It’s always a good time to deepen the love in your home. Whether you live alone, with family, with a spouse or kids, creating a tender, warm, loving sense of home is helpful to our health and well-being. Some say that our home is the love we share with others more than the structure we live in. Because relationships are so integral to our sense of home, we recommend practicing the tips below with your family or friends in order to foster a deeper sense of community in your life.
1. Share Emotions More Than Facts
People do want to know what’s happening in your life, but the play-by-play of your day and events is less interesting —and less of bonding experience— than sharing how you felt in those moments. Think for a minute about the feelings you cycled through during the day. Did you have moments of sadness, joy or excitement than you can share? Rather than say, “I went to lunch at Fresa’s, then to the gym,” say “I felt kind of bored when I went to lunch by myself but then felt pumped at the gym because I benched a new high!” People can relate to feelings more than facts.
2. Family Meetings
Live with kids? Family meetings are a great way to help each family member feel important and valued, adults and kids alike. You can do them once a week, or once a month or as needed. Each person can share something difficult they felt recently or that day, and then something positive they felt. You get to ask as a family: What can we do better? Kids get to give the adults feedback and help troubleshoot problems, like running late in the mornings — no family ever has that problem! You can focus a family meeting on an issue and use a whiteboard to list ideas — kids love visual depictions of their ideas!
We think we should be strong to support the important people in our lives, but in reality, being too tough can create a sense of isolation and lack of shared experience in friendships and in partnership. Being vulnerable means we share our difficult moments and feelings that we experience throughout the day. Such sharing tends to create deeper bonds with others. We can connect with others around our failures, for example, or just feeling inadequate among coworkers or fellow athletes. Many of us are stressed, tired and occasionally frustrated by the challenges and pace of life. Rather than try ‘rise above it all’ when you are around your loved ones, try sharing your challenges in a way that invites care and interest. If you come home stressed and have small kids, you can share with them that you’re stressed and ask them to give you a full body massage on the floor. Kids love being helpful, and it can be bonding to share your struggles since they have them too! Just don’t make kids your outlet to dump all your tough emotions — have a partner or therapist for that!
We all love a sense of play! To get the over-seriousness out of our lives and bond around joy and laughter, it can help to put some games on the dining table. It’s great to keep some games handy and visible where you’re more likely as family members to think, “Oh, let’s do THAT.” Keeping a couple games central in the living space also makes a statement of what you prioritize. We recommend maybe keeping a deck of cards on the table, and learning games like Go Fish, Crazy Eights and Hearts, or keeping a stack of spoons at the center of the table and playing the occasional game of spoons — without the shots. Connect Four, Backgammon, and Guess Who are other quick and fun games for most ages.
5. Access Everyone’s Internal World
Bonding is about creating a sense of meaning, not just living together under one roof. Sometimes we still feel lonely even when others are around. The key to feeling like we have a sense of community is experiencing that others are genuinely interested in our real, inner world, and us showing interest in others’ inner experience as well. To access your kids’ internal worlds, get on their level where your eyes are about the same height and ask them questions about their internal life, like, “What’s most important to you these days? How did you feel today? What made you the most excited this week?” You can, of course, do the same with your adult partner and friends. A pro tip: We often don’t say, “I love you” enough in ways that really count. Don’t just blurt it out right before sleep. To create a deeper bond, make eye contact, remove distractions, slow down the moment a little and tell your closest people what they mean to you and how much you love and appreciate them. Whoever you are speaking to may remember that special moment for their entire lives!
The above tips will create bonding habits the more you practice them. At first, deepening emotional intimacy and connection in our families and homes can feel a little cheesy, or awkward, especially if you tend to be a tough and independent person. Life is richer and healthier, however, when we feel connected and when our homes are places where we can rest, feel love, and share ourselves with others. Don’t settle for a mediocre sense of connection in your home — institute some of the above tips and reap the rewards of a healthier, more connected home and family life!
John Howard and Peter Craig are psychotherapists at Austin Professional Counseling™. They help their clients lower anxiety, heal depression, improve relationships and more.