Dr. Richard Davidson, neuropsychologist at the Healthy Minds Institute, doesn’t like the term “social distancing.” A year ago, just as the pandemic was being recognized, he posted a YouTube video titled “Social Connection While We Are Physically Distancing.”

Davidson considers “connection” one of the four pillars of well-being. (The others are. awareness, insight, and purpose.) These pillars are skills. That’s good news because we can learn, practice, and improve them.

Connection is feeling that you belong in the group and have generally positive responses to the people around you. It has been identified as a core psychological need.

You can improve your sense of connection by spending time with someone practicing active listening, and avoiding criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Active listening involves paying deep and mindful attention to the other person. Show that you are engaged and interested by making eye contact and leaning forward. Give them some time to talk and, when they have finished, check your understanding by paraphrasing (“it sounds like…” Or “I hear you saying…”) Ask questions to encourage the other to expand their descriptions. This expresses interest and increases understanding. Express empathy, validating the other’s feelings and encouraging them. Avoid judgment and giving advice. You are there to understand and be with the other.

Criticism involves negative judgments or proclamations about the other. (Think about those times you say “You always…” And “you never…”) It’s better to use “I statements.” Rather than complaining “you’re always late for dinner,” you can say “I feel lonely when you come in late for dinner.”

Contempt is a more extreme form of criticism. It involves treating your partner with disrespect, condescension, ridicule, or disgust. It may include sarcasm, eye rolling, and/or mockery. Rather than focus on the negative, think of good qualities and positive behaviors of the other. Remember why you choose to have them in your life.

Defensiveness arises when you feel criticized or attacked. It involves avoiding taking responsibility for your actions. Better to listen carefully to what your partner is saying about you and take responsibility when appropriate. Apologizing for making amends may also go a long way to restoring your relationship.

Stonewalling involves putting up a metaphorical wall between you and the other by physically or emotionally withdrawing. If you need to take a break, say so, and make an agreement about when you’ll return to the conversation.

Even while being responsible about maintaining physical distance, you can increase your feelings of connection. Building relationships takes time and effort, but results in feelings of love and belonging – meeting a psychological need and making life sweeter and more joyful.