If you want your relationship to go to the next level of intimacy, you may have to violate it. Someone please hold my avocado, this is life changing information.
Expectancy Violations Theory talks about what happens when you violate a social norm. Let’s say you touch my arm while telling me a story, or stand closer than you normally do while telling me how annoying your boyfriends mother is. This is the violation of a social norm. In the United States, I don’t want you to smell my breath during our conversation. Back up Jerry and let me breathe. Ironically, something interesting happens in my brain while I try to understand why you ate salsa for breakfast. According to Expectancy Violations Theory, I will start to produce reasoning for why you are physically so close to me. If we like the offender, our brains create positive reasons for why they would encroach on our personal space. We assume that someone is touching us, because our relationship is so intimate that this type of touching is warranted.
Think about your hairdresser. Why are you telling her about that time you cheated on Brad? You haven’t even told that to your own mother. Why the loose lips during a wash and rinse? Because she is standing over you, with her fingers in your hair. You aren’t used to having someone run their hands through your curls, so you start to trick yourself into believing that the relationship you are currently in, isn’t a financial transaction. She must be your BFF, why else is this woman massaging your scalp?
When we like people, and they violate us, we tend to like them more. Of course, if we don’t like them, then the opposite is true. We end up liking creepy Ted less if he stands too close. Basically don’t think that you can waltz up to that boss who hates you and place your hand on the small of his back while asking for a raise. You’ll be fired, and possibly be waist deep in a title 9 lawsuit. The type of violations we want, only come when a genuine liking for the violator already exists.
So how does this apply to your relationship? Apparently partners in marriages that receive as much intimacy as they expect to get in the relationship, only view their relationships as moderately satisfying. Basically when your partner is complaining that you never sleep with them, what they may really be saying is that you only meet their expectations. This can be confusing because you feel like you do make time for one date night a week. The problem is that for her, one date night, is the relationship expectancy. You are just doing the bare minimum. You are performing at the norm.
In a study, the respondents who said they were highly happy with the intimacy in their marriages, also felt that their partners gave them MORE intimacy than they even expected. They held their hand MORE than they thought they needed too. They cuddled them MORE than they expected. Their brains created their own reality to explain the behaviors. My partner does even more than I expect, therefore we must be incredibly in love. They are my unicorn.
If you feel like your relationship is only moderately satisfying, I suggest you go above your partners expectations of intimacy. Another theory called reciprocity, says that human beings have a strong desire to respond to someone’s actions toward us in a similar behavior. That’s why you laugh at jokes that aren’t that funny, just because the other person is laughing. It’s why you hear yourself squeal, “Hey girl!!” at Sara even though you aren’t even sure if you like Sara yet. She seemed excited to see you, and so you reciprocated the intensity of her gestures. Don’t think this means anything Sara. I barely know you.
If you don’t want to coast through the intimacy component of your relationship, then don’t. This is a cycle you do have control over. You can manipulate your partners perception of your relationship by doing more than you usually would for them. Rub their back without them asking you too. Make them a sandwich. Press send on that mushy text you aren’t sure is too much. Catch them off guard, and they will feel the need to hopefully reciprocate. It will also cause them to view the relationship with heightened levels of love and affection.
Oh and seriously, stop telling your private biz to your hairdresser. You pay her. She doesn’t actually want to rub your scalp.
Heather Thompson Day is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Andrews University. She is the author of 5 Christian books including Life After Eden, available now.
You can follow Heather on IG at HeatherThompsonDay
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