There's a likely chance you may have found yourself in the following situation, as my husband Stephen and I have on a number of occasions. Before we had dedicated time each week, and each day, to discuss our calendars or other important minutiae, a problematic conversation would occur. One of us would casually mention an event or commitment to the other, without making eye contact. It could have been in the car, while cooking dinner, or loudly spoken from one room of the house to another. Then, when it came time for the event, one of us would have forgotten about it completely, and a miscommunication would turn into an argument.
Though it seems multitasking is no longer considered a skill, filtering emails while cooking dinner and catching up on the toils of the day is the new normal for most couples. It's simple, but forgetting to look our loves in the eye can wreak havoc on our relationship. Plans made, deep secrets told, emoting out loud, it all happens sometimes without acknowledgement from our partners. If we don't take the extra care to look each other in the eye when we speak, thoughts can easily get misconstrued, feelings overlooked, and in the end we both feel ignored. According to a study published in Oxford Journals (Pönkänen, et al., 2011) researchers found eye contact responsible for igniting intimacy and increasing self-awareness by simply connecting gazes in close range.
Self-awareness is one of the most powerful qualities a person can possess, in my opinion. Much like a super power, it gives us a broader understanding of intentions and emotions, especially in interpersonal communication. Couples with developed self-awareness have the ability to diffuse tense situations because they can get to the root of the issue, without debating the petty banter exchanged in the argument.
“Facing a [live] person with a direct gaze is likely to create sensations of intimacy and enhance the experienced self-relevance and awareness of how one is seen by others.”
Both quotes taken from a 2011 study, linked here.
These studies only reinforce what my gut feeling tells me every time I find myself experiencing a misunderstanding with Stephen. If communication dwindles to exchanges made without eye contact, or between different rooms altogether, it is likely for both people to withdraw emotionally from their spouses, and lose the relationship super power of self- awareness, which is a slippery slope to unfulfillment.
No matter how long you've been together, gaining intimacy in marriage is not just about sex. It's about knowing, accepting, and delicately loving the flaws and virtues of our spouses. If eye contact rewards deeper intimacy, then it is the most efficient way to develop mutual understanding and appreciation, which leads to more a satisfying marriage. Sometimes the most incremental alteration to gestures, like prioritizing eye contact, can lift a communication barrier and show an intentional effort to the finer details of a relationship, uniting it more fully.