Although you may get in trouble with friends and family for yawning at an inopportune moment, it turns out that yawning may not be such a bad thing after all. Or at least it’s not a bad thing if you yawn and your significant other yawns back.

Science writer Sam Kean recently talked to NPR about his discovery that yawning is most contagious between people who are emotionally close. Based on a study of 109 men and women from different countries, Kean found that if you yawn in front of a group of strangers, few will mirror you. However, more people will return the yawn if it’s in front of a group of close friends or family members. Yawns are more “contagious” and move more quickly between sender and catcher the more empathy those two people feel for one another.

If you’re having dinner with your partner and suddenly find yourself yawning, don’t be surprised if he or she immediately yawns in return. If your partner doesn’t yawn in response, that doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship, but it may indicate that the two of you should work on empathizing with one another more.

How Do You “Work” on Empathy?

Because empathy is the ability to feel the same emotions as another person, it might not seem like something that you and your partner can work on. However, by setting aside time for just the two of you to talk, you might be surprised to find how much more easily you’re able to empathize in just a short amount of time.

As an Imago therapist, I always recommend that couples practice dialoguing with one another. Dialoguing lets you listen to your partner as they talk about how they feel, summarize what they say to make sure you understand, and assure them that their emotions are valid. Once your partner has said what they need to say, you will also have the space to explain how you’re feeling. This kind of interaction allows you to better understand each other’s emotions. Practice this on a regular basis and you may find that your yawns become more contagious!

Looking for a sign other than yawning that you and your partner are connecting on an emotional level? To learn more about dialoguing and working on empathy, schedule an appointment with my Houston marriage therapy office.