Tag Archives: listening

Read This if You EVER Have Conflict in Your Marriage

Well, that should be all of you, then, because we ALL have conflict in our relationships. (If you don’t, that’s also a problem. Read Avoid Divorce with 5:1 Ratio.) And hopefully we have learned that not all conflict is bad, because it can help us improve situations where one or both of us isn’t feeling satisfied. Conflict helps us clear the air. That being said, conflict in marriage sometimes really stinks. We can’t wait to get over it, and we know we can’t always avoid it.

Let’s assume you aren’t expecting too much of your spouse, and realize your spouse can’t meet all your needs. You’ve already tried the four no-talking tools to boost your relationship. But you continue to quarrel. Here’s another idea to try during a disagreement. The suggestion is followed by some strong relationship research reminders thanks to all those love doctors out there.

The first tip is from personal experience. There are times when talking things out just get too heated, or you don’t feel like you are expressing yourself in the way you mean to. Or your spouse keeps interrupting to give his/her side (that’s a no-no, folks). Anyway, I’ve found typing out an email expressing my feelings or frustrations is sometimes easier than speaking them. (I’ve also written notes, but typing is faster for me.) I can read them to make sure I’m saying what I mean and using “I” language rather than accusatory “you” language. Then my spouse has time to think before responding, to consider my feelings and either email back or talk to me about it. Usually after a few emails back and forth, we have come to an agreement or at least have acknowledged where each of us is coming from. I wouldn’t recommend texting for the same purpose, because we  don’t think long enough before sending texts, and they are written for speed more than for clarity of communication. Even if you want to have the discussion in person, it may help you to jot down your key points or concerns.

Whether you are writing or speaking about an area of conflict, remember that how you begin a fight determines whether it’s harmful or productive. Choose the right time and place, and plan your opening statement carefully.

Even if you are not at a crisis stage right now, think about how you would react in a crisis. Remain calm and try to keep the balance of power in your relationship on even terms (more on this in a later post).

Finally, remember that listening will get you much further than talking. With the right listening skills, you can learn to reach your spouse on any topic. Read 10 Great Tips to Get Through to Your Spouse for some insightful strategies to reach out to children, friends or marriage partners.

Have you ever worked through a conflict by writing down your concerns? Did it work well or fail? Do you have any other useful conflict management strategies to share?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part IV: Cultivate Healthy Passion

Wrapping up our 4 secrets to long marriage is maintaining a healthy passion. What’s an unhealthy passion, you ask? Funnily enough, psychologist Robert Vallerand of the University of Quebec says, “Obsessive passion—a type that seems to control you—is as detrimental to the relationship, making it less satisfying sexually and otherwise, as having no passion.”

A healthy passion, on the other hand, means “a voluntary inclination toward an activity or person that we love or value.” It helps us relate better and increases our intimacy while retaining our own identity.

You can cultivate healthy passion by participating in an activity you and your partner both enjoy, says Vallerand. While exhilarating activities are ideal, competitive ones are not. (The object is not winning, it’s bonding.) Go sledding. Share a boat ride. Take a run. Have sex. You get the idea.

Another way to boost passion: write the reasons why you love your spouse and why the relationship is important to you. Bonus points if you read it aloud to him or her.

To summarize the 4 Secrets to a Long Marriage as shared in Scientific American’s article “The Happy Couple”: Share Joy, Stay Positive, Express Gratitude, and Cultivate a Healthy Passion.

So what’s your big secret to a successful marriage? Did any of the four resonate with you as strengths or weaknesses in your relationship?

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part III: Express Gratitude

The 10 most frequent positive emotions include: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love, according to psychologist and author Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. In her book, Positivity, she says the most important of these emotions to a relationship may be gratitude.

Why? Because expressing gratitude regularly helps us appreciate our partner and not take one another for granted. For example, when you tell your spouse you appreciate the great dinner, it makes you aware that s/he put effort into preparing that dinner for you, and more appreciate of having them in your life. And it makes your partner feel appreciated. So, expressing gratitude benefits both partners in the relationshipthe recipient and the giver.

One researcher found on days when couples felt more gratitude toward their partner, they felt more connected to him or her and more satisfied even the following day. Recipients of gratitude also increased their relationship satisfaction on days when it was expressed. Researchers refer to gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships.

“Each unit of improvement in expressed appreciation decreased by half the odds of the couple breaking up in six months,” according to Scientific American’s December 2009 article, “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage.”

What makes you feel the most gratitude from your spouse? When are you most likely to express it?

Read Part I, Part II and Part IV.

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part II: Stay Positive

In the Part I, we learned how important it is to respond positively to our partner’s good news. We also learned that individuals in successful, happy relationships each experience a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions than do those in unsuccessful relationships. Positive emotions—even fleeting ones—have the power to help us connect with others.

Having an upbeat outlook enables people to see the big picture and avoid getting hung up on small annoyances,” says psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “This wide-angle view often brings to new light new possibilities and offers solutions to difficult problems, making individuals better at handling adversity in relationships and other parts of life. It also tends to dismantle boundaries between “me” and “you,” creating stronger emotional attachments. (Remember the Power of We in Relationships?)

We’ve heard about Dr. Gottman’s 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in a relationship, but Fredrickson studied positive emotions by each individual and found even when the ratio is 3:1 it helps them become more resilient in life and love.

How can we help boost positive emotions? Try to schedule activities often in places that exude positive energy for you, such as a nature hike or meetings in a restaurant you love. Surround yourself with scents and sounds that make you happy. Keep a collage of photos that make you smile on your desk, next to your bed, or wherever you spend time. Keep upbeat music on your ipod or stereo playing positive lyrics. Spend a few minutes hugging your spouse (and children) at the end of the day. Play with your pet.

Scientific American’s December 2009 article, “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage” provides more details.

What do you do to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude, or is this a struggle for you? I know when I’m not feeling well, or the weather has been cold or dreary for a long time, I struggle to be positive. Music helps change my mood.

Read Part I, Part III and Part IV for the other three secrets.

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part I: Share Joy

Everyone thinks romantic partners are supposed to support you when you’re sick or down, and help you through tough times, but how we treat each other during the good times may matter even more to the relationship. Scientific American’s December 2009 article “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage” delves into how happy couples stay happy and successful. Here are some of key findings from researchers:

  • Couples in stronger relationships react more positively to one another’s good news, while less happy couples respond in a neutral or negative way. Buoying one another’s joy during happy times may help cement feelings of satisfaction and commitment.
  • Individuals in successful, happy relationships each experience a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions than do those in unsuccessful relationships.

Think back to the last time your spouse told you s/he had a good presentation at work or shared some other tidbit of good news. If you merely nodded your head and said, “That’s nice, honey,” while returning to your email or TV show, it turns out that’s almost as bad as making a negative comment. More positive reactions include expressing enthusiasm, holding eye contact, leaning in, and asking questions. These behaviors show you “get” what makes your partner happy, and it makes you happy, too.

Even if you have reservations, for example about your partner’s job promotion, express positive feedback and save the concerns for a later conversation.

Researchers say positive events happen three times as often as negative ones, so we should be able to get more practice on good days than bad. If that’s not the case for you, you need to engage in more enjoyable activities together—taking a walk in the park or watching a favorite movie or show together.

Read three more proven secrets: Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Do You Empathize with Your Mate?

I’ve often considered my high degree of empathy to be a weakness. I have to minimize my news intake of tragic events, I never let a friend cry alone, and I have to turn away when an ice skater falls during a performance. I’ve read studies that explain people who deeply empathize have many of the same neurons firing in their brains as those who experienced the event. That helps explain why I can relate to emotions that are far from me.

Good news if you are like me: empathy is a strength in marriage. This isn’t just my opinion. It’s been shown through psychophysiological research. Finally, being emotional has an up-side.

The book The Energetic Heart assesses bioelectromagnetic interactions within and between people and explains some of the current research. Author Rollin McCraty, PhD, reports on multiple studies that show people synchronize some of their physiological activities, such as heart rate, when they empathize.

For example, Levenson and Gottman studied physiological synchronization in married couples and concluded partners who were skilled at showing empathy mimicked their partner’s physiology. Their heart rates sped up and slowed down to match their spouse’s when they discussed emotional content. McCraty adds that researchers have been able to use physiological observations of couples to predict those who will divorce.

If couples who are not skilled in empathy are more likely to divorce, we should dissect this ability further. Empathy is the capability to share another’s feelings and emotions. We can’t get to that point if we are not truly present to one another and effective listeners. We also must be open and vulnerable emotionally. I’ve been writing a lot about techniques for listening, and it’s not because I’m not feeling heard. Many types of research lead me back to the topic and stress the importance of listening in all types of relationship success.  How can we be empathic if we don’t hear or understand our spouse’s true concerns? How can we improve intimacy without empathizing with one another’s deepest worries, goals and desires?

These psychophysiological studies are a fancy way of demonstrating couples who are emotionally in touch with one another, but I’ll bet you know if you’re in touch without the gadgets. Do you find your mind wandering when your spouse talks about his dreams for the future? Does your anger level rise when you hear your wife was mistreated? Are you in tune with your partner’s mood or anxieties? Try taking a few deep breaths before you reconnect to help your bodies adjust physiologically before your minds connect emotionally.

Do you think empathy is just a female skill? Do you think it can be learned or improved, or are there some people who are just not emotional? Read about how the brains of bullies empathize in surprising (and not good) ways. It may explain why abusive spouses are unlikely to change.

10 Great Tips to Get Through to Your Spouse

To follow up on a recent post on why better listening is better loving, a new book provides some useful techniques on how exactly to listen effectively. “Just Listen” by psychiatrist Mark Goulston, MD, delivers on its promise to teach you how to get through to anyone, even offering advice for dealing with neurotic, narcissistic and violent individuals (we won’t go there). Most of the book addresses everyday personal and professional communication strategies, and offers scientific explanation to explain why they work within the brain. I’d recommend reading the book if you would like to improve your communication and connections at work or home, but I’ll summarize a few techniques in the next two posts:

The Empathy Jolt—When you are at odds with your spouse, take a break. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were in their shoes. Literally, what feelings or thoughts might you be experiencing? Sometimes a third party can ask this question to both spouses, and they will express a deeper understanding of one another’s true motivations.

Reverse Play—When you feel like complaining about someone’s behavior, set up a time to talk. Instead of complaining, apologize genuinely for the ways you may be contributing to the problem. Say you are sorry for anything you might have done to offend or disrespect them. This catches people off guard and often motivates them to act graciously.

Mirror Neuron Deficit—As we attempt to conform to the world’s or others’ demands on us, trying to win love and approval, we ache to be mirrored back with the same attention. Often, people feel they give their best, but receive apathy or hostility in return. This creates a deficit that you as an effective listener can help fill. Instead of waiting for your spouse or child to express a feeling or complaint, then mirroring it back, Dr. Goulston suggests taking the initiative to express your perception of their feelings, while offering a chance to clarify.

For example, when a man sees his stressed out wife scramble all evening to get emails returned and kids to bed, he might say, “You know, I was thinking today how frustrating it must be to feel so torn between home and the office. Is that how you feel, or am I reading things wrong? Then, you allow the other person to talk, without interrupting. When the other person stops, say, something like, “Go on.” Resist the urge to talk. Allow him or her to fully vent and relax. Do not solve the problem; just listen. This technique can even work in hostile situations and/or with teens. I tried it on my 6-year-old, and it worked great.

Be Vulnerable—Especially when things are at their worst, instead of getting aggressive, be vulnerable and share your deepest fears or concerns. Encourage your spouse to share feelings as well. This can create a breakthrough connection.

Read 6 more great tips from Dr. Goulston.

Better Listening=Better Loving

The last post shared thoughts on true connectivity. For this type of true connection to take place, you first need the time and space to connect. Couples can also benefit from the absence of some ubiquitous gadgets. For a true connection, another key is that both spouses should be active listeneners.

If you’re like many spouses, you hear your partner—sort of. You hear lots of words coming out, including requests to handle errands or tasks, or informational updates about the day. You may even hear some complaints or gripes or expressions of love or gratitude. While your spouse is talking, you are considering your response or planning what you are going to say next.

Even if our spouse is sharing his or her lifelong goals, we are often considering how those goals will affect us and our families. Or, maybe we’re preparing to offer them advice on how to attain those goals.

Most of us know at least one person who is an excellent listener. You may not even realize it at first, but you feel better about yourself when you are with great listeners, because they show so much interest in you, asking follow-up questions and responding enthusiastically to your good news. They are encouraging and will often call later to ask how something is progressing. When you are talking, they are very present and in the moment. In their listening, we feel we are being loved. Poor listeners spend a lot more time talking than hearing, and we often dread getting stuck talking to them for long.

Being present to our partner while really listening to him/her is a way we can show our love. It helps if we are not rushed or multitasking while trying to listen. (That’s why we may need to schedule some dedicated time for reconnecting.) We should refrain from making suggestions unless we are asked. Use eye contact. Listen to your partner fully; don’t interrupt. Ask questions to clarify, or rephrase what you are hearing back to them.

Active listening is not an easy skill, especially when we have trained our brains to be prepared and think quickly. I’ve heard several marriage experts say good listening could prevent many marital problems, including some affairs and divorces, by making spouses feel they are heard and understood. Relationships with children or friends can also improve when they feel we hear and understand them.

Does your spouse jabber on endlessly, or is he or she a great listener? Could you improve your listening skills or is it a strength? I’m listening.