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Emotional Attraction: The Stress-Reducing Conversation

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to build off last week’s discussion of maintaining desire in a long-term relationship by introducing a very important topic: emotional attraction.

When you are emotionally attracted to your partner, you value them for more than just their physical appearance. For example, you might find it pretty sexy that your partner can carry out an intellectual conversation, or talk about a novel or current news story that you’ve both read. This kind of attraction goes much deeper than the physical – think of it as an expansion of “looks aren’t everything.”

Emotional attraction means being attracted not just to your partner’s body, but also to their hearts, minds, and dreams. You value them for who they are and what they stand for. While you may be sexually attracted to your partner’s physical appearance, developing deeper emotional attraction will make these feelings much stronger.

So, how do you make this happen?

Your emotional attraction to your partner is largely determined by the ways in which you communicate.

If you are communicating well, you are likely comfortable opening up to your partner about your opinions without having to worry about being judged for them. This high level of intimate trust is reaffirmed in daily dialogue – specifically in a “How was your day, dear?”conversation – but you may be surprised to find out that this conversation doesn’t always have a positive effect!

The Stress-Reducing Conversation:

What this conversation does (or ought to do) is to help each of you to manage the stress in your daily lives, stress that is not caused by your relationshipso that this outside stress doesn’t spill over into your relationship.

According to Dr. Gottman’s close friend and colleague, UW’s Dr. Neil Jacobson, one of the key reasons for couples’ relapse after problem-solving in marital therapy is “discord caused by stress from other areas of their lives.”

In other words, outside problems (at work, with friends, with family members) often end up coming into relationships to fuel the fires of conflict.

Couples who are overrun by stress and fail to talk about it with each other see their level of emotional attraction drop, and subsequently see their relationships suffer. 

On the other hand, those who talk about the stresses of daily life with one another and help each other to cope keep their relationships strong.

Many couples have this sort of conversation at the dinner table or while undressing for bed. Sadly, this discussion does not always have the desired effect. Instead of decreasing stress, it actually increases it. While there is a time to talk about issues with your partner, discussing those that affect your relationship at this time is, to put it gently, inadvisable.

For starters, think about the timing of the chat. Some people want to unburden themselves when they’re barely through the door. Others need to decompress on their own for a while before they’re ready for discourse, but may want to talk before it gets late and they feel too tired. Talk to your partner and find out their preference!

The cardinal rule in having a stress-reducing conversation is: only about stress outside of your relationship. 

This is not the time to discuss areas of conflict between the two of you, or point fingers of blame. It’s also not the time to instruct your partner on how to fix the problems they’re facing. It’s an opportunity to support each other emotionally regarding other areas in your lives. Remember: understanding must precede advice. 

Though these conversations don’t center on your relationship, they directly improve it. They allow you to connect on an intimate level. How? Emotional attraction (and transitively, sexual attraction) grows when you feel your partner is listening to you, respecting and accepting your perspective, and expressing genuine care. 

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