When couples become strangers

Apparently, good friends and couples have the same problem. Some of them communicate worse with each other than with strangers according to a study. A ‘communication-closeness bias’, kicks in leading to the belief that they are doing well, even when they are not. When there are no awkward silences between couples or friends, it is assumed that they have grown much closer. Relationships are nurtured with conversations and shared experiences but once they culminate in marriage or extend to long relationships, the bias creeps in.

Couples who have been married for decades practically complete each other’s sentences – that’s the cliche. But the fact is, the closeness leads to less information sharing and occasionally, misconceptions. With a stranger, there is a need for clarity – attention is paid to tone and manner, details are explained and feedback is obtained. But with close friends or a spouse, only cursory details are provided. Not intentionally but the relationship is on auto pilot. This can lead to oversights and assumptions. I’ve often seen that when I am in a new unfamiliar city, all senses are on high alert. I notice sights and sounds that locals may not be attuned to at all. But once it is known, habits form – and a routine is comfortable, not energising.

I suspect the same is true of relationships. They are fresh, to begin with, and over the years, slip into comfort zones that are easy to navigate. Only when a personal crisis threatens to change or alter the relationship does it get the same kind of time and scrutiny. So how do you keep the magic going? You don’t allow it fade away or take it for granted under any circumstances.