Thinking of us! Couples who avoid eye contact
This morning at breakfast, was there little eye contact between you and your partner or perhaps no eye contact at all? Did that make you feel great, positive and excited about the day ahead? I imagine it didn’t and that it left you feeling alone. Alone to face the stresses, irritations and chores of daily life.
Eye contact is the thing that got you noticed in the first place! When it decreases between the couple it may feel like you have disappeared. That hurts! It may feel like you have slipped out of mind of the other or even feel like the relationship doesn’t matter. That is more than just hurtful it is worrying!
When avoiding eye contact becomes a habit, it is a communication, albeit with an ambiguous meaning. So how often do you and your partner make eye contact when having a conversation? Whether you know that you’re avoiding eye contact or not, it is likely to affect your partner. Each partner might try to make sense of this and wonder, ‘why is my partner avoiding eye contact?’ What kind of interpretation might each partner make? ‘I’ve done something wrong; I don’t matter; I'm not attractive anymore’. The effect of habitual avoidance of eye contact in an intimate relationship is that it makes the other feel bad. Feeling bad on a regular basis usually indicates poor communication between the couple.
So what is the solution? Maybe the beginning of a solution is to be found in the imagination. No one’s state of mind is transparent and so we can't know with 100% accuracy what we are feeling or mind-read our partner’s thoughts. The best we can do is to imagine or to guess what is going on in our mind and in our partner’s mind.
Imagining what might be going on in our own mind or the mind of another is part of what is known as ‘Mentalisation’ in Psychology. Peter Fonagy at University College London has done extensive research in the area. The findings are that by improving one's capacity for mentalisation, improvements in communication follow.
Some therapy is about techniques - ‘look away every five seconds’, ‘don’t interrupt the other person talking’ etc. These are well and good but rather rigid rules. An ongoing, reflective wondering about what is going on in my mind at this moment, or in my partner’s mind can create a dynamic connection between the two of you whereby communication improves.
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About Sarah Brown
I work with adults or couples who have emotional or relationship issues and I'm based in Hove in private practice. I'm a fully qualified BACP registered and accredited psychotherapist with over 15 years experience.