Remember in that first flush of romance, when you'd catch your beloved's eye across a crowded room and give a knowing smile? That visual contact was so loaded with passion, intimacy, and love back then, you'd have to look away. Probably blushing. Or at the very least excited about what would come later, that night and in life. You could literally feel your heart leap when they looked at you.
Nowadays, if you're like me and my man, not so much. You're too busy to stare lovingly into each other's eyes anymore. Coming up to 10 years of marriage with two children demanding our constant attention, my husband and I were only likely to glare at each other—over a wailing toddler's head, puddle of spilled milk, or a supermarket freezer chest—rather than gaze. And after the hassles of daily adulting, social media came next. We would spend more time looking at our phones than each other.
But if the eyes are the window to the soul, we needed to do better. So we took on a new practice I discovered while researching my book Forest Therapy: eye gazing.
Eye gazing, the practice of mindfully staring into someone's eyes, feels awkward at first—and still feels weird after a few attempts, I found. It kind of takes you back to the playground, to those days of staring competitions and "whoever blinks first is a loser." But practitioners have found it helps them to reconnect with their beloved, and it is easy and fitting to do it when you're out in nature, fueled to focus and think positively by the fresh air and feel-good factors of the outdoors.
I led my husband through the first go-around and kept it less earthy-hippie and more focused on us and our lives. Finding a quiet spot during a hike through a nearby nature trail, we sat back-to-back, and I asked him to close his eyes. "Don't talk. Just think," I said. "Go back in time to a happy memory—our first date, our best holiday, the birth of our children, a funny moment from this morning." After a few minutes, we turned to face each other and looked into each other's eyes. It was surprisingly sensual, staring at the face I loved rather than vaguely tutting in his direction with my face shoved into the light of my Instagram feed. "Keep looking at me," I continued. "And focus on how we work together as a team. Think about why you are glad you had that experience with me and no one else."
Without touching, without talking, we reignited a spark. In these days of stress and anxiety, eye gazing—as kooky as it sounds—is cheaper and easier than couples therapy and worked just as well for us. We now try to connect like this at least once a month. The eyes really do have it!
How to practice eye gazing.
- First set an intention: What do you want to achieve or reclaim? Intimacy, electricity, comfort? Set the word in both of your minds.
- Next, take a position opposite each other, sitting or standing, and close your eyes for a few seconds to calm your minds. If you're outside (which I definitely recommend, though it's definitely not necessary), breathe in the smell of nature or the ocean air. Feel the breeze. Whoever opens their eyes first can wait quietly for the other one to reach the same space.
- Gaze into your loved one's eyes. (Or eye. Choose the left or the right to focus on if you feel a bit skew-whiff.)
- You'll probably get the giggles when you first begin the practice. Don't worry about it. You also might cry. Don't worry about it. Love is funny and scary.
- Feel free to blink, too. This isn't a staring contest.
- Really look. See how they've changed. It's amazing how you can be around someone but never truly look at them. I always find a new wrinkle, a new twinkle, changing color flecks of light in my husband's eyes. I can tell if he's tired, sad, or anxious.
- Don't have any expectations other than you'll be spending time in each other's presence without distraction.
- Even 30 seconds reconnecting meaningfully with someone you love but don't make time for is better than nothing, but aim for five minutes or more for a truly mindful rekindling of your relationship.
- Try to practice regularly, or whenever you feel discombobulated with each other. And aim to keep the connection even during stressful, busy times. Don't turn straight back to your phone screen the minute you're done.
- Last but not least, applaud your shared bravery. Eye gazing is bold and bare, with no escape. You are literally face to face. People might dismiss the practice as wimpy hippie-woo-woo stuff, but you need to be strong—or strongly want change in your relationship—to do this.
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Sarah Ivens, Ph.D., is a journalist, certified life coach, and author of eight lifestyle and wellness books including Forest Therapy: Seasonal Ways to Embrace Nature for a Happier You. Ivens has a Ph.D. in Global Humanities from the University of Louisville. A contributor to Marie Claire, Glamour, New York Post, GQ, and The Daily Mail, she lives in Austin, Texas.