Being in a relationship is a leap of faith. In honor of leap year, I thought I would share a truth about love that will help change and improve your relationship.
My husband says that ice cream is best received in small, consistent doses and love is no different. Sometimes it is portrayed in the movies or reality television that it is these grandiose moves that you feel loved, but the truth is that it is actually the small things over time that cement relationships. According to top psychological researcher and clinician, John Gottman, PhD: “It’s the small things done often that make the biggest difference.” These small things are referred to as “bids”, which are really opportunities to pay attention to the small ways in which your partner reaches for you and attempts to connect. How you react to these bids to connect everyday will make more of a difference than extravagant gifts or time shared once in awhile. In fact, Dr. Gottman discovered after conducting a six year study on newlyweds that couples who stayed together turned toward each other’s emotional bids 86 percent of the time, while those who went on to divorce turned toward each other’s bids only 33 percent of the time.
When you are looking at filling your bucket with love, it is best filled with consistent, meaningful drops rather than a downpour of rain. So look for ways to express the love you are feeling in daily ways–whether it is a kiss before you walk out the door, a “miss you” text during the day, making the bed etc. The act itself could be anything but it is important that you express that it is your way of showing your love. Everyone wants to feel chosen and it is important to look for and be intentional about the ways in which you are choosing to share and express your love and to do it in small ways that are done often. So, take the leap and make a decision to be intentional about a small act of love that you can do consistently and you will be amazed at how far it takes you. Happy Leap Year!
Conflict is unfortunately bound to happen in this life. You don’t have to scroll down far on your feed to find evidence of conflict- in relationships, in schools, in politics–it is guaranteed to be there. However, there is one question that you can ask yourself that can be a total game changer where conflict is concerned. The number one question to ask yourself is this: “How do you want this to end?”
How do you want this to end? What’s your objective? Keeping the end in mind is more important than you might realize. Most people don’t think about the ending but are instead focused on their feelings and often get into an unfortunate cycle and communication myth where the louder or harsher they complain, the more the other person will know how upset they are by the complaint. So volume will tell you how strong your feelings are. The louder you yell, the more valid your feelings are. This unfortunately is a false belief and often leads to additional volume in response and more conflict, and hurt feelings. Speaking louder or more harshly doesn’t mean that you are more likely to be listened to or that your message will be heard. In fact, research confirms that it is the opposite.
Psychological Researcher John Gottman, PhD, who over the past 40 years has become one of the most influential researchers in the industry, actually found that 96% of the time, the way a discussion begins can predict the way it will end. He found that when one partner started the discussion with a harsh start up (being negative accusatory or using contempt) the discussion is basically doomed to fail. On the other hand, when one partner begins the discussion using a softened startup, the discussion will most likely end on the same positive tone. For example: (Harsh Start-Up) “You never have time for me!” compared to (Softened Start-up) “I have been missing you lately, and I’m getting a little lonely.” So, remember that your approach matters and that the way you begin a conversation has a direct tie to how it will end. So, if you want the conflict or conversation to end well, how your convey your message matters and you need to begin your discussions with a softened start up approach.
A softened start up does not mean that your feelings are not strong. In fact, expressing your feelings, even strong, powerful feelings is absolutely fine and necessary. The truth is that you can feel big emotions but do need to match the volume in your voice or tone to convey them. You can feel angry or hurt and not be loud. And how you convey your message matters. It all comes down to understanding the difference between Criticism vs. Complaint. And there is a very big difference between the two. When you are being critical, that means you are attacking the personality or character of a person. It often begins with “You always…” or “You never…” or “Why are you so…” or “What’s wrong with you?” For example, “What’s wrong with you? How could you leave without feeding the dog? You never feed him.” Complaint on the other hand is specific to a behavior you want to change. For example, “The dog was out of food again. Can you make sure he is fed before you leave next time?” Make sure that you are addressing complaints rather than just being critical and have an end in mind. What do you want to see changed? What behavior do you want to see? Don’t underestimate how powerful a tone of voice can be as you have a conversation about the behavior you want to see changed. Keep the end in mind and you will be more effective at conveying your feelings and messages.
The truth is that you do not have control over how someone else will react or that by conveying your feelings that they will change their point of view but you do have a say in how things will end by the way in which you choose to discuss your emotions. So, remember, when you are handling conflict, make sure you ask yourself, “How do you want this to end?” It can be a total game changer and lead to better communication, better handled conflict and happier endings.
Regardless of the state of your relationship–whether you are currently riding sky high or feel like you have hit rock bottom, there is one tip that will make a huge difference in improving it. Simply stated: Be intentional.
What does be intentional mean or even look like? Being intentional means that you make your relationship a priority and that you are intentional about its value. Let me give you an example–take a look at your calendar. It is beyond easy to fill it up with all kinds of important activities, events and celebrations. In this day and age, it has become necessary to develop the skill to not schedule overlapping conflicts. Everyone is busy. But you can easily assess the value of your relationship based on your calendar. For instance, when you schedule a meeting at work with your boss or you schedule a parent teacher conference with your child’s teacher–those dates and times are mentally blocked off. You are committed to making those things work, as well you should. But what about your relationship with your spouse? Do you have a time where you have mentally blocked out a time where it is just for them–not just what’s leftover at the end of the day or an occasional date night but where you are intentional about blocking out a time for them? A time that shows they matter to you and hold value?
Intention is powerful. Even if you absolutely get things wrong—when your intent is to show your spouse that you love them, it improves your relationship. I will share a personal example with the permission of my husband here that might illustrate this concept. I will call it the Parable of the Spider Jewelry. My husband and I enjoy binge watching television shows together and in one such show, a character wore a red spider brooch that I had commented looked neat. My husband found a cheap costume jewelry red spider brooch for me and that gift is still on my winter jacket. Very thoughtful and meaningful. He didn’t end there though and thought this idea of spider jewelry was the best concept yet and ended up getting me a spider ring, a spider necklace and a spider bracelet in subsequent gifts. I am including a picture here so you can get an idea of the size of this spider ring that he to this day swears is a great gift. I don’t even like spiders. What I do love though is that I know his intention. He intended to buy me a gift that showed how much he cared even though this gift missed the mark in my book and I have a difficult time to this day wearing them. Intention is powerful force for improving your relationship even if you get things wrong.
There is a song that sums up too many relationships that I have seen in my office. It was sung by numerous artists including Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Michael Buble and even the Pet Shop Boys. It shows the timeless outcome of not being intentional and unintentionally letting the love in a relationship dwindle. It is called, “Always on My Mind”:
[Verse 1] Maybe I didn’t treat you Quite as good as I should have Maybe I didn’t love you Quite as often as I could have Little things I should have said and done I just never took the time
[Chorus] You were always on my mind (You were always on my mind) You were always on my mind
[Verse 2] Maybe I didn’t hold you All those lonely, lonely times And I guess I never told you I’m so happy that you’re mine If I make you feel second best Girl, I’m so sorry I was blind
[Chorus] You were always on my mind (You were always on my mind) You were always on my mind
Tell me Tell me that your sweet love hasn’t died Give me Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied, satisfied Little things I should have said and done I just never took the time
[Chorus] You were always on my mind (You were always on my mind) You were always on my mind You were always on my mind
Maybe I didn’t treat you Quite as good as I should have Maybe I didn’t love you Quite as often as I could have Maybe I didn’t hold you All those lonely, lonely times And I guess I never told you…
You were always on my mind.
So, be intentional and voice your desires with your spouse. “I want you to know how much you mean to me so I am going to _________” and fill in that blank with an honest intent to show them how much you care and then do that item. It doesn’t matter how small or how extreme–whether it is making the bed or washing their car. Let them know the why or the intent behind the actions. I should note that this is not a quid pro quo exercise where you do this with the expectation that they will do the same for you, although many times that might be the outcome. This is simply you stating and showing intention in keeping your relationship alive. Intentions show where you heart is and will improve your relationship the moment they are expressed and shown.
What is the most powerful antidote to grief and pain, the key to healing and the key to progress that doesn’t cost a thing? Listening.
Listening is a vital skill that can always be improved and listening is the number one way to improve your relationships. The truth is that people start to heal the minute they feel heard. Here are 6 ways you can improve your listening skills.
Be Present. Listening is a gift that doesn’t require any money but it does require that you be present. Devote the time and energy necessary to have a conversation. We all have been part of a conversation where it quickly becomes obvious that the person really isn’t listening to us but is changing the channel on the tv at the same time or looking at their phone. It is obvious and you can tell. If time constraints or other aspects of life do not permit you do devote the time necessary to listen, simply express that to the person and set up another time when you can listen. Example: “I need to take your sister to school right now, can we talk when I get back?”
Be Focused. Listening can be hard work and we are easily distracted. Focusing is required to be able to block out the world of distractions including the urge to check your phone or be preoccupied with what you are going to cook for dinner. While it is normal to have your mind wander and be distracted– it is a skill that you can develop to focus and listen to what someone else is saying.
Be Curious. One way to keep you focused and engaged on the conversation at hand is to remain curious. If you go into conversations with curiosity and genuine interest in what they are trying to communicate, the person you are communicating with can feel it and respond.
Be Aware. According to a study done by Ray Birdwhistell back in 1970, he determined that 35% of communication is verbal or the words we use and 65% of communication is nonverbal or the facial expressions and body language. Basically what that means is you communicate more with your posture and body language and how you say things than what you actually say. So, you need to make sure you are aware of not only those nonverbal expressions of the person you are listening to but what you are portraying as well. Are you maintaining eye contact? Do you have a tone of voice that exhibits that you care? Are you facial expressions demonstrating that you are invested in the conversation? Good listening requires that you are aware of how you and the speaker are communicating.
Be Open-Minded. It has been said that we can only do one thing effectively at a time: listen, judge, or respond. If you are already calculating a judgement about what you are are hearing, you are no longer listening. It is imperative that you listen to the entire message. Be ready to hear and consider all sides of an issue. This does not mean that you have to agree with what is being said, but after you listen to the message, then you can weigh your thoughts against what has been said, and finally respond. A lot of times when you are listening you can put a lot of pressure on yourself to have a response but it is important to know that it also okay not to have an immediate response and to say, “I’m going to need to think about that.”
The truth is that listening does not mean agreement. Listening does not force us to silence our own opinions, it just asks us to show respect to the opinions of others. It actually communicates a willingness to communicate and to keep an open-mind.
Be Reflective. The idea is to give the speaker some proof that you are listening. You can show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker’s feelings. “You must be so excited! That sounds awful! I can understand why you would be confused.” Reflection can also be done through just a nod or an appropriate facial expression or an occasional “hmmm” or “uh huh”. Paraphrasing what you are hearing also helps to show that you are listening: “So, you thought you would be able to get a second interview but then they never called you back? That is disappointing.” Reflect what you are hearing or the feelings you are perceiving so that you can make sure the message you are receiving is what the speaker is intending to send. When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions or offering advice unless they ask you for it. Listening doesn’t require you to provide solutions but if somewhere during the conversation, you do have a brilliant solutions, simply ask the speaker’s permission: “Would you like to hear my ideas?” Listening simply requires you to be reflective of their thoughts and feelings rather than inserting your own ideas.
So, today’s Tuesday Tip: Make a goal to improve your listening skills. It is the number one way to improve your relationships and although listening doesn’t cost any money, learning to listen is the best investment you can make.