Why Eye Contact is One of the Most Powerful Tools in Couples Counseling

Eye contact is an often overlooked tool when it comes to couples counseling and to building a stronger, deeper romantic relationship with our partner. The problem with limited eye contact is that we miss out on key aspects of our relationship and our partner’s response to what we share and what we experience with them.

Our visual system relies on past information, and only updates every 15 seconds. This can result in us missing important information that our partner is conveying. We make assumptions not just with our minds, but also with our eyes! This can create false assumptions about how someone feels about us, if someone is listening to us, and lead us to react to false information. This is where the power of eye contact comes into play. 

In Neuroscience News, researchers reported that “the brain automatically smoothes our visual input over time. Instead of analyzing every single visual snapchat, we perceive in a given moment an average of what we saw in the past 15 seconds. So, by pulling together objects to appear more similar to each other, our brain tricks us into perceiving a stable environment.” This phenomenon keeps us from recognizing the small changes in our partner during day-to-day moments including serious conversations. 

Sometimes our perception that something is wrong or that our partner is upset with us, annoyed with us, dismissing or invalidating us, is more about missing eye contact and not noticing that our partner has softened or become gentler with the way they are looking at us. We take a quick 1-second glance and base an entire emotional experience around it. 

Interested in using eye contact to strengthen your relationship with your person? There is a simple exercise that you can use to bring eye contact into your life with your partner. Sit across from your partner in a comfortable seated position. Set a timer for five minutes. Stare deep into each other’s eyes for five minutes. Try not to do anything but really look at your partner’s eyes and feel whatever you are feeling. This type of exercise can deepen your relationship on a subconscious level as well and many people find themselves experiencing many different emotions during this exercise. 

Another way that you can use eye contact to strengthen your relationship is to make sure that you really look into your partner’s eyes when you talk to them. If you are checking in with your partner’s eyes as you speak then you won’t miss changes in the way that they respond to you. Before important conversations, make a concentrated effort to remind yourself to not only stay present but to continue checking in with your partner with prolonged eye contact. This way you won’t miss an update and can stay clued into how your partner is actually feeling rather than reacting to a previous “update.” 

Our brains take 15 seconds to update so if you don’t check back in every 20 to 30 seconds, then you’re going to miss the updated reaction from your partner. Without those “updates,” your brain will continue to rely on old visual information and possibly create additional drama with your partner that doesn’t really exist. Sometimes, we react to nonverbal cues even when those cues are not telling the whole story or will change when we get our next update through intense eye contact. 
Look into marriage counseling near me by visiting our couples counseling website. Learn how to implement more eye contact in your daily life with our licensed marriage and family therapist.

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Dr. Chris Tickner, MFT

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