One of my teachers at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Harville Hendrix, a leading relationship counsellor, intrigued me in his lecture about emotional development, love and relationships. He made a great point about the key underlying issue for almost all of his clients, as well as his own relationship – negativity.
This is something I’m adamant is the killer of all relationships – family, friendships, and particularly the relationship with yourself – but for the purpose of this article, I’m focusing on romantic relationships.
Negativity is literally a toxin in the body – having a scientifically proven emotional and physical effect (again, another blog post to come). It leads to all sorts of anxiety, stress and low self esteem, as well as illness. Negativity in any direction is equally harmful – whether it’s judging others, or judging yourself – it all has the same detrimental affect on the brain. If you find that your partner is a little “glass half empty” about life, themselves, or other people, then that’s the core of what he/she needs to change, and in turn, everything else will begin to change for the better along with it. Perception is everything.
So how do you work on removing negativity? Focus on appreciation. Hendrix and his wife decided to remove all negative conversations for a trial period of three months, and focused on exchanging things with each other that they appreciated – every day. As silly as it may have felt at first, the shift after just a few weeks was profound.
Make an effort to tell your partner the tiny things that you appreciate – perhaps she’s always be polite when shutting down an annoying telemarketer, or maybe he doesn’t walk into an elevator before others have come out, she may always say “I love you” when you’re saying goodbye, or he will never forget to brush his teeth before bed… The tiniest things are the things that we take for granted – yet they become a focus if they were missing.
Pay attention to yourself next time your partner is talking. What are you really listening to? Are you listening to your mind analysing a conversation you had with a friend earlier? Wondering who your facebook notification is from? Or one of the worst – are you focusing on what you’re going to say next while just waiting for your turn to talk?
Many of us are guilty of this, and while we may physically hear what is being said, we only actually comprehend fragments of the conversation – because we’re not listening. This causes mountains of issues in a relationship – your partner is likely aware of your absence in the conversation, and feeling neglected, disrespected, unloved, etc. and/or you have no awareness of any problems that may exist that he/she is trying to communicate to you.
Next time he/she is talking, really listen. Put down your phone, turn your body towards them, look them in the eye, and listen.
If he/she doesn’t talk much about feelings, then ask some probing questions and give them space and time to answer. Silence is OK! You do not need to fill silence in a conversation. Many people are really uneasy about silence in a conversation, however it’s the most powerful time that a person can have to truly tap in to what it is that they want to say. What someone says after that moment of silence is likely the golden nugget.
Speak Each Other’s Language
Thanks to a guest post by Rebecca Dettman on The Wellness Warrior, I learned about a popular book by Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages, which talks about how so many couples stay together for years, completely unsatisfied. They remain in a state of not communicating, and often not “getting it on”. Why? Chapman’s theory is that they’re not speaking their partner’s “Primary Love Language”.
He provides a simple quiz on his website, and in his book, which helps you determine which of the languages you “speak”, whether it be Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time or Physical Touch.
This is a brilliant tool, because we are often quite different, yet believe the other person wants what we want. So if my primary love language was “Acts of Service”, and I was constantly doing things for my boyfriend, like cooking him dinner or making his bed, then it really wouldn’t be hitting home as hard for him as it would for me, if his primary love language is “Physical Touch”, and all he wanted was a huge hug when he woke up.
Sometimes it’s pretty obvious, but if you haven’t figured out what your partners “language” is, then perhaps the two of you should take the test below. It’d be a great way to open up some dialogue too, allowing for that listening time.