Supercharging close connections

Jessica Borelli

Jessica Borelli, creator of the relational savoring technique, tells how to strengthen relationships in her forthcoming book. Photo by Han Parker

Professor Borelli’s new book offers guide for making the most of relationships

Have you ever tried prolonging the final seconds of a hug with a loved one before having to say goodbye? Thinking about the warmth of the hug, or the hugee’s familiar scent, or the sound of his or her voice long after parting ways is a technique Professor Jessica Borelli calls “relational savoring.”

In her new book, Relational Savoring: Using Guided Reflection to Strengthen Relationships and Improve Outcomes in Therapy, due out in January from the American Psychological Association, Borelli offers a guide to the technique as a way to harness the full potential of human relationships.

Her book provides an overview of the science and practice of relational savoring, an intervention which she developed, a brief, guided reflection exercise that helps clients reconnect with memories of being closely connected with another person.

Relational savoring can help people reflect on and value their positive connections in an effort to improve relationship satisfaction,” says Borelli, professor of psychological science and clinical director of Compass Therapy, a private practice in Newport Beach.

“Relational savoring involves reflecting on and appreciating moments when you feel safe and connected to others,” she writes in Psychology Today. “It is based in attachment theory, which states that early experiences in attachment relationships (e.g. with our parent/s or other caregivers) form the foundation for our socioemotional well-being. The ways in which caregivers respond to our emotional needs send powerful messages about relationships, the world, and our ability to get our needs met in the future.”

For example, Borelli notes, “Marcus feels comforted before bedtime when his grandmother offers a hug and explains that there are no monsters under the bed. As a result, Marcus learns that the important people in his life can serve an essential function, helping to anchor and support him in his emotional life. In another household, Lana cries out to her mother but is told to stop being noisy and to go to bed. Lana internalizes a very different kind of message: that important people in her life cannot be relied upon for comfort and that she should not communicate her emotional needs.”

“Relational Savoring” blends research, theory, expert clinical guidance, and compelling case examples to show how therapists can use the approach with clients. The book, Borelli says, “represents the culmination of years of research and development on the part of myself and my research team.”

The book is written for therapists, counselors and trainees, but also can be consumed by educators and people who want to learn about the technique, she says. It contains chapters helping people understand how to administer the technique. And, through examples, the book provides strategies that allow people to pick up the book knowing nothing about the technique and emerge ready to use it.

Back in her Psychology Today piece, Borelli offers five steps to make the most of your relationships:

  1. Sensory reflection: At what time did the event occur? Where did it occur? What was the other person wearing? What were you wearing? What could you hear, smell, taste, see, and touch?
  2. Emotional reflection: How were you feeling? Happy, safe, calm, comfortable, excited? Where did you feel these emotions in your body? Try to focus on the positive emotions and try to feel them in your body now.
  3. Cognitive reflection: What were you thinking? “My friend really needed me at the moment”? “I’m happy I could be there for my brother”? “I’m lucky to have such a supportive mom”?
  4. Future-oriented reflection: Focus on how close you felt to that person in the moment. How will this moment affect your relationship in the future?
  5. Open-ended reflection: Let your mind wander and see what thoughts come to mind in relation to this moment of connection.

“Once you know how relational savoring works,” Borelli notes, “you have the tools to intentionally practice relational savoring in your day-to-day life. To collect new memories to savor, you will have to pay attention to moments of connection as they occur, which may be more often than you think.”
Mimi Ko Cruz