In my last post, I discussed the Four Horsemen, which are the four communication styles the Gottman Institute has found through years of research, that are signs of a relationship in trouble and heading towards divorce. As promised, this post will be about practical ways you use can create a more empathetic, nurturing atmosphere in your relationship.
How to Connect Through Listening:
Listening to your partner is very different that what I call “lawyering.” Listening is about understanding; lawyering is about finding fault so you can win the argument. When we have done a good job listening our partner will feel heard and understood. Listening isn’t about agreeing and having the same opinion or perspective as another, but rather about trying to get in their shoes and see things from their perspective --- understanding why it matters to them, why it is important. Some practical ways to promote listening and understanding in your relation are using reflective statements i.e. “What I hear you saying is ______(use your own words to repeat back and convey what you have heard your partner say)?” “Am I hearing you? Is that what you are saying?” “Is there anything you would add of change to what I am hearing?” Also, if you would like to be heard better, it is best to be mindful about not making accusations or assumptions about your partner and their motives/intent. Try using “I” statements, rather than “you” statements. And take out the words “always” and “never.” Approach your partner giving them the benefit of the doubt i.e. “I know you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but when you said “x”, I felt “y.” vs. “You always do this, you’re always criticizing me and telling me what I did was wrong. You always think you are right.” The former has greater chance of being heard and while the latter will most likely raise defenses.
How to Connect through Positive Words and Thoughts:
The way we think about our partner will greatly affect the way we feel about them. Do you spend more time thinking about their faults, mistakes, and annoyances? Or do you spend more time thinking about the qualities you admire, the ways you have felt supported, and the things they have done to make you feel loved? We often forget or overlook the positive and just focus on the negative, which then taints our perspective. Sometimes we have to train ourselves or have specific focus time to create new habits and cultivate this positive mindset. Create a journal and everyday say out loud to yourself and write down one thing you admire about, are grateful for, or a way you felt loved by your partner. At the end of a month read out loud to yourself what you wrote and meditate on it. If you want to take this exercise a step further, share what you wrote it with your partner each day.
How to Connect Through Shared Experiences:
Do things together. Create memories. It is easy to fall into a pattern of just binging on the latest show or scrolling our phones. Often after a long day of work it can be easy to just want to check out and veg, and there is definitely a time for that. But too much of that, and we can find ourselves disconnected and distant in our romantic partnerships. We can end up like feeling like roommates rather than friends and lovers. Shared experiences can create a memory and bond that we can sow from way past the event. It isn’t about feeling the pressure to have these experiences daily or even weekly, but rather consistently. So what does that look like? Here are a few ideas, but I encourage to find ideas that rally excite and inspire you: Go on a hike, cook dinner together, train for a 10K together, take salsa lessons, volunteer together, or learn a new skill together are some examples.
I encourage you to try some of these ideas, but I also know that trying implement even 3 different things into our relationship can be overwhelming. Take it one at a time. Just pick one of these areas/examples to focus on. The give it at least a month and take some time to think about what worked, what didn't work and what you might want to add next. Positive bonds are not built quickly but over time as we continue to lay each brick of its foundation.