Say Yes to Requests

Last month we talked about the 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity that is vital to healthy relationships.  I hope you were able to conduct your own personal experiment with this information.  What did you learn about yourself and your interactions?

Today we’re going to talk about the importance of being courteous to our partners.  Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be kind to a stranger?  At times, one might even find oneself going out of one’s way to help a stranger.  But when our partners ask us for something, do we jump at the opportunity to help or do we avoid the request?  We can easily become complacent in our relationships and take our partners for granted if we don’t make the effort to be thoughtful and courteous.

In order to avoid that pitfall, take a moment and remember how devoted you were to one another when you were first dating?  Recall how you would have done just about anything to spend more time with your special someone, to gaze into his/her eyes for as long as possible.  Remember how painful it was to part ways?

Today I want to encourage you to take action when your partner makes a request of you.  Think about how special and cherished your partner might feel if you followed through with the request.  What do you have to lose?  And, what might you gain?

Keep in mind that relationships that operate on the quid pro quo implicit contract (in which positive things need to be exchanged by one another) are unhealthy relationships.  Being courteous to your partner should flow from the wellspring of kindness in your heart and the love you want to cultivate in your relationship.

So next time your partner asks you for something or to do something, pause and consider what saying, “Sure Honey, I’d love to!” would have on your relationship.  Give it a try for a couple of weeks and see how you feel.  Notice how your partner responds to you.

I’ll look forward to reconnecting with you next month when we talk about more tips for making your most special relationships successful.  Until then, please practice loving one another!

The Ratio for Lasting Love

For the past several months we have been talking about some of the pitfalls that can happen in romantic relationships.  Perhaps you’ve been saying to yourself, “Sheesh! It’s enough of the downers, Lauren!  Tell me what makes relationships successful already!”

Fortunately, John Gottman’s research illuminated a few key characteristics and interpersonal interactions that can highly influence the success and stability of relationships.  We’re going to spend the next few months exploring some of them and I’ll be giving you tips to help you keep your most important relationships strong and healthy.

To get started, Dr. Gottman discovered that an important secret to relationship success is the presence of positivity during conflict discussions (and in everyday interactions).  Specifically, the ratio of positivity to negativity in stable relationships is greater than or equal to 5:1.

What exactly does this 5:1 ratio mean and look like?  It means that successful couples do a great deal to avoid having conflict discussions become negative to begin with.  They spend a lot of time and energy injecting humor, good will, empathy, repair attempts, and expressing affection for every negative interaction.

It’s much easier to be forgiving of someones faults or mistakes if you generally like and have positive feelings for him/her.  And having an abundance of positivity builds a strong foundation of friendship, trust, and intimacy that gets couples through difficult times.

To capture the baseline level of positivity in your relationship, try keeping track of the positive things you do for your partner every day for a week.  Pay particular attention to the little things you do or say.  You can also try this exercise with your partner and compare notes at the end of the week.  Evaluate your attempts and their outcomes to see if you’re heading in the right direction or if you need to step up your game.

Stay tuned for next month’s article when I begin highlighting specific types of positive interactions that relationship masters use to maintain positivity, stability, and intimacy.  Until then, enjoy practicing loving the people closest to you! 

Keys to Reengaging with Your Love

Over the past several months we’ve been discussing the red flags that John Gottman identified in his research that indicate distressed relationships.  Today we’ll be ending this series with the fifth and final indicator, which is often the death knell for a relationship: stonewalling.  (And listen up guys, because men tend to use this strategy more often than women when they’re in an unhappy situation.)

Stonewalling is the emotional withdrawal from an interaction or conflict.  It occurs when one partner becomes so physiologically overwhelmed (flooded) by painful emotions that he/she can’t see a way out, and, in response, completely disengages from the interaction by checking out of the conversation.  He/She literally appears to be disinterested in the conversation, tuning out or looking away or down in silence.

Clearly, stonewalling is not a productive way to work through a problem.

In order for stonewallers to reengage, they need to take a break from the distressing situation. They need to give themselves a chance to calm down and regroup.  Taking a break doesn’t mean that the discussion is over; it just means that the current line of communication isn’t working and a new strategy needs to be implemented when the parties are calm.

When overwhelmed, the partner who stonewalls can break this pattern by saying something like, “Honey, I’m feeling emotionally flooded right now and I need to take a break from this conversation.  I promise you that we can continue this discussion when we’ve both calmed down.”  This way the stonewaller acknowledges the situation and reassures his/her partner that he/she will return to the conversation; the subject won’t be permanently avoided.

During the break, the stonewaller should use the time as an opportunity to soothe and calm him/herself, not to continue ruminating on the problem or the partner’s faults and mistakes.  Specifically, the time should be used to:

  • Practice deep breathing
  • Imagine a calm and relaxed scene
  • Practice progressive muscle relaxation
  • Do something for at least 20 minutes to distract yourself from the fight (read, listen to music, go for a walk)

Lastly, remember that your partner is your ally (hopefully).  Work together during periods of non-conflict to agree on a withdrawal signal or cue that you can use during a fight.  Help one another learn to identify the signs that one of you is becoming emotionally flooded and agree to suggest a break rather than escalating a fight.  This will keep you and your partner united and focused on repairing after a fight, and help ensure that your relationship is a safe and emotionally fulfilling place to be.

After all this talk about what makes relationships fail, in the next few months we’ll be turning our attention to the things that make relationships successful.  Stay tuned for next month’s article when we start this series with the magic ratio that makes love last.  Until then, I hope you’ll practice loving the people closest to you and make your relationships great!

Prioritizing Love

This month we’re going to talk about a relationship destroying tactic that I wish didn’t exist: belligerence.  Belligerence, as I mentioned last month, is a close cousin to contempt.  It is another powerful predictor of divorce because it erodes trust, intimacy, and friendship, driving the partner on the receiving end to withdraw from the relationship.

Belligerence is hostile and combative behavior that attempts to demonstrate the assertion of power.  It can take the form of threats, name calling, bullying, teasing, or dares.  Rather than working to solve problems and foster love, the belligerent partner escalates conflict by using aggressive anger, ignoring their partner, or repeatedly interrupting, provoking, and accusing with “you” statements.

Sounds awful right?  It is.  I wish I could tell you that I have never met couples who behave in this manner towards one another, but I’d be lying if I did.

You’re probably wondering if anything can be done to restore harmony for these couples.  Fortunately, the answer is yes!  Couples who struggle with contempt and belligerence benefit from:

  • Acknowledging that perhaps an argument has gotten off track
  • Starting the discussion over after a cool down period
  • Prioritizing attempts to repair the relationship during and after a fight
  • Focusing on sharing feelings honestly
  • Taking one’s partner’s feelings into account
  • Sharing power and decision making

Love cannot flourish when contempt and belligerence have taken up permanent residence in a  relationship.  Couples who struggle with these issues will need to learn new communication skills and manage the difficult emotions that relationships can often evoke.  Stopping this cycle  is hard work.  But I have seen couples make monumental changes and restore their love and commitment to one another.

Stay tuned for next month’s article when I focus on the last intimacy destroying tactic that often signals the end for love.  Until then, please focus on being kind and loving to one another.

Making Relationships Thrive…Not Just Survive

Over the past two months we have discussed two out of the four intimacy destroying tactics John Gottman, Ph.D., identifies in his research: defensiveness and criticism. This month we’re moving on to the third, contempt, which is the greatest predictor of divorce.

Contemptuous statements are ones in which the speaker insinuates that he or she is in a position of superiority. Contempt conveys disdain for the other party and is often driven by long-standing negative attitudes and thoughts about one’s partner that are compounded by years of unresolved problems.

Contempt may also be expressed non-verbally, such as with eye rolling, sighing, sneering, and smirking.

Making a conscious effort to appreciate and respect your partner is the antidote to contempt.

Here are a couple of examples of contemptuous statements and their antidotes:

Example 1: “You always go shopping and spend money when you already have a closet full of clothes.” (Underlying message:” You’re an irresponsible and selfish person and I’m not.”)
Appreciation and Respect Solution: “That dress looks beautiful on you, but I’m concerned it is too expensive. I’d appreciate if we could sit down and talk about our long-term financial goals and figure out how much we can reasonably afford to budget for clothing. When can we meet?”

Example 2: “Do you have any idea how lucky you are? You come home every night and a hot meal is just magically waiting for you without having to lift a finger! Next time why don’t you make dinner yourself!” (Underlying message: “You’re ungrateful, lazy and spoiled and I do everything.”)
Appreciation and Respect Solution: “Hey Babe, I’d love to go to that new Thai restaurant with you Thursday night after my long work day so I don’t have to worry about preparing dinner. What do you think about making it a date night?”

Take an honest look at the underlying messages you deliver to your partner. Do you convey respect and appreciation? Or, are you secretly harboring resentments and ruminating on his or her negative traits? You can begin developing a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship by making these simple lists daily:

• Identify five things that you love, admire, and appreciate about your partner
• Identify five things your partner did today that were thoughtful, generous, or sensitive

Use these exercises with anyone in your life who you might have negative thoughts about, not just in romantic relationships. And, you might even get bonus points for telling people the positive things you think about them. Go ahead! Give it a try and see if you can deepen and improve the relationships in your life!

I’ll be back next month to talk about another communication style that happens to be a close cousin to contempt and is equally as deadly to relationships. Until then, be well and love one another!