility, are apparent at a distance. Closer up, signs of aging include wrinkled skin and gnarled fingers.
But have you noticed the one body part that seems miraculously immune to aging? The eyes! As long as we’re mentally and emotionally healthy, they remain beautiful, vibrant, and vital. It’s as though, through them, we have the means to fall in love at our disposal — permanently. A few minutes of sustained gazing at your partner (or anyone) can lead to relaxation, a sense of safety, and full, here-and-now engagement. Attachment expert Daniel Stern terms this concept, “moments of meeting.”
Meeting Again and Again
Kent and Sandra are in their 50s. They have been married for 25 years and have grown children who are now out of the house. Though each remains physically fit, neither has done anything radical to offset the natural aging process. Many of their friends have undergone plastic surgeries and injection treatments, but thus far this couple has resisted the peer pressure to remain preternaturally youthful.
Kent and Sandra realized early in their relationship that gazing into each other’s eyes had the power to rekindle strong feelings of love. Kent says, “When I look into Sandy’s eyes it’s as if I’m meeting her for the first time all over again.”
Sandra echoes that sentiment. “I never tire of looking at Kent. I see so much in his eyes, beyond anything I could put into words.”
Recently, Kent and Sandra have noticed that friends who complain of boredom and dissatisfaction in their long-term relationships tend to avoid close gazing. These couples often talk and joke about lusting over strangers at a distance, as if that could solve their problems. Kent and Sandra wonder if the tedium their friends suffer from isn’t partly due to a lack of close gazing and the inability to rekindle love.
I would agree. In fact, it’s easy for two people to settle into dull familiarity when they’re living off static notions of one another, notions that are easily maintained at a distance. When we look into one another’s eyes close up, it becomes impossible to remain in a total state of familiarity.
This is because at close range, as we look into another’s eyes, what we see is inherently strange and complex. We become aware of each other’s otherness, which makes us cognizant again of novelty and unpredictability. This allows for just enough familiarity and stranger-ness to coexist, rekindling love and excitement.
An Exercise to Rekindle Romantic Connection
Try this exercise with your partner. You will need a large room or a large outdoor area where you can be alone together.
1. Stand or sit in close proximity, no more than 2 feet apart. Ask your partner how his or her day was. As you listen and ask questions for clarification, pay attention to your partner’s eyes. What cues do you glean from them? See if you can listen and attend to the eyes at the same time. Don’t stare! Keep scanning your partner’s eyes for information.
2. After a few minutes, before your partner has finished talking, move apart from each other. If possible, have at least 20 feet between you. Again, attend to your partner’s eyes. Do you feel as connected as before?
3. Finally, conclude the conversation back in close proximity. This time, however, keep your eyes closed and use only your other near senses, such as smell and touch, and, of course, hearing.
4. Switch roles, and repeat steps 1 through 3 with the second partner asking about the first's day.
5. Compare notes. How did the experiences of relating close up (with eyes open and closed) and at a distance differ? At what moment did you feel most connected?
I suggest doing this exercise when you meet each other at the end of the day, but you can do it at any time that’s convenient to both of you.
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Reprinted with permission from New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Excerpt from Wired for Love:How Understanding Your Partner's Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship Copyright © 2011 by Stan Tatkin, PsyD.
Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, is a couple therapist known for his pioneering work in helping partners form happy, secure, and long-lasting relationships. His method—called PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy®)—draws on principles of neuroscience and teaches partners to become what he terms “secure-functioning.”
Together with his wife, Tracey Boldemann-Tatkin, Ph.D., he founded the PACT Institute to train psychotherapists and other professionals how to incorporate his method into their practices with couples. Therapists from all over the world are being trained in this breakthrough approach.
Tatkin has a private practice in Calabasas, CA, and is an assistant professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Department of Family Medicine. He is the author of several books, including his latest WE DO and the bestselling WIRED FOR LOVE and WIRED FOR DATING.