One of the most powerful ways to calm down from stress or anxiety is to connect and spend time with someone who matters to us. When we spend time with those we let into our inner circle – our closest friends, spouses, family members, or even our favourite beings (human or not) – we have the opportunity to create deeply engrained, positive patterns of comfort that we can access when we are far away from the ones we love.
What is one of your favourite comforting memories of a loved one? I can remember my mom brushing out my hair before bedtime when I was small, laying on the grass looking at clouds with my favourite dog when I was 12, or, more recently, the touch of my spouse’s hand on my face.
Positive connections like the ones I’ve mentioned are precious. They are often made up of small, familiar gestures, sensations, or words that become linked to patterns of positive connection in our feelings and thoughts about ourselves, others, or life in general.
These are the kinds of memories that have the power to help us feel calm, more secure, or just a little better about life. They hold an important key to what can help us have stronger positive connections in our current relationships.
The flip side to the role of positive connection is that it is also natural to feel intense distress or sadness when we can’t connect in our relationships. The lack of opportunities to connect or the worry that the other person doesn’t care about us in the same way can cause powerful anger and panic, or a sense of abandonment and distress.
These more negative patterns of connection often catch and hold our attention more readily than the positive ones. Most of us spend a lot of energy worrying or fighting in our relationships, trying to argue our way to more connection. This rarely works out well.
Although it can be helpful to intentionally work on the difficult patterns, one of the most powerful antidotes to feelings of disconnection is actively and regularly turning our attention to small, repeated ways in which we can nurture positive connection. In fact, simple ways of doing this are often better, and the keys are awareness and repetition.
Steps for strengthening positive connections:
1. Identify everyday moments that contribute to feelings of calmness, connectedness, and positivity. These moments might be from past relationships, childhood, or current experiences. Consider the small things – does a good conversation make you feel connected? Or is it spending some quiet time with a loved one while walking, watching a movie, or taking a nap? Perhaps it is making food together, debriefing stresses of your day or sending goofy jokes to each other?
The point is to notice the repeated, small gestures or experiences that matter to you. It is these repeated patterns of positive connection that confirm our sense of self, and our sense of trust and security in the relationship.
When you notice the small things that you appreciate, make sure you tell the other person. Take note of these moments and create opportunities to engage in them.
2. Consider the other person in the relationship. What matters to them?
When do they seem more settled, calm, and comfortable with themselves? What kinds of activities are they doing? How can you be part of it? Ask what matters to them, and be intentional about being open and engaged during these times.
Research into the question of what builds stability and satisfaction in close relationships highlights the importance of actively responding and engaging in small, everyday moments. Engaging in these moments predicts greater stability and satisfaction in relationships. In fact, regularly taking part in these positive connections carries much more weight than grand gestures like a big present or celebration (although these matter too). This is true for any relationship, whether it’s with your spouse, your child, a good friend, or a neighbour.
3. Make it a priority to fit positive connection moments into your regular interactions, even when there is stress in the relationship.
The good news is that you already have everything you need to complete these steps. The challenge is to be proactive in making them happen, especially if there are also patterns of disconnection or anger in the relationship.
Too often our attention in relationships is caught up in anger, disappointment, regret, or pushing for something to change. All of our close relationships would be boosted in their strength and solidity if we brought more intention and attention to making the small, positive connections matter. Be sure to take these small steps, and take them often – this will strengthen the relationship and make it more resilient and nurturing to all involved.