A common complaint of pairs seeking couple therapy is their dissatisfaction with the distance, detachment and the parallel co-existence they have developed. They grieve the loss of their earlier magical eye contacts that expressed appreciation, admiration and love. Recouping this element of connection is achievable and can restore the couple’s compassion and passion.
Infants learn to connect with others by imitating their mother’s deep, approving and fascinated gaze. Psychologist John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, identified the baby’s imprinting of empathy and connection by imitating adult figures who love and care for him. “In virtually every culture the attachment figures are likely to be his natural mother, father, older siblings and perhaps grandparents.” The love and protective care they express programs the child’s brain pathways to first accept and later practice his capacity for secure intimacy.
Psychologist Daniel Siegel, who founded the research field of interpersonal neurobiology, proved that the mother’s gaze plays an essential role in how a child learns to develop empathy. Dr. Siegel explains, “Repeated tens of thousands of times in a child‘s life, these small moments of mutual rapport transmit the best part of our humanity—our capacity to love—from one generation to the next.” Dr. Siegel also reports that children deprived of this early modeling feel the void of a validating connection and may suffer from dysfunctional love and substance abuse in adulthood.
Similarly, the excitement new lovers experience is partially based on the transmission of fascination, approval and awe they share as they gaze into their beloved’s eyes. Regrettably for some, these affirming looks become extinct and some pairs rarely look at each other when they converse. This change seriously alters the couple’s bond creating deep sadness about the loss of their love spark.
The absence of empathic looks and loving, affirming gazes are not necessarily an indication that the love has faded – but it may feel this way. Once a spouse perceives an assumed loss of adulation, he/she is likely to cease providing expressions of non-verbal appreciation as well. This profound loss may happen without conscious intent but can be devastating to both partners.
Couples who make time to fend off life’s demands and schedule eye-to-eye time with each other on a daily basis do preserve their empathy, love and special connection. Observers may sense this bond and assume that it is a rare and attainable for only the fortunate few. Happily, this is not so. Every couple has all the tools to create and enjoy this desired emotional connection by restoring their dating practices.
To reconnect with your look of love:
¨ Remind yourself of the feelings and practices of your courtship.
¨ Reserve some special time every day to give each other undivided attention.
¨ Look into each other’s eyes with appreciation, curiosity, love and empathy.
¨ Remember that your personal wellbeing, your couple connection and your parenting will thrive as you nurture each other.