I read this sample of how to explain eye contact to couples a few weeks ago, in Brock and Banard’s Procedures in Marriage and Family Therapy (p. 71):

“Good eye contact is designed to communicate that the listener is paying attention to what is being said so that the speaker feels attended to. When good eye contact is present, a speaker usually does not need to get angry or resort to some other attention-getting strategy to make sure that the listener pays attention. Good eye contact consists of looking in the pupil of another’s eye and moving back and forth from eye to eye while the other speaks.”

I agree with all of that except for the last sentence. When making eye contact with your partner, do not shift from eye to eye. That kind of eye contact is better than nothing, but it’s not great. Shifting your eyes back and forth make you look nervous and shifty if you do it fast enough, and even if you slow it down you give the impression of looking at your partner’s face, rather than into their eyes. The same goes double for other popular advice about eye contact, like looking at your partner’s nose or hairline.

Here’s  how to make good, intimate-feeling eye contact:

1) Figure out which of your eyes is dominant. To do this, look at a small object that’s fairly far away, then make a circle around the object with your thumb and first finger. Close each eye and see which one has the object in the circle. That is your dominant eye–the eye that you really look out of. The other eye is more of a backup eye.

2) When making eye contact, look into the pupil of your partner’s eye that is directly across from your dominant eye. If your left eye is dominant, for example, look into their right eye. Check the other eye once or twice to see if that feels better, and stick with the eye that feels the most like you are looking into each others’ eyes. (The reason to check is that your partner may have the same dominant eye as you do, and thus across from your dominant eye. You don’t need to remember or even understand this, but if you’re interested, the ideal situation for eye contact is that you and your partner have opposite dominant eyes, one left, one right. That makes everything easy. If not, you end up figuring out whose dominant eye is more dominant and going that way. Try the procedure with someone you know and love and you’ll see what I mean.)

3) Remember that it can take some practice to do this and stay relaxed, but it is worth it. I recommend setting aside time with romantic partners to simply sit and look into each others’ eyes. And make plenty of good eye contact when talking with each other.

4) Remember also that different people of different cultures may have different reactions to direct eye contact. And I don’t just mean people from other countries. There are  people in eye-contact-making cultures who can’t stand to make eye contact for more than a fraction of a second. Be sensitive to this. Do not force eye contact on anyone. I’ve seen dancers who crane their heads to catch and keep their partner’s eyes and it makes the partner uncomfortable. Remember that there is the I’m-just-looking-at-your-face strategy and the even less intimate I’m-just-looking-at-your-face-every-once-in-a-while strategy.

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