“I’m just not feeling it.”

“There’s no connection.”

“I’m just not emotionally there.”

If you're dating, chances are that you feel this way more often than you would like. If you're married, you might also wonder why you feel distant from your spouse. These feelings are often frustrating and it can be difficult to figure out why you feel this way and to know what can be done to change it. One of the first steps to developing an emotional connection is to change the quality of your conversations.

Meaningful Conversations Require Effort

Contrary to the drama and romance of a typical conversation portrayed in Hollywood, emotional connection almost never “just happens” in everyday conversation. Typical small talk on a first date or a pleasant day-to-day conversation with your spouse does not necessarily develop or nurture an emotional bond with your partner. Dan Ariely, a social psychologist and behavioral economist, has shown that a powerful way to emotionally connect with another person is to talk about things that you are really passionate about. You have to discuss things that really matter to you – your thoughts, your feelings, your goals and your dreams.

Research on Proactively Sharing Your Passion

Ariely has conducted empirical research to show the effects of meaningful conversation on developing and deepening relationships. In one study, described in the The Upside to Irrationality, he conducted a speed dating experiment for older single individuals who had recently moved into a new retirement community. The goal of the speed dating event was for the older men and women to create new friendships with each other. As in a typical speed dating program, the women were seated at individual tables and the men took turns sitting opposite them and making conversation for four minutes. After four minutes, a buzzer signaled for the men to rotate and move on to the next table. The first few speed dating events were disasters. People felt awkward and had difficulty making conversation.

However, a pivotal shift occurred when the participants were asked to bring a souvenir or photo with them to the next event. This time, the organizers could not end the people’s conversations! Many new friendships were rapidly formed. When the participants used a significant memento or image to jump start their conversation, they easily launched a relationship with their partner and formed an emotional connection. It is important to note that these people did not have previous relationships. Nevertheless, when they briefly discussed something significant, it quickly created a connection.

What Fosters an Emotional Connection?

It is clear from these social experiments that sharing something that is meaningful to you can help you create an emotional bond with your partner. One possible reason is that when you describe what you love and why you love it, your partner has an opportunity to listen to you and validate your feelings. If you partner gets excited about your interest and expresses that he can understand how you feel, it makes you drawn to him. At the same time, when he strives to appreciate your interest and opens himself up to looking at something through your eyes, he identifies more with you and feels closer to you.

When we strive to understand what our partner cares about and develop an appreciation for it because it is important to our partner, not only do we become closer – but we feel happier and more excited about our relationship.

Arthur Aron and his team at Stony Brook University of New York studied what distinguishes people who have stable marriages from those who are really satisfied in their marriages. They found that people who continuously learn from one another and develop themselves by taking an interest in their partner’s interests are happier. Engaging in an activity that your partner is passionate about but you would not do otherwise is an opportunity for “self-expansion,” according to Aron. As you allow yourself to be influenced by your partner and expand yourself, you feel a greater emotional connection towards your partner. You also make your partner feel significant as you accept her influence as a partner in your self-growth.

Practical Steps to “Feeling it!”

There are several ways that you can elevate your conversations, grow together, and develop your emotional connection with others. Here are some that your date or spouse might appreciate. As in Ariely’s study, it is often not necessary to have a previously established relationship for these ideas to work. Try one group of ideas at a time as your relationship progresses.

Step 1 – Tell me your passions.

  • Talk about your interests, what you love, what makes you excited and share why it is meaningful to you.
  • Ask questions to uncover your partner’s passions such as: “What are your interests? What do you do for relaxation? What do you do for fun?” Ask questions to understand why your partner feels this way.

Step 2 – Show me what you love.

  • Take your partner out to your favorite restaurant and share a taste of the dish you like best.
  • Bring your partner to your treasured spot in the park that you find so relaxing and invigorating.
  • Read your partner a poem or a chapter from a book that inspires you.
  • Show pictures from your most exciting travels and describe your experiences to your partner.
  • Play a game that you find enjoyable and interesting.

Step 3 – Show me who you love.

  • Bring your partner home to your family or to a family who makes you feel at home.
  • Introduce your partner to your closest friends.
  • Present a role model in your life to your partner, either in person or through a talk or a video of your role model.

When you share your interests with your partner, do your best to express why you feel so connected and excited about them. Allow time for your partner to grow to understand and appreciate your passions. At the same time, be curious and open-minded about your partner’s passions and develop an appreciation for your partner’s interests. Through this approach, you will find that you will become more emotionally connected with your partner and you will expand your horizons.