So many couples who seek couples therapy are struggling with loneliness and disconnection. They are really confused about how they have gotten to this place in their relationship. What started with a deep and meaningful connection, great conversation and hot sex has now cooled to isolation and hopelessness. They seem baffled by the change and at a loss for how to recover their previous warmth and ardor.
Many of them arrive begging for help with communicating. Although communication is certainly important, many of these couples have been trying to talk about their relationships for years.
Starting Couples Therapy
If they are not openly hostile to each other, I often start with a very simple exercise. I ask them to give each other a frontal, full-body hug.
I instruct them to hold the hug until they feel themselves and their partner relax in their arms (usually no more than 30 seconds). If this is successful, I send them home with instructions to hug like this every time they reunite after a separation.
Why Hugs Help
Hugs harness our biology to help us feel connected. Like all mammals, we are biologically wired to connect. An important part of that wiring is the vagus nerve, which extends from the brain stem to the abdomen. When we hug, we actually stimulate this nerve, which causes levels of the hormone oxytocin — the same hormone that bonds mothers with their newborns — to rise. Oxytocin also promotes feelings of trust and bonding between partners when they hug.
Hugging also reduces stress hormones. For couples who are working to rebuild their connection, reducing stress can increase their sense of well-being, as well as their satisfaction with the relationship.
It’s the First Step
Hugs alone will not cure a troubled relationship, but they can begin to rebuild and nourish the biological substrate of any human connection. Subsequently, the couple’s increased closeness can foster a renewed capacity to work on other areas of their relationship that need attention.
This post appeared in Therapy Matters on Medium.com