10 Relationship Skills I Wish I Was Taught.


Skills

No one teaches you about these skills when you are young. You are just supposed to meet someone, like them, be attracted to them, even fall in love with them. The rest is supposed to work itself out. Until it doesn’t. Often you don’t learn about these skills until it’s too late. But once you learn how important they are, you just want to share.

1. Empathy.  Empathy means you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what it must feel like to be there. Especially when you disagree or when you can’t relate to them. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Familiarize yourself with their world. Ask questions, be curious, leave your judgement and Ego aside and embark on a journey even knowing sometimes that what you might find is painful or unpleasant. Empathy is essential to creating a safe relationship. It may not be a happy one but you can’t get to happy without going through safety first. Empathy is definitely a skill you and your partner can learn. You don’t have to date a therapist to get empathy from your partner, but it helps if he/she is not self-involved, egocentric, incapable or unwilling to extend themselves in a compassionate, attentive way.

2. Listen. Develop listening skills. Don’t interrupt. Be patient. Listening means shutting up. Let your partner talk without feeling pressured or ignored. Be involved. Listening is active not passive. It involves paying attention, remembering, organizing thoughts and being open-minded all at the same time.

3. Be positive. It’s a harsh world out there. We get criticism from our bosses, parents, co-workers and even friends. Most importantly we get criticism from ourselves. We don’t need to bring more criticism home. We can choose to focus on what’s working, on what our partner is good at, what they can do well, what they excel in. We can choose to point out their best attributes, their wisdom, their strength, their greatness, their awesomeness. It’s there if you choose to focus on it and make it known to them and the world. Make it known you are proud to be on his/her side, thank them for existing, for being them and for all the little acts of kindness towards you and others. Praise them for their successes and turn their failures in a positive opportunity for learning and growth. Be their cheerleader. Lift them up. Be grateful for them.

4. Don’t take it personally. When he chooses to watch the game with his buddies instead of hanging out with you, when she says she’s too tired to have sex, when he is too distracted or stressed by work, when he forgets about something you planned or when she doesn’t like to hold your hand in public. Even when your partner cheats on you, it’s not personal. Shit happens. We are only human, we make mistakes. It’s not a reflection on you. It may not be about you at all. Our partners are individual human beings with an independent will and identity and they make mistakes. Learn to hold on to yourself and be unruffled in your self-confidence and trust of yourself and others. This can be a difficult concept to grasp or practice but not impossible.

5. Turn toward. When your partner shares something that is important to them, pay attention. Turn toward them physically, mentally, emotionally. Pay. Attention. This doesn’t mean you agree with them or even understand why it is important. Still, you turn toward them. If you don’t, if you turn away from what’s important to them, the opportunity may never present itself again. Next time they think about sharing with you, they will remember what it felt like to be ignored or shunned or criticized or even mocked for it and they will shut down and shut you out.  When you realize you have turned away unintentionally, correct as soon as possible. Apologize and then turn toward them. Pay attention to what’s important to your partner even if you consider it to be minor, irrelevant, stupid, non-nonsensical. Know that when your partner bids for your attention (as Gottman puts it), they are looking for validation, approval, acceptance, love.

6. Team work. When your partner bitches about his/her boss, co-worker, friends, parents, the whole world, be prepared to take their side. Show them you are on their team. Show them you are loyal to them and stand by them even if you disagree with their actions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Be on their side because if they are in the wrong, deep down they know it. They don’t need you to point it out. Even if they don’t know they are wrong they will only get to that realization if they know you support them. There is nothing worse than feeling alone in a relationship. We want to be with a significant other because we don’t want to face the world alone. Don’t turn against him/her. Your partner does not need a mother or a father. He/she already has one in their own head. And that’s more than enough. Take his/her side and treat them with respect, dignity, trust and confidence that they can handle their shit.

7. Radical Acceptance. As much as it may feel that way sometimes, your partner is not an extension of you. Let go of your need to control. Letting go is a very important skill for peace, sanity and joy. What is needed is called radical acceptance: fully accepting the things you can’t control. Get honest with yourself about who your partner is and be prepared to fully accept them for who they are. They may learn new skills and even change significantly because you came into their life. But some things will never change. Accept it.

8. Ask for what you need/want. Don’t assume your partner knows what you want or need. They can’t read you mind. Learn to figure out what it is exactly you need or want and be able to articulate that assertively. Don’t expect them to know and then get pissed when they don’t give you what you expect. Take responsibility for your avoidance and lack of communication.

9. Diversify. This will sound weird but your partner is not enough. You can not meet all your needs through one relationship. You can not put all the weight of your happiness on one relationship and then expect not to be frustrated or disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should have affairs. But lets be honest, most emotional affairs start because someone is unhappy and someone needs a friend. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well I say it takes a village to maintain a happy relationship. You need friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, community, meaningful and fulfilling work, hobbies, etc etc.

10. Patience. At one point or another you’re going to get frustrated with your significant other. It will feel like they are moving waaaayyyy slower than you would want them to and you don’t understand why they can’t do what you need them to do. You are going to wonder if they really care about you and even question whether you should continue to be in this relationship. What you need is patience and lots of it. Everyone goes through their own process of change and growing up. You can’t rush things. And you can’t place a timeline on someone’s growth.


5 Habits of Happy Couples


John Gottman of the University of Washington has researched thousands of couples and found that happy couples do things like show interest, being affectionate, show they care, being appreciative, show concern, are empathic, accepting towards each other, joke around and share their joy.

Emotional intimacy is key to attachment – happy couples have a sense of attachment to each other and the relationship. They feel safe with each other and are able to open up emotionally which leads to feeling connected, empathetic and feeling like they know each other well. Happy couples have a communication style that involves high disclosure. Also they are highly empathetic. It seems that empathy is the key to having an emotional connection and emotional intimacy.

Happy couples fight fairly – happy couple are not always happy, like all couples they fight and get frustrated with each other. The difference between happy couples and unhappy couples lies in their style of conflict. There are 4 types of conflictual behaviors that are corrosive for couples: escalation, invalidation, negative interpretation and withdrawal. Escalation is a communication style that feeds into the conflict and makes it more emotionally intense. Invalidation happens when a partner doesn’t acknowledge or validate the other’s experience or emotions because they are too busy wanting to be right. Negative interpretation happens when partners look for hidden motives often based on past experiences. Withdrawal leaves both parties feeling like they weren’t heard and leave the conflict unresolved. Happy couples have a respectful way of communicating which leads to feeling validated and heard.

Happy couples are friends – happy couples treat each other with love and respect, they are “partners in crime” and truly are each other’s best friend. They each have a well-defined sense of self (contrary to codependent couples) but they practice selflessness and overcome their innate narcissism for the sake of love. Each partner is also capable of subordination and consider the other’s needs as much as they consider theirs. This also includes negotiating differences, power, roles and individual pride. They also realize that they may not change everything. There may be aspects of their partner that will simply have to tolerate. This gets complicated when certain traits in the partner do not appear until certain relationship milestone like marriage, children, moving in together, etc.

Happy couples have intentional rituals – whatever the form couple’s rituals leave them feeling closer to each other. Couple time is extremely important especially after having a child or a demanding job promotion. During highly stressful times couples need to recognize the importance of taking care of their relationship, even if at times it may feel self-indulgent. Time with each other needs to become a priority because relationships often do not maintain themselves and tend to fall apart if not properly nurtured.

Happy couples respond rather than react – every relationship goes through stressful times, often from things that have nothing to do with the relationship or things that are beyond one’s control. During highly stressful times, some people get overwhelmed with emotion and react to the situation in a highly emotional way that they often later regret. Happy couples show emotional intelligence: being able to understand one’s emotions and those of others and respond to them rather than react. Responding means doing 3 things: calming down, engaging in detoxifying self-talk and adopting a non-defensive listening and speaking stance.

Are you a happy couple? How do you solve conflict? Are you empathetic towards your partner? How does stress affect your relationship?