Heather and Bruce are a couple in their late 40s with three teenage children. Bruce works outside the home and Heather is a home maker. Both are stressed and busy. Together as parents, they work hard to create a comfortable, safe and pleasant home environment for their family. However, as a couple, they often feel disconnected and that something in the harmony that they are trying so hard to achieve is missing.
They came to my office with the hope of finding this missing piece. “We are big on compliments in our household, we think that they boost self-esteem and confidence” Bruce stated. He added, “Like, I always tell Heather how good she looks.” Heather nodded, “yes you do, but I think you are just saying it.”
Heather offered her own version, “ And I often compliment Bruce on being a good father.” Bruce did not respond.
So what happened here?
In this scenario, it seems like both intended to make their partner feel good. Both had good intentions. So what went wrong?
First, Bruce’s compliment was not perceived as genuine. Heather took it as a part of Bruce’s to do list. She reacted negatively. Not knowing what to make of Bruce’s compliment, she didn’t accept it. Bruce felt rejected and defeated. “She doesn’t believe me, so what’s the point?”
In the second example, Heather gave Bruce a compliment when she saw him interacting with their children. Although Bruce accepted the positive comment, it didn’t touch him the way Heather wished for. Her compliment left him indifferent. “So what?” he said. “What is so special about that?”
In our meeting we discussed the importance of giving clear, more specific, detail oriented compliments that will convey the warm, loving messages that they both intended to give. Both practiced putting effort into their messages. Bruce constructed a new complement. “You look good when you wear this blue dress. It brings out your blue eyes.” Heather was clearly touched and thanked him. On her turn, Heather gave Bruce an equally positive compliment. She told Bruce, “I love it when I see you talking with the kids. You are so patient and attentive. They adore you. You are a good father.” This time Bruce smiled at her and responded: “That felt good.”
Both felt more connected and valued.
What is your experience with giving and receiving compliments?
I would love to hear from you! Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will incorporate your reply in my next newsletter.
On Personal Growth: Exposure to neighborhood parks and green space promote a healthy duration of sleep
A three year study of 259,319 Australian participants, 45 years old and older showed that those who lived in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of green space had more active lifestyles. The study also revealed that participants experienced healthier, longer durations of sleep.
One plausible explanation that the authors offer is such that, “the dispersal of traffic density and noise pollution in areas with more green space,” have positive influence of sleep duration.
Authors conclude that longer sleep duration impacts health, including obesity, cardiovascular disease and impaired mental health. They suggest to keep examining the influence of green space such as parks or green conservations on sleep and health.
BMJ open, August 2013
On Relationships:Husbands’ consistent lack of emotional expression influence quality of marriage. .
A total of 229 newly married couples reported habits of not openly expressing emotions and their perception of marital quality at 5 months and two years after marriage.
Results showed that when husbands do not openly express emotions, marital quality over time was lower. However, when both husbands and wives were similar in their emotional expressions, higher marital quality was reported.
Authors conclude that the wives were more sensitive to their husbands’ emotional expressions, but husbands’ habits were more influential on the quality of marriage.
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2016
On New Parents’ Relationships: Sleep deprivation impairs development of affiliation and empathy
A total of 54 healthy young adults volunteered for a study of the effects of sleep deprivation on the ability to accurately identify six basic human facial expressions of emotions.
Results showed that when sleep deprived for one night, recognitions of facial cues of happiness and sadness were compromised. However, participants were able to easily identify expressions of surprise, fear, disgust and anger.
Researchers explain that during sleep loss, it was a survival necessity that individuals sustain accuracy of the four facial expressions of surprise, fear, disgust and anger and the brain may preserve resources to respond. Since, emotional recognition of happiness and sadness are perceived as non-threatening social emotions, more so, emotions that communicate safety and acceptance, empathy and closeness, it is not necessary for the brain to allocate resources to sustain responses. Identifying these two expressions then are compromised when sleep is deprived.
Applying this conclusion to new parents’ relationships, we can assert that sleep is a must for appropriate new parents’ healthy social interactions, empathy and affiliation.
Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms, June 2017
Megan and Ron are a couple in their mid-30s with 2 young children. They both hold high demanding jobs and are determined to find the magic balance between home, work and alone time. They both see the use of cell phones as the culprit that takes away their home time from them and tips the delicate balance in favor of work.
They came to my office blaming each other for their excessive cell phone use. “During dinner his phone is right there,” Megan claimed. “He looks at it every few minutes. You do not pay attention to us even though we agreed not to use the phone. “
“Me? “ He was ready with a quick answer. “You answer every buzz even if it is only a text and you are telling me not to? You are so controlling!!!”
So what happened here?
Clearly, they did not listen to each other’s needs. Megan’s need is to have quality home time with Ron. She wants an engaged husband who gives the family his undivided attention during meal time. Ron, on his end, feels as though Megan imposes some rules on him. Rules that he doesn’t agree with. He views it as a threat to his independence.
They both feel blamed and accused through no fault of their own.
In our meetings they listened to each other and allowed each other to express their underlying needs. Megan confessed that she needs him and Ron admitted he needs to make the decisions sometimes. We looked at different options that will make the ground rules for a positive environment and will address both needs. Megan and Ron decided that both will answer the phone during meal time only if it rings. They will alert each other that they only check if it is important and will be right back. Both agreed to avoid texts during family meals.
They would re-evaluate their agreement and make changes periodically.
What is your experience with phone use? How did you address it?
I would love to hear from you. Please contact me at email@example.com and I will incorporate your reply in my next newsletter.
On Personal Growth: Midlife anxiety is linked to dementia in old age.
A review of four studies that included over 28,000 people showed that there is a correlation between moderate to severe anxiety in midlife and dementia 10 years later.
Authors of the review explain that abnormal stress response may speed up brain cell aging and degenerative changes in the central nervous system, which increase vulnerability to dementia.
They concluded that, “non-pharmacological therapies, including talking therapies and
mindfulness-based interventions and meditation practices, that are known to reduce anxiety in
midlife, could have a risk reducing effect.”
BMJ open, April 2018*
On Relationships:Psychological detachment from work stress affects quality of romantic
Among a sample of 106 dual- earner, committed couples researchers found that when partners’ jobs had not occupied them during the evenings, couples experienced higher quality of romantic interactions.
The researchers explained that the ability to detach from work affected partners and quality of time together. When occupied and stressed about work, partners spent less time together, perceived each other as less available and romantic relationship were compromised.
Researchers suggest that positive activities and partners’ support might distract from job related
thoughts, reduce impact of stress and assist in better detachment from work and better
Journal of Happiness Studies, September 2017*
On New Parents’ Relationships: Early Romantic Relationships linked with improved child behavior
8 years later
Results of a study of 1318 couples across 8 years revealed that mothers’ and fathers’ early relationship quality predicted their own parental engagements 2 years into the future. Researchers add that mothers’ more than fathers’ parental behaviors mediated relationship quality and their children’s positive outcome.
In conclusion researches suggest that clinicians and parent educators
include relationship enhancement programs for the benefit of parents and their children.
Journal of Family Issues, March 2014*
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.