Why Talking About Nothing Means Everything

Relationship Builder: Think Hamaka

When I began to write this article I came across the above picture. There was something about the image that seemed linked to the core ideas. I couldn’t quite place what is was at first, then my curiosity kicked in.

According to Wikipedia hammocks can be traced to the word “hamaka”, thought to originally mean fishnet. The original Jamaican natives, referred to as the Taino, also known as the Arawak, are credited with the idea. The Taino originally came from South America some 2,500 years ago and colonized a number of Caribbean Islands and parts of Florida.

The Spanish colonists traded with the Taino, and soon hammocks became very popular with the European sailors and throughout Central and South America. Hammocks eventually landed in western culture and America. Parents in the 1920s found them useful to contain crawling babies.

Making Hamaka Moments

If I think about the hamaka as a metaphor for relationships several ideas come to mind. A hamaka provides support, fun, relaxation, and security, to name just a few things. When the hamaka is held up by stable anchor points, a person can enjoy a secure and comfortable space to rest in.

When partners set up those anchor points and share moments together it is as if they are held together in the same space that provides support and connection. Taking time together and talking is key to strengthening relationships and fostering closeness. Dr. John Gottman referred to these moments as the smallest units of intimacy. These moments add up with the overall effect of adding to positivity in the relationship.

Hamaka Moments Provide Shared Moments for Intimacy

What Do We Talk About?

It doesn’t matter! Research informs us that it isn’t what couples talk about that predicts stability and relationship happiness. What is important is spending time together talking regularly. Oftentimes what is talked about isn’t earthshaking or all that important necessarily. Partnerss deepen connections when they take time to check in and update each other about something that is going on their life, their thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

There are two things going on. First, partners are providing information to their significant other that keeps that partner involved in their life. Secondly, as important as that information may be, or not, the real value is that taking the time to update the partner communicates “I want you involved in my life.”

This simple, lost cost effort is one of the cornerstones of the Friendship system that emerged from the Gottman research as one of the building blocks for healthy relationships.

A Means to an End

It may seem like a waste of time to talk about what may seem superficial. After all, “Whats the point, I want to have a meaningful relationship. Does this mean we never go deep or beyond the surface?” No, it does not mean that, but let my explain the context.

A number of years back I was doing couples therapy where the husband was complaining about that very concern. He wanted to connect with his wife, but grew impatient when she shared about the day-to-day stuff. I told him the day-to-day conversations build trust, connection, and increases the likelihood that those deeper connections and conversations will happen when needed.

It was a hard sell. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t just have those conversations. I explained the research findings that when partners feel understood, when they can share their daily experiences, even the repetitive and ongoing stresses and concerns, trust is strengthened. It’s like training for a marathon, something you work up to and support over a period of time. As time went on, he began to see the value of these “talking about nothing” conversations. Closeness was not something that could be forced and wasn’t going to happen overnight, especially when there has been an period of struggle and/or lack of connection.

Sometimes couples forget to take these “hamaka moments” and get caught up in the business of life.  Over time, forgetting takes a toll. If that is the case in your relationship be sure to set those anchor points and get into the hamaka together again on a regular basis, checking in and sharing parts of your day.

Little Things Often

“Little things often”,  is the motto we talk about and encourage in the first hour in the Gottman Art and Science of Love Workshop. By taking those moments together regularly, you are building trust and commitment in the relationship.

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