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Feeling Distant? Use Biology to Get Closer Again

The human body is well-designed for two functions much needed in our evolutionary past. The first is self-preservation: fight, flee, or freeze. We could be attacked at almost any moment, and only those who survived passed down their genes. The second is tend and befriend. To survive as a human, our ancestors had to cooperate with other humans to eat, to clothe themselves, to build homes, and to build up a larger body of knowledge than any one of us could keep in our head.

A spouse you feel distant from is a threat to your well-being. Your amygdalae sense this and will rattle your nerves to get your attention. But they won't remind you that you feel distant because your tend-and-befriend instincts have gotten a bit lazy with the one person who vowed to stay close for life.

Get them going again. Put your mirror neurons to work by simply looking into your mate's eyes for a few long minutes. This brings even total strangers closer together, triggering empathy and stimulating the vagus nerve, which both relaxes us and makes most of our organs work a little better.

Don't stare into your spouse's eyes in an unnerving way. Do it over dinner or while you're making love or even while you're chopping the salad together. Just turn to look at your spouse, soften your face, and take a fresh look at those eyes. If your spouse holds your gaze, give it 3 to 5 minutes. You'll feel the difference in your body, maybe even a warming sensation around your heart. But recognize that your spouse may be so surprised by this that it feels a bit weird. If he or she turns away, try again in a day or two. Don't take it as rejection.

Want another way to get those mirror neurons working again? Put on some music and invite your husband or wife to dance with you for a few bars. Use your outstretched hand or a hug to initiate your request.

And other to get a nice kick to your vagus nerve through those mirror neurons is to invite your spouse to tell you about an emotional event and listen intently and inquisitively. After a few minutes, your brains get in sync, and you'll feel the same emotions at the same time. Feels great.

You may need to be ready to drop everything when your spouse walks in the door complaining or unloading difficult news. That's when you know they have a story to tell. It's worth it to set everything else aside and invite a full telling.

Won't hurt if you gaze into his or her eyes during the telling, either.

One more way to close that distance gap: get the oxytocin flowing. Oxytocin makes us more trusting (although not when something shady is going on), and it feels great. Some things that get it flowing: orgasm, stroking the arms, touching, kissing.

If you listen to the explanations people give for their extramarital affairs, except for the ones who like the adrenaline kick of evading detection and the ones who no longer value their marriages, what leads them astray is a craving for touching or someone who listens or the accidental but strong attraction to someone they dance with or who stares into their eyes. You can be that person for your spouse. In fact, you probably vowed to be that person for your spouse.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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