Truth or Myth: Small, Consistent Acts Make A Greater Impact than Grandiose, Thoughtful Gestures.

Truth! This actually holds true whether you are talking about your relationship with a partner or spouse, your relationships with your kids, a relationship with a friend or coworker and even your relationship with yourself.

With a Spouse

It is the small things done often that make the biggest difference in relationships. 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. When you turn towards your partner in a response to an emotional bid, you are making an investment in your relationship that deepens your relationship in a way that a grandiose gesture never can. These responses to the small everyday bids are the key to connection and satisfaction in marriage. World renowned researcher, John Gottman, PHd, refers to this as emotional bank accounts, where turning towards each other’s bids results in a deposit in the account. On the other hand, turning away from each other’s attempts at connection will result in an withdrawl from the account. After a six year research study on newlyweds, Dr. Gottman discovered 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. By turning toward your partner’s emotional bids, you safeguard your relationship against disrepair and deepen the love you share.

This doesn’t only apply to marital relationships but even to relationships with our kids, our friends and ourselves.

With Your Kids

As luck would have it, we live close enough to the elementary school that our kids attend that they do not have a bus and so I have the opportunity to pick them up after school a lot. So, I am there with a lot of parents and have witnessed this interaction too many times to count and I am sure I have been guilty as well. It usually goes like this: the child comes up to the parent waving with anticipation a piece of paper. Once they get to the parent, they begin an animated dialogue about that piece of paper in their hand to suddenly stop and go quiet as their parent has taken the paper and without a glance or with a passing glance put the paper in their bag or just holds it to their side as they rush to get their child home. This crushing moment happens so quickly but it sends a message to the child in their first interaction with their parent, that they aren’t important. Now let’s be honest, time doesn’t always allow you in the moment to engage in a dialogue about each paper your child brings to show you but you can acknowledge that it is important to them and you want to be able to hear about it and then give them a time. “when we get home”, “after dinner”, “after we get out of the middle of the carpool line”. This is still a deposit and then keeping our word and returning to listen when we are capable becomes an additional deposit. You are teaching them that they matter to you and that they are important. This makes deeper and harder conversations much easier to have because you have created the ritual of listening to the small ones. The small things carry more weight than you think.

With Friends

There is really no one who could say it better than Mother Teresa who simply stated: “Do Small Things With Great Love.” Sometimes when the emotions are so high or the event so large that we don’t know what to do, we simply do nothing. We get lost in intentions of doing something big or waiting to figure out a way that would adequately show how much we really care.

My friend, Liz, just rang the now famous bell having completed her 8th round of chemo today. This is a moment that is absolutely huge and is a glimpse into the strong, determined character she has developed as her body is fighting breast cancer. However, I would say that an even bigger moment was a post that she shared in part after completing her 7th round of chemo. She reflected on what having cancer has taught her and one thing that she learned is that people will show up. She went on to mention the myriad of little things that those that love her have done for her since she was diagnosed ranging from meals, to errands run on her behalf, those who watched her 3 children, prayed, sent gifts, cards, cash, thoughtful check ins and phone calls. With her permission, I will share a few quotes: “What may have felt like a small sacrifice to them has made a huge impact on my soul. I am forever changed from the love and care I have been shown.”

Liz went on to give powerful advice she learned from being on the other side as the patient of cancer:

” • show up for the people you love so they know how much you care • check in so they know you haven’t forgotten that life will never be the same • show up but don’t be offended if they can’t answer the door/phone that day • go to the funeral • offer to help in various ways and follow through when you can • sit and listen • drop by just for a hug • send flowers • love on their kids • try to be sensitive about the words you speak • be grateful for your own parents, children and good health • whatever you do, just don’t do nothing. doing the wrong thing is better than not reaching out at all. “

Small and simple acts are more powerful than we realize.

With Yourself

This may seem strange to include ourselves here but there is more power in your relationship with yourself than you realize. In fact, if you don’t take care of yourself, you limit the gift you are and the ability to share that gift with others. There are a million different things you can do for the now well coined phrase, “Self-Care”, so I will not mention them all but I do want to emphasize the simple power of consistent, small actions. Listening to your body–identifying thoughts and feelings— and acknowledging them with a small and simple act— from simply making a circular motion with your shoulders when you are feelings stressed or getting up and taking a drink of water— they are the key to being able to truly progress and to take care of the gift that you are.

How Allowing Grace Into Your Life Can Allow You To Move Forward

When I first got my driver’s license, I learned to drive a car with a manual transmission or what we referred to as “driving a stick”. Nowadays most cars have automatic transmissions which has definitely made this much more interesting to explain to our kids who I can only imagine must be picturing their mom learning to drive a car with a small branch. However, driving a stick means that you have an extra pedal or clutch at your feet that you are manually or physically changing the gears on your car from 1st gear to sometimes up to 6th gear depending on how many gears your car has. Everytime your vehicle comes to a stop, you have to begin again at 1st gear until you increase your speed enough to switch gears. The trickiest part is that if you do not do this correctly, your car will stall out or basically turn off. It requires a great deal of synchronization that can be tricky to master, especially when a stop sign is at the top of a hill and you have cars behind you because if you stall you inevitably roll backwards. So what does driving a car with a manual transmission have to do with grace?

Getting my first driver’s license driving a car with a manual transmission was one of my first lessons about learning about grace. You see, I am actually a middle child and watched my two older brothers and sister struggle to learn to drive– countless times I was mortified in the backseat as once again we would have stalled out in the middle of an intersection while a myriad of onlookers would give us dirty looks. I vowed that I would be different and would not struggle the same way, but just like my siblings, I also experienced my fair share of stalling out and the absolute fear of a stop sign at the top of a hill. Yes, I was humbled but I also noticed that I had more patience, more sympathy and more understanding for other drivers who were driving a stick shift. I experienced the feeling of grace for the shortcomings of others. I realized that they were doing their best and that we all had weaknesses and me pointing out that a driver had made me miss a light didn’t change the fact that the light was missed. I stopped focusing on the weakness of others and instead felt more gratitude for the grace that I had experienced from others and from God for my own shortcomings.

There are several benefits that grace allows that nothing else compares to. In any relationship, both parties are going to have shortcomings that leave someone to make up the difference. Having grace means that you realize that you require help too and allows for a pathway of understanding. I can remember being shocked as a teenager that you could be in a relationship where you really loved your partner and that they loved you in return but that you could still hurt and be hurt by them. There is no such thing as a perfect person or a perfect relationship and grace allows you to strive for improvement amidst weaknesses and frailties. Being in a relationship means that we are all here attempting to drive a stick shift and mistakes can contribute to learning. Shaming a mistake of a partner does not advocate for change or learning but grace allows us to understand perfection and then need to feel loved even when we are least deserving.

Grace also assists in being able to stop the negativity and that is derived from comparison. Studies about bullying are now realizing that bullying is often not stopped many times as there is a relief that comes from attention being on someone else. Focusing on the mistakes or frailties of someone else means that fingers aren’t being pointed in your direction. We focus on where we are excelling and then find a person who isn’t excelling in that area to point out how good we are. For example: Your child was on time for school so let’s focus on those mom’s whose kids are consistently tardy or your proposals are on time so let’s focus on the coworker who is often late with their proposals. You have nice shoes so let’s focus on the kid whose shoes are less than stellar. However, grace completely derails comparison because you realize that there is “WE”. “WE all make mistakes.” “WE all fall short sometimes.” “WE all bleed when we get hurt”. “WE all require grace.” Our need for grace is something that we all have in common and is the antidote for comparison which often times fuels negativity and bullying.

Not only is grace essential in relationships and being able to be successful in creating and maintaining a healthy relationship, grace is also essential for every individual. Grace allows you a way to move forward. Grace allows you to understand that there is a way to begin again and a way for shortcomings to be made whole. When you offer grace to others, it becomes easier to offer grace to yourself and to recognize and improve personal weaknesses.

Even now, when I see a driver’s ed vehicle, I inwardly smile and remember those moments of struggle as I learned to drive a stick shift and where the grace of someone else– the person who didn’t stare me down but gave a knowing smile in the intersection—allowed me the ability to become better. That is what grace does for all of us–it allows us to remember that there is a way for all of us to become better and move forward.

Three Valuable Tips Learned From Being An Ambulance Driver That Will Improve Your Relationship

When my brother was younger, he worked as an ambulance driver. This is a job that I would struggle to do well at since I have a difficult time seeing a bloody nose let alone a more serious injury, but is something that my peacemaker brother really excelled at. He would receive a call with an address and arrive at the scene of an accident where first aid was administered to the person who required the most treatment regardless of who was at fault. That means if a driver was speeding and runs a red light and accidently hits another vehicle but ends up more injured than the other vehicle, the paramedics are trained to treat the speeding driver first.

There are several things about being an ambulance driver that could be really helpful in dealing with the emotional injuries in our relationships. Here are three valuable tips learned from being an ambulance driver that will improve your relationship.

One: Just like an ambulance driver is not aware of what they are dealing with when they receive a call for help, many times we are just as clueless when we are dealing with a situation or an argument. When they arrive on scene they have little information and a few facts. This is important to remember for us as well. Even if we think we have more facts about the situation we are arguing, it is important to remember that we are naturally biased. We are looking at things through our own biased lenses and we are much more capable of knowing our own thoughts and feelings {since we are the ones experiencing them} than we are at knowing the thoughts and feelings of another {since the only way we truly know what they are thinking or feeling is what they communicate}. Also, naturally speaking from an evolutionary standpoint, anytime we feel hurt, we are going to be more prone to dealing with our own emotions rather than hearing the thoughts or feelings of another. There is a Japanese story that really does a good job illustrating this point:

The man doesn’t know that there is a snake underneath.The woman doesn’t know that there is a stone pressing on the man.

The woman thinks: “I am going to fall! and I can’t climb because the snake is going to bite me! Why can’t the man use a little more strengh and pull me up!”

The man thinks: “I am in so much pain! Yet I’m still pulling you as much as I can! why don’t you try and climb a little harder?!”

The moral is: You can’t see the pressure the other party is under, and the other party can’t see pain you’re in. This is life, no matter whether it’s with work, family, feelings, friends, family, you should try to understand each other, learn to think differently, think of each other, and communicate better. It is important to remember that we don’t know everything.

Broken Heart with Band Aid

Two: After arrival on the scene, the focus of the ambulance driver is immediately on healing. When the ambulance arrives, they are not looking for blame or an explanation. Their goal is to help and administer aid as soon as they can. In fact, many times they begin treating the patient who in fact was the cause of the accident. There is power in being able to take a step back, look at the argument from the viewpoint of an ambulance driver and work on healing rather than being right. When you get in an argument, it is helpful to recognize it the way an ambulance driver would. It is important to recognize and acknowledge what is happening. You are in an argument and regardless of how you got there and whose fault it is that you are here it is happening and your objective just like an ambulance driver should be focused on healing rather than looking for blame, an explanation or to justify hurt feelings (no matter how valid you feel that they are). You can simply acknowledge that you are here that you have had an accident and you don’t want to stay hurt. With a few simple, sincere phrases, you can stop the bleeding and change the focus to be on healing. For example, “I don’t want to fight.” or ” “You matter to me. I’m sorry.” Remember the goal is to heal. Are the words you are speaking working towards that goal even if you are the hurt party in this situation or are they a hindrance to healing? Healthy couples argue and fight but they are quick to repair, fix the hurts and reconnect. Injuries in relationships are inevitable and learning how to repair those injuries is a necessary lifeskill.

Three: The final lesson to be learned from viewing relationships from the viewpoint of an ambulance driver is that speed matters. I was always envious of my ambulance driving brother at times when I was stuck in traffic and late for an event that my brother was able to ignore traffic signals and circumvent the rules of the road to transfer patients. However, my brother would probably be the first to tell you that when he had a patient enroute to a hospital, his main objective was doing his best to get his patient where they needed to be to get the treatment they needed as quickly and safely as possible. This objective should be the same for us with our relationships. Speed and time matter too–and when we are hurt, we often can stonewall or try not to care so much building a wall to protect ourselves and offer the silent treatment to our spouse. This is crucial time as emotional disconnection hurts our relationship more that the injury itself. Forgiveness is a process that begins with the decision to choose to forgive and not necessarily with waiting for the feeling to want to forgive. If you wait until you feel forgiving before you choose to forgive, it may be a long and arduous wait. Seeking to forgive doesn’t mean that instantaneously the hurt feelings simply evaporate but it does allow for a path to move forward on rather to stay in isolation. Be mindful of the fact that emotional injuries derail relationships. You can inflict a great deal of pain on your partner simply because you matter so much–you are the one they depend on. Forgiveness is the key to reconnecting and repairing relationships and the faster you can get to that place of healing for yourself, the better the outcome.

The truth is that accidents happen. What makes the biggest difference in the happiness of couples is not that their spouse never did anything that hurt the other but that they were quick at acknowledging hurt or pain, quick to apologize and seeking to forgive. There is a lot that can be learned by looking at our relationships and treating them the way an ambulance driver would allowing you to be able to quickly repair any emotional injuries you may encounter.

Truth or Myth? Curiosity May Kill The Cat, But It Can Save Your Relationship. Truth!

The truth is that our brains are wired to crave new things. Our brains love to learn new things and you can see from a survivalist standpoint why our brains would want to notice and be alerted to new things and thus survive any new threat or overcome any new obstacle. However, unlike the curiosity that kills the cat, maintaining or creating this curiosity in your relationship can actually can save it.

There are two ways that curiosity can save your marriage. For one, curiosity is the spark that can ignite your brain to pay more attention. Remember when you first met your spouse? How you wanted to know everything about them? Psychologist Dorothy Tennov back in the 1970s first coined the phrase limerance which refers to the sometimes intense state of mind at the beginning of a relationship–where you want to know everything about that person and want them to reciprocate the same desire.
Since then, there have been several studies on the effects of “falling in love” and the brain. Researchers have found that increased levels of dopamine are released in your brain which are responsible for the feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Love is like an addictive drug. When the novelty of a new relationship wears off as your brain chemistry changes (usually around 12-18 months), you can jump start your desire to continue to learn more about your spouse by simply staying curious. What is their favorite part of the day? What is something they have always wanted to do but never done before? How do they feel loved? What is something that makes them feel successful? Curiosity is what can keep your desire to increase your connection with your spouse even after the novelty wears off.

The second way curiosity can save your relationship is by being curious together. Recent research by Dr. Arthur Aron, a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and one of the top researchers on romantic love, indicates that couples can recharge their romantic chemistry by intentionally opting for novelty in something new they do together. In these studies, couples who engaged in fresh activities gave their relationship significantly better satisfaction ratings afterward.

The theory is that dopamine and norepinephrine highs are generated both by novel activities and romantic love. To some degree, your brain doesn’t care whether the source of the high is from your partner or the things you do together. When you do something new, interesting or exciting together, some of the novelty chemistry positively impacts your relationship.

So, go on a new adventure- learn a new skill you have never learned before (snowboarding, horseback riding, deep sea diving, kayaking etc), go to a new picnic spot, take up a new hobby together, move the furniture, try a new restaurant. Do something novel together and see how being curious about each other and new activities can excite and save your relationship and increase your connection. Yes, novelty by design wears off, but curiosity never has to.