The Science behind the Trust-Enhancing Eye Gaze
Researchers have found that eye gazing is related to the release of the bonding chemical, oxytocin. This is the same chemical that is released during breastfeeding, and it has also been found to play an important role in social behavior. Eye contact engages the moral brain. It has been linked to a decrease in bullying, an increase in empathy, and the cultivation of love and trust. As Dr. Mona Fishbane put it, “When we look into another’s eyes, we pick up on his or her feelings; we experience a resonance in our own body, feeling what the other feels.” In the midst of busy work days, buzzing screens, and competing household needs, it can be challenging to make time to pause and look into your partner’s eyes. Researcher Dr. Zick Rubin found that people generally only make eye contact about 30-60% of the time while they are engaged in discussion. However, couples in love were found to make eye contact up to 75% of the time. These couples reported feeling a positive regard toward their partner and their self. By contrast, Dr. Fishbane found that unhappy couples tend to fall into one of two categories; they either see a negative reflection when they look into their partner’s eyes, or they avoid intimacy altogether and do not often look into each other’s eyes.
Increase Trust Today: Learning by Doing
When was the last time that you and your partner stared deeply into each other’s eyes for upwards of five minutes? In the world of marital therapy, we emphasize the importance of turning toward your partner. One way to increase trust in your relationship is to do this two-step eye-gazing exercise.
Step #1 Sit face-to-face with an approximately one-foot distance between you. Close your eyes, and quiet your mind by taking a couple of deep breaths, as you prepare yourself for the exercise. Set an intention for the exercise, such as, “To see my partner for where they are at.” Then slowly open your eyes, on the same count, and meet your partner’s gaze.
Step #2 Look into your partner’s left eye for approximately five minutes. The left eye has been identified with the emotional center of the brain. Resist making overt facial expressions (such as silly faces) and avoid talking. Feel free to blink when needed. If five minutes feels too long at the beginning, then try playing a song in the background. As you continue the activity, work your way up to gazing with a quiet background. Prolonged eye contact makes people very vulnerable, and this exercise may therefore lead to feelings of discomfort for some. If you identify with this experience, then try gazing for two to three minutes initially and then gradually increase the time. In addition, you will find that thoughts will emerge as you engage in this activity. Try to gently notice these thoughts, but do not dwell on them. Instead, warmly refocus your attention to truly seeing the other.
We Are Wired for Connection
We are wired for interpersonal connection. Healthy relationships on earth are snapshots of the relational component of God’s desire for us. Luke writes to the Gentiles:
No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. When they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. – Luke 11:33-23
Our actions towards others (and towards ourselves) ought to communicate the light that we have through our relationship with Christ. Let us be examples of this light in a dark world. More specifically, let us be examples of this to our friends, neighbors, and, maybe most forgotten, our spouses. For Christians, an eye-gazing exercise can remind us that our eyes can literally communicate our soul. We have the opportunity today to practice pouring love into our partner, and in this way we can create enhanced trust and devotion.
Christian Counseling to Connect with Your Partner
If you are experiencing a period of disconnection in your relationship and want to increase trust with your partner, Christian counseling can help. In a Christian counseling session, we will practice in-the-moment strategies to enhance your relationship, and will also provide additional techniques that will help you to create noticeable and lasting change.
References – Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377. Retrieved February 1, 2016, from http://www.stafforini.com/txt/Aron et al – The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness.pdf – Fishbane, M., Dr. (2015, May 27). Cultivating Connection: Reviving the Lost Art of Eye Contact. Retrieved February 1, 2016, from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/cultivating-connection-reviving-the-lost-art-of-eye-contact-0527155 – Kain, D. (2008, February 7). “Love Hormone” Promotes Bonding. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/archive/newsrel/health/02-08LoveHormone.asp – Rubin Z. Measurement of romantic love. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1970 Oct; 16(2):265-73. PMID: 5479131
Photos “Eye to Eye,” courtesy of DeduloPhotos, morguefile.com; “Gaze from Behind the Fear,” courtesy of morguefile.com; “Everything in Pairs,” courtesy of Breather, stocksnap.io under the CreativeCommons CC0 License