“All we do is watch TV together.” I’ve heard this complaint time and time again. From my girlfriends. From my mom. From my husband—and even from myself. When you’re in a committed relationship, it’s easy to get sucked into a routine. Get off work. Eat dinner. Watch Netflix. Repeat. Believe me, I get it. It's not that we don't want to connect with our significant others; it's that we need to unwind after a long day.
But I have discovered that there is a way for couples to both unwind and stay close.
In my own experience, too much TV causes my relationship with my husband to suffer. We start picking at each other; we stop doing little acts of service; our usual lively conversation stops and starts in between binge sessions like an asthma attack at track practice. In an effort to stay connected, my husband and I decided to turn off the TV and read a book together instead. Within days we noticed the difference it made in our relationship.
Let me be clear, I'm not talking about my husband reading his book and me reading mine. I'm talking Beauty and The Beast style reading aloud to one another (unfortunately without the huge fireplace).
It sounds old-fashioned, maybe even a little awkward, but reading aloud with your significant other really is one of the best ways to connect more deeply. Here’s why.
It sparks romance.
Studies have shown that hearing a loved one's voice increases the production of oxytocin in the listener. Oxytocin, also called “the cuddle drug,” is the hormone that helps us feel emotionally and sexually bonded to another person. It’s released during sexual activity as well as during emotionally intimate moments, like the ones that come from reading to someone you love. Thus, just letting your partner’s voice wash over you as he reads literally helps you fall more in love with him.
It encourages empathy.
As Verily writer Maria Walley noted, reading is great for improving personal relationships because it helps a person to develop a greater sense of empathy and connection. Empathetic people tend to be more aware of what their partners need and are better at reading emotional cues.
For individuals who are feeling misunderstood by their significant others, reading clears the path to, what a study from the University of Arizona calls, “substantive conversation.” Kathryn Chamberlin explains that substantive conversation—conversation where “meaningful information is shared”—is more likely to develop from reading than TV watching because reading requires active engagement from the couple.
Chamberlin says that reading is an intentional activity that encourages discussion, rather than an entertaining activity that becomes an escape. “The discussion started by reading together can help a couple to disclose who they are and to know [one another] at a deeper level,” says Chamberlin. Providing yourselves with an organic opportunity for discussion can go a long way to re-establishing emotional intimacy in a rocky relationship.
It’s an act of service.
If your man's love language is acts of service, reading to him is a small way to say "I love you." If you have read Gary Chapman's The 5 Love Languages, you know that we all receive love in different ways. Some of us feel most loved when our partner writes us affirming notes and some of us feel most loved when he takes out the trash. Your partner may have more than one Love Language, but it's helpful to identify their primary one and start getting fluent.
I read because I know my husband finds it entertaining and enjoyable, not because I want to hear myself talk (although my husband might disagree). Reading aloud is a special act of service, especially when you don’t enjoy the book as much as your love does.
I’ve slogged through hours of reading Infinite Jest because I know it’s an important book to my husband, and he wants me to experience it with him. When you love someone you take an interest in what he holds close to his heart.
The Internet is ripe with anecdotal evidence that suggests that the actual act of reading aloud fosters intimacy amongst couples. When I asked Kathryn Chamberlin why she thought this is so she said: “I think you make yourself vulnerable when you read out loud. It takes some opening up to actually try and sound like the characters in a book. That vulnerability helps make the couple feel closer.”
Reading aloud to another adult can feel uncomfortable at first. It’s an activity we normally reserve for children. But for the same reason reading aloud is special to a child, it can be special to an adult as well. Your beloved presents you the words, they come to you from his mouth, in his voice. He is the storyteller and you are the wide-eyed listener. Like the voice of a parent to a child, your lover’s voice is a source of comfort and calm. When he reads, he opens himself up, let’s himself be a little embarrassed, all for the sake of you. You two can laugh at your terrible accents and bond over particularly poignant passages whose gravitas is strengthened by the spoken word.
So pick up a book with your honey. You’ll be surprised by how much you both get into it—doing voices, pausing for dramatic effect. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn about your love along the way. You’ll be surprised how this audible act of love quietly widens your heart.
Photo Credit: Jordan Voth