When we think about meditation, we might think about a very individualized activity – something that is intended to ground us as people, to guide our inner workings, and to calm a nervous soul. But meditation can accomplish so much more than that if we stretch our understanding to how it can apply in our relationships.
In this wonderful video, Dr. Laura Berman shares a few simple steps in how you can use the tool of meditation to invite love into your life. As you watch the video, consider how well you allow the following:
When we’re asked what attracted us to our partners in the first place, nearly everyone will include their partner’s sense of humor. Why is this such an important quality in a potential partner? It might be that we have an innate understanding of the benefits of humor. For example, a 2002 study by Culver examined the benefits of humor usage with surgical patients and found an increased capacity to tolerate stress. We also know that humor and laughter contribute to long-term relationship success. As John Gottman, the famed relationship psychologist, puts it: “Couples who laugh together last together.”
When we talk about humor, we mean sincere experiences of laughter that partners share. Laughing at a silly thing a child has done, giggling at a joke, and watching a comedy you both love – all are great examples of shared humor. Humor doesn’t necessarily need to be pure or innocent – it just needs to be an experience that both partners find funny. Things like sarcasm or making fun are acts of criticism and belittling and will only drive a wedge in the relationship.
When a person experiences humor, it activates the part of the brain associated with pleasure, thereby releasing an array of chemicals that stimulate happiness, relaxation, and pleasure. Not only will humor increase these feelings immediately, but the presence of these brain changes will have lasting impacts on a couple’s connection and intimacy. Buhlman, Gottman & Katz found in a 1992 study that the quality of laughter in a relationship was directly correlated to whether or not a couple was still together at a three-year follow-up. This result was reinforced by a study completed by Kurtz in 2015, which found that the amount of laughter between a couple was correlated with overall relationship quality.
Aside from these immediate and long-term impacts, couples also experience the following:
Humor can be a powerful tool for improving intimacy when used correctly – find ways to apply it to your partnership, and watch the “fuel gauge of joy” in your relationship move up as well.
A couple comes in for marriage counseling to improve their communication and intimacy. After some time, the wife says, “My husband doesn’t appreciate everything I do for our family.” The husband immediately becomes defensive and replies: “She doesn’t understand how hard I work and what I go through.”
There’s an issue here, but not necessarily a lack of appreciation or gratitude. The problem is deeper – the couple’s ability to empathize with one another. Without empathy, the problems of this couple can multiply, leading to long-term consequences for their relationship. In this article, we’ll take a look at the concept of empathy and how you can use this to build up your partnership and increase intimacy, understanding, and togetherness.
According to Gottman, empathy is about understanding someone else’s emotions. It means stepping away from your own perception and embracing the experience of someone else’s life.
When empathy is used effectively, when we truly step into the perspective of another, we reap considerable benefits. A study by Duncan and Jowette found that perceived empathy among 149 couples was positively associated with relationship satisfaction and negatively associated with depression and conflict. It’s something that every couple can use to improve or repair a struggling relationship – but it requires commitment and hard work.
The terms empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Sympathy is marked by an attempt to recognize the emotions of another, to feel sorry, and to be impacted by those feelings. Empathy is a much deeper action, as it requires one to change their perspective and share another’s experience vicariously, as if they were in their place. Let’s take a deeper look at the differences here:
Components of an Empathetic Relationship
A study by Pristang, Picoiotto and Barker examined 18 couples’ communication of empathy during the transition to parenthood. They concluded that couples showed high empathy levels when:
Are You Embracing Empathy in Your Relationship?
Dr. Gottman describes empathy as mirroring a partner’s feelings in a way that lets them know that their feelings are understood and shared. He cites it as the key to attunement with your partner, as well as essential to the emotional coaching style of parenting. Take a look at the questions below and consider how often they apply in your own relationship:
To truly embrace empathy, both partners in a relationship should answer the above questions with “often” or “frequently.” If these actions rarely or never take place, empathy in the relationship is lacking and the partnership may suffer.
Integrating Empathy Into Your Partnership
So what can we do to use empathy more effectively in our relationships? Couples can try the following techniques to increase their empathetic communication and, thus, their bonding and relationship satisfaction.
Empathy has the power to transform the feelings of togetherness, understanding, and love between partners when used effectively. It brings the friendship back into a partnership, where both partners know they have each others’ back.
With the holidays approaching, many of us will find ourselves traveling and visiting family. For some of us, that means traveling back to our hometown and spending time with the people we grew up with. For others, it means visiting your partner’s family - sometimes for the first time.
While the experience of spending a holiday with a new group of people can be joyous and thrilling, it can also bring about stress, tough feelings, and new styles of celebrating. Everyone wants their holiday to be meaningful, but visiting a new home comes with its own set of expectations and realities.
Do you hope for smiling faces? A picture-perfect holiday? A table full of warmth and love? Or do you just hope to be included, welcomed by your partner’s family?
Do you accept the reality of this visit, that it may be stressful, busy, and require lots of preparation? Do you accept that there may be family disputes, different traditions and values than your own, or even the risk of not being accepted by your partner’s family?
With planning, preparation, and reasonable expectations, your visit with your partner’s family CAN be a success. It’s all about what you and your partner are willing to work and hope for from that time.
When we go through the process of finding a partner, we are bound to have some ideas around the kind of person we would like to be with. Some of these qualities might include the physical attractiveness of the other person, their values, their beliefs, or their interests. Oftentimes, we desire to be with someone who is in sync with ourselves – someone who shares a similar mindset about life that we do.
What’s important to keep in mind is that when we go about trying to find that ideal partner, we need to keep our vision of who they are in mind. This is true for a multitude of reasons – we can lose sight of our ideal partner if we do not envision them clearly; we can find ourselves “settling” out of a fear of loneliness; or, we can find our own values shifting based on being with a person that finds us attractive – we can bend ourselves to the needs of another person.
In the below video, Bob Proctor talks about the importance of mapping your ideal partner in terms of the law of attraction – that is, by envisioning your partner and living life as if they are already in your life, that you will eventually attract that person to you. Take a look below and pay careful attention to the concept of mapping your partner – the act of listing out the qualities that you would want to see in the person with whom you hold a relationship.
Let’s walk through the exercise completed in this video together. Start by drawing your own circle and lines outside of it. While Proctor provides some great ideas for the qualities we would probably want to see in a partner, each of us are unique and place different values on different things. Consider for yourself the qualities that YOU most desire in a partner – what does that person believe? What are their values? How do they choose to spend their time, both with you and on their own? Draw as many lines as you would like and be as specific about these qualities as you can.
Now, let’s take a moment to stop the exercise. We’re going to explore something that came up in the video briefly, but it’s something I think deserves quite a bit more attention. Think about the people who have most recently come into your life – those with whom you’ve had a relationship that ended for one reason or another. What qualities do they share with your ideal person? What qualities differ?
The point here is this: We attract what we are. While we may desire a specific type of partner, ultimately who we will be most attracted to us are those who are innately similar to us. Those qualities in your ideal partner that your past partners don’t share, the things that you do not want to see in the person you end up with in the long-term? That’s the stuff we have to look inward upon – something about those qualities appear in ourselves and attract those who harmonize with them.
This is where we depart from imagining a relationship and we start imagining our ideal self. While this technique is beneficial for bringing a potential partner into our life, it’s also a tool for mapping out the things about ourselves that we will need to address before that ideal person will appear and before we are ready to have a relationship with that person.
Look at the comparison of lists – ideal partner qualities versus past partner qualities – and pick out three that seem to differ the most. Do these negative qualities in past partners shed light on things about yourself that you would like to improve in? Do they indicate a trend in who has been attracted to you? If so, you have a starting point – clear goals for self-improvement that you can implement with dedication and planning.
The work involved will be dependent on what kinds of traits you selected – article topics all on their own. But by having a clearer starting place, and giving yourself permission to reflect and accept the truth that this comparison of partners provides, you are moving through the early stages of a path that can bring you both self-fulfillment and meaningful connection to a future partner.