This morning I sat across from her at a local diner just looking at her in wonder. She loves going out for breakfast and spending time together so her eyes were sparkling a bit. As I sat there gazing into her blue-green eyes for a long time she looked back into mine with a calming smile. It was soulful.
I reveled in the moment. I reminisced our first date, where similarly, we sat across the table and stared into one another’s eyes for what seemed like hours.
She broke the comfortable silence, “I didn’t used to be this way before I met you. I wasn’t able to look someone in the eye like this. I’ve changed. I think that is why I went through everything I did before we met so I was ready to meet you.”
It takes a lot of inner strength to sit quietly, and look into someone’s eyes. It’s powerful and intimate, like being naked and unashamed. It’s scary, yet powerfully inviting.
After divorce and a time of singleness, which involved counseling, reading, and learning, we both began dating again. We met online. It began with some messages, and then a phone conversation. And then one that effortlessly lasted for hours. Soon after, we decided to meet for lunch -a low pressure date in the light of day, in the midst of real life.
And that is when I began looking into her soul through her eyes, and she into mine. And to this day we don’t look away. It’s incredibly powerful.
Try this exercise
Generating strong relational connection is something that can be learned. Understanding the principles is important, but there are also practical exercises you can do to build your ability to connect with others, which is what this blog is all about! I just call it “building relational wealth” for short.
If the story above intrigues you, allow me to suggest an exercise.
Practice looking right into people’s eyes when you speak and especially when you listen.
Try it with people you know well first. For most people, even counting to 10 is a long time. 30 seconds is solid eye contact and pretty intense for a lot of people. Glance a way every now and then so you don’t seem like a psycho, and practice smiling and listening intently.
I try and empty myself or set aside anything on my mind in order to practice full presence as I listen. For an intimate relationship, I recommend staying locked in for a minute or more. The first little bit may feel weird, but it will give way to a gentle smile and calming sense of intimacy.
Typically in our culture, the speaker looks up and away as he or she is thinking about what they are saying, checking back to see if the listener is actually listening. The listener typically looks at the speaker while he is talking. But both are communicating! Think about that.
Even if you are not speaking, you are communicating. Eye contact and body posture and a lots of little things like facial expressions, the direction you are facing, all add up to an overall feel of connection.
If our goal is to build relational wealth, then what we want is to create emotional connection when we are communicating. And the side of things that most people overlook is being purposeful as the listener.
So practice longer periods of connection through eye contact and good listening. It creates an emotional environment of safety and love, both friendship love and intimate love, depending on the context.
A lesson from the journey
I love the journey metaphor. Each of us is truly on a an exciting journey in our lives. We do not know how many steps we get to take, nor whether we are heading toward a hard uphill climb, or sailing through the plains. When we greet life with a sense of embracing it as an adventure, we can see the tough times, the heartache, the pains of life have a deeper purpose. They teach us lessons that make us better humans and lead us to a fuller life.
They lead from boyhood to manhood; from a wanderling to a knight.
The reflection at breakfast this morning was sweet. Holli was grateful for the things she learned after her first marriage fell apart and -here’s the kicker- she became a better, more confident person. She now possess the confidence to gaze in my eyes and build our connection. She can communicate clearly, directly, confidently, and be fully present with me and others. She has inner strength and social skills to connect with people continuously. She is relationally wealthy.
You can be too!
I have created a guide for the journey, which includes 18 practical exercises you can do to build your relationship skill. It is in the final stages of editing and about to be released. It’s a free resource that I hope you will consider taking some time to work through.
Like a physical trainer, I will lead you through some questions and exercises you can do to build your relational wealth. It starts with you, as all relating does, then works outward to the building better connections with everyone around us.
So start practicing that soulful gaze and start building better connections with people.
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Joel is a husband, father, musician, and lover of life; especially life that is shared with the wealth of amazing friends and family he is blessed to have near.