Lust is at a distance, love is up close. According to psychologist, Dr. Stan Tatkin, if your relationship needs rekindling, lust is not your best bet. Getting physically near your partner and making eye-contact, are better choices.
Mate selection at a distance
The primitive parts of our brain assess people at an actual distance to see if they appear safe, attractive and worthy of letting in closer. This is what happens when we first notice someone interesting. The primitive parts of our brain are in charge of protecting us and perpetuating our species. They are experts at determining lust and mate selection at a distance. What do the brain’s amygdala and its cohorts (primitive brain) prefer when seeking a mate? Familiarity with just the right amount of unfamiliarity to spice things up. If a person meets those criteria, they will be allowed to move in physically closer.
Love up close
Once in close range the more evolved part of our brain (prefrontal cortex) takes over and vets the potential partner for long-term relationships, or real love. We visually (but not necessarily consciously) look at the person’s mouth and eyes for hints of what is going on with their nervous system. We notice their skin tone, facial muscle movements, pupil dilation, etc.
Our sense of smell comes on board too. Did you know we can smell scents produced by the neuroendocrine system that suggest friendliness, sexual arousal, fear and dislike? I read an article that stated we can even smell dominance and extroversion! Whoa!
Dr. Tatkin says we fall in love at close range. Looking into someone’s eyes leads to relaxation, a feeling of safety and a sense of complete engagement. Our primitive brain judged this person familiar enough to let in close and our more evolved brain sees complexity and novelty which keeps us interested.
A simple way to rekindle real love
Eye-gazing can re-kindle lost love. It returns us to the falling in love state. It turns off the primitive brain’s protective vigilance (threat-seeking, impulsive reactions) and lets the more evolved parts take over and focus on long-term relationship satisfaction.
In our highly distracting culture, it’s easy to avoid eye-contact. Many of us spend more time looking at our phones than looking into our loved one’s eyes. We allow children, pets, TV and other technological devices to divert our gaze. Even driving does not allow for eye-contact or nearness. If we could spend a few minutes each day connecting with our partner using eye-contact, there would be a lot more security within relationships.
Looking into each other’s eyes does not mean staring. It means looking into your partner’s eyes until they focus and soften. If it feels very weird, look at a spot between and just above their eyes. Go to an intimate restaurant with small tables. Their design is naturally conducive to closeness, private conversations and eye-gazing. Hand holding across the table is a nice touch too.
Eye contact is not easy for everyone
Some people will have a harder time with eye-contact than others. People with avoidant attachment styles may feel irritated or annoyed with closeness in general. They may withdraw or get angry when a partner feels too “in their space.” Their partners feel too familiar, almost familiar, and may conjure up past feelings of rejection or intrusion. The best thing to do in this case is to be aware of and work through the situation with your partner and slowly work toward the ability to sustain closeness.
Others with an anxious attachment style may have an affinity for closeness and enjoy being near their partner and consistently make eye-contact, but as the relationship progresses they may have a hyper-awareness of any diminishing eye-contact or closeness from their partner. They may see threats to the relationship where they do not actually exist.
Bye bye wandering eye
So wandering eyes really do lead to the breakdown of true love. In their attention to what’s outside the relationship (at a distance), they literally take away from the eye-contact and connection available within the relationship.
If your relationship needs a boost of connection, try increasing the amount of eye-contact you make with your partner. Get physically close to them and notice their facial expressions and reactions. Allow your evolved brain and other senses to help you re-kindle real love.
Do you spend more time with your gaze directed at a screen than at your lover? Do you relax when your partner makes meaningful eye-contact?
P.S. Can you tell I’m craving warm weather and a beach? 🙂