When was the last time you looked at your partner—really let your gaze linger and take them in? What is it to really see your partner, to hold them in your gaze and attention. Try it. Let your gaze linger just a little longer and notice what happens.
We live in an environment that is constantly seeking our attention. Where and why we choose to settle our gaze on a particular object or person is not always conscious or intentional and is likely influenced by a host of biological and social influences outside of our awareness or control. By bringing intention to the gaze we may learn and experience something new.
Stan Tatkin, founder of the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy (PACT) explains in his book Wired for Love that we fall in love at a near distance. “The eyes play an important role in igniting real love. When you gaze into your partner’s eyes, you can see not only his or her essence, but the entire play of the nervous system” (p. 162).
We are neurobiologically organized as human animals to be situated within a safe network of supportive relations and eye contact is one way that we sense what is safe and learn to rest in it. The simple act of making eye contact with a warm smile can help to regulate the vagus nerve, promoting more regular heart rhythms and an overall sense of well being. Researcher Barbara Fredrickson, in her Ted Talk Remaking Love calls these simple acts of connection “micro moments.” Her research has shown that the more micro moments are reinforced in daily interactions, the better the health outcomes, both physically and psychologically.
John Lennon explores the power of the eyes in one of his greatest love songs “Look at Me,” from the album Plastic Ono Band. A deeply confessional and psychological album, Plastic Ono Band was musical catharsis for Lennon. As he explores themes of childhood abandonment and trauma in the album, the eyes of Lennon’s lover, Yoko Ono, become a reparative connection. Lennon did not have two parents who looked attentively into his eyes and provided the nurturance and connection to set him up for a life time of stress regulation and connection. Many of us don’t. But you can cultivate secure connection with warm, loving looks into the eyes of your of partner. Looking into your partner’s eyes is an invitation to let them know that you are curious about them—that you want to know what is happening inside for them, and that you, too, are willing to be seen just as you are.