Have you ever been to a social event and noticed that one couple? You know…the one that can’t seem to keep their hands or eyes off of each other. You can see, and almost feel, the connection between them when they make eye contact from across the room.
They seem so happy. But it’s more than that. They seem so happy together.
You may be surprised to learn that this blissful couple has been together 10 years. Surely the newlywed stage is long gone.
This couple has something far more profound than the lust and excitement of brand new love. It’s as if they’re in their own bubble–the couple bubble.
What’s a Couple Bubble?
At its essence, the couple bubble is an agreement to put the relationship first. It’s a safe zone, where either partner can find relief, comfort, and security. It’s an “us against the world” mentality.
In his book, Wired for Love, Stan Tatkin explains that we can have this safe zone with our parents, friends, siblings, or as a couple. The couple bubble, Tatkin says, is a “…mutually constructed membrane, cocoon, or womb, that holds the couple together and protects each partner from outside elements.”
What could bring to mind safety, caring, and protection more than the womb? In fact, the idea of a parent-baby bubble is not so far from the couple bubble concept, according to Tatkin. It’s the parent-baby bond that sets a child up for healthy relationships throughout his or her life.
Wait. Does this mean you’re stuck babying your adult partner? Not at all.
This is about two adults choosing to honor each other and their relationship.
How to Create a Couple Bubble
The motto of the couple bubble: The couple comes first. The relationship, and your partner’s well-being, are your top priority. It’s is a two-sided agreement, not one in which one partner does all the work.
To create a couple bubble, you and your partner agree on what you’ll guarantee or promise to each other. What does your partner need to feel safe and secure? It’s important that you know what this means to your partner, not just what you think it means. It’s his or her idea of safety and security that matters to you and vice versa.
Only use the power of the couple bubble for good! You must agree not to use the bubble to manipulate or test each other.
In other words, you can’t get mad at your partner and push him out of the bubble until he “does better.” Doing so defeats the whole purpose of the bubble.
Even when you disagree with each other, you still have the protection of the bubble.
The Couple Bubble in Practice
What good is the bubble if it only works in the privacy of your own home? The bubble is meant to go with a couple. It’s meant to be in action. How does it look in the wild?
Let’s say Julie and her partner Dan are at her company’s holiday party. Dan knows that Julie doesn’t like a particular coworker, Mark, who she feels undermines her and tries to make her look bad in front of the boss.
Dan and Julie discussed the party ahead of time and made a plan for dealing with awkward situations. So when Mark squeezes Julie’s shoulder and interrupts her conversation with the boss, Dan swings into action. He excuses himself from his conversation and plants himself firmly between Julie and Mark. Julie smiles and her shoulders visibly drop in relief.
That’s the beauty of the couple bubble. While Julie can certainly handle Mark’s obnoxiousness (and she does on a daily basis), the support of her partner allows her to relax. She knows that no matter what Mark says or does, she has Dan. She is safe.
You’ve no doubt admired a couple like Julie and Dan, whose dedication to each other is obvious. You’ve also met a couple like Jim and Joann.
Jim and Joann argued in the car all the way to the holiday party for Joann’s office. Jim has social anxiety and hates large crowds, especially strangers. Joann knows this, as they’ve been married for 14 years. But she’s never understood why he can’t make small talk and mingle like she can.
“Don’t try to weasel your way out of this with a headache, Jim,” Joann says and slams the car door. “At least look like you’re having a good time.”
Jim nods, although the beads of sweat are already dripping into his eyes. Joann leads the way into the restaurant. As soon as she sees her coworkers, she rushes away, leaving Jim standing in the doorway.
Joann beckons Jim over to meet her new boss. He pretends he has to go to the bathroom and avoids Joann. He spends most of the evening hiding on a patio.
Couples like Joann and Jim are unfortunately all too common. They’re together, but alone in a very real sense.
It’s couples like Jim and Joann who end up in couples therapy, if they’re determined to save their relationship. They don’t have a couple bubble. There’s no safety zone between the two of them. It’s very much an attitude of “You’re on your own.”
In fact, this couple might scoff at the idea of the couple bubble and pride themselves on being independent. But, as Tatkin points out, this isn’t a reflection of independence so much as it is a fear of dependence.
There Are Guarantees
It might be helpful to think of the bubble as a pact between you and your partner. Think about these questions alone, and then with your partner to get started:
What type of pact are you and your partner willing to make with one another?
What promises can you offer?
What do you need from your partner, in order to feel safe?
What does your partner need from you to feel safe? (Ask him or her.)
When to Seek Therapy
Many couples need help moving beyond past hurts and creating a safety zone in their relationship. If you or your partner didn’t experience role models of healthy relationships as children, it might be especially challenging to create your bubble, or to even accept the concept.
The good news is you don’t have to struggle through it alone. You can get help, and it’s perfectly normal to need help. Relationships are hard work. It takes a lifetime (or at least long-term) commitment to making it work.
Couples therapy can help you create more connection, safety, and security in your relationship.
Tatkin developed PACT, Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy, a method I practice with couples in therapy. In PACT, we recreate situations that cause tension and arguments in your relationship, while paying close attention to verbal and nonverbal cues. This allows us to work through those feelings in real time, and it allows partners to pay close attention to each other’s signals in a less charged environment.
If you’d like to learn how to create a couple bubble in your relationship, consider scheduling a session. We’d love to connect and help you create a safety zone in either couples or individual therapy.