Reconnection in Marriage, Part Two

This week Dan continues his conversation with Dr. Steve Call, a therapist and Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology at The Seattle School, about Steve’s new book, Reconnect: Insights and Tools for Cultivating Meaningful Connection in Your Marriage, and how unaddressed hurt and shame can stifle meaningful connection.

Steve: “Part of what is so difficult at times with shame is we’re not even aware of how it is at play in our dynamic. I think shame has become one of the most destructive and divisive forces for couples. […] There’s sometimes deep contempt and even hatred toward the need we have for our spouse. That’s part of what happens in disconnection and what drives some of the shame we feel.”

As they deepen awareness of how shame is at play in their dynamic and connected to their story, couples grow the capacity to become more connected. Dan and Steve reflect on their own marriages and how, even after decades of practice, they still wrestle with messages of shame and familiar patterns that plant seeds of disconnection. Reconnecting is not a one-and-done thing, and there is no quick solution. It is a lifelong commitment to choose a return to intimacy even after significant disruptions. This ongoing, day-to-day work requires that we wrestle with the impact of trauma and the ways that our stories of harm are still present with us.

Steve: “We have this fundamental response in our trauma story that sometimes leads us to be cautious, to be careful, to be hyper-vigilant. And sometimes trauma impacts the way in which we view our need for our spouse. […] We have these relational responses that are deeply connected to the trauma of our own story.”

Steve and Dan discuss some of the ways that couples can learn to attune to each other’s stories, so that we can respond with curiosity and compassion when a trauma response is triggered. And Steve reminds us that this is also crucial with “small t” traumas. Passing moments of misattunement and seemingly minor experiences of shame, which we might be tempted to write off as “not a big deal,” still leave a mark in our minds and shape our styles of relating.

Steve: “One of the most essential components of connection is empathy. […] That empathy is the healing balm in those moments when we’re working through connection.”

Dan: “Empathy requires a kind of fullness of presence, given to the other for their good. And that just feels contradictory to the moment of conflict.”

As they reflect on some of the tools needed to rebuild connection, Dan and Steve explore the crucial categories of empathy, curiosity, and play. These can seem so trivial in a moment of conflict or when shame seems insurmountable, but Steve says nothing builds connective tissue better than even small moments of presence and attunement, when the message is, “I see you, I enjoy spending time with you, and nothing matters more to me in this moment than you.” In fact, Steve devoted an entire chapter at the end of his book to the essential art of play, and how even 10 minutes of play together every couple days can begin the process of reconnection.

Curiosity is one of the most foundational, pivotal essentials of connection.

Dan: “Most couples that are in either a marriage of conflict or a marriage that lacks delight have lost the ability to play.”

Steve: “It reminds us of what is innate about us. When we come into this world, our primary form of connection is through play with the world around us. And it’s no different in marriage—most if not all of us started our relationship with play as foundational. Play is simply the idea that nothing else matters in this moment, that I choose you, I want to be here with you, you have my complete focus, my attention.”

We’re grateful to Steve for his years of meaningful work, his insights and candor in this conversation, and his beautiful new book. We pray that as you go forward, the healing movement of God will foster deeper levels of connection in all of your relationships—especially in those places which evil has sought to destroy.