Four Psychological Techniques to Improve Your Relationship

shutterstock_369632525Some of us are obsessed with attaining that which is better than what we have, and striving for it. This is the essence of human motivation, felt more by some than others. We are a very goal-oriented species, evident in the moon landing as well as the Olympics. For those who strive to be their best, this drive is projected into our environment in so many ways. We work hard to have a nice home, a solid career, we read magazines trying to work healthier, tastier meals into our diet, we keep on the lookout for a better exercise program, we search for a car in our budget that looks nice and gets good gas mileage. We even try and limit our carbon footprint. This drive does not limit itself to our environment and the world outside of us. It also takes place in the realm of personal growth. We want to be smarter, stronger, more compassionate, with sharper skills, and better relationships in our work and personal life. Generally speaking, we know how to build a better us. We work harder. We know how to select the better car and we have ideas about improving our home. But we often hit a roadblock when it comes to building a better or more loving relationship. If you are lost on that front, here are four psychological techniques that you can use, that are sure to do the trick.

If you want to influence your partner’s behavior, nagging or blaming isn’t going to do it. Negative strategies put us and our partner at odds, creating an adversarial dynamic. If they think you are their opponent, or that you are commanding or belittling them, they are far less likely to conform. Instead, use a positive twist. This is called the Pygmalion effect. According to psychologist Robert Rosenthal, holding positive expectations of our partner’s behavior is a subtle way we can nudge them toward change. In Rosenthal’s experiment, teachers who held high intellectual expectations of their students saw significant gains in scholastic performance. With a “you can do it” attitude, you can influence your partner to rise to any occasion, and bring out the best in them. Has your partner been stressed lately? Who isn’t, right? A considerable amount of stress can weigh heavily on any relationship. Give a little time each day to listen and allow them to vent. Then when it’s your turn, you are likely to get this in return. This is social support. If they are nothing but negative at this time and it’s sucking out your soul, try what is known as cognitive reframing. Here, you can reframe the story in a positive light.

The best couples are those who feel they can freely discuss their deep inner thoughts with their partner, without judgment or ridicule. But sometimes we want to interject so badly, that we forget how important it is just to show the respect of listening. On top of that, we can sometimes snap to quick judgments, shutting our partner down instead of coming to understand them and supporting them. Practice emphatic listening. This is listening with the emphasis solely of trying to understand and empathize with your partner. This type of action has been shown to relieve stress, strengthen trust, and deepen the bond between partners. The last and most important strategy is positive regard. This is when you clear all judgment from your mind, regardless of what your partner has done, say, in the past before you two were together, or in some matter inconsequential to your relationship. Instead, show unbridled love, curiosity, and compassion. Most of these don’t work perfectly the first time you try them. They take a lot of patience. You will also have to make them your own, which takes practice. But if you can adopt these into your relationship, and have your partner do so too, you will see a remarkable difference in understanding, regard, synchronicity, and satisfaction between you and your partner.

For more such strategies read, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship by Clinton Power.


The Month When Most Divorces Occur

shutterstock_166929554Ask a group of people what month they think most divorces occur in and you will get a number of different answers. Some will pick spring and early summer months. They recall spring as the season of renewal and new love. There are those who will think about a summer fling and pick an appropriate month, while others still consider the time around the holidays, where singles look for someone to cuddle up to and stay warm with, to attend holiday parties with, and to help fight the winter blues, infidelity being a major reason for divorce. But the smart ones, the wisest of all will say January, right after the New Year. When you hear it, you automatically know why. It’s the same reason gym memberships go through the roof that same month, and attendance, both of which shrink shortly afterward. It’s encapsulated in the phrase, “New year, new you.” That includes cutting out the old fat, both on your body and a marriage that is weighing you down. According to UK law firm Co-operative Legal Services, filings for divorce increase around 300% in January each year. A catalyst might be all the stress and keeping up appearances over the holidays.

One of the major reasons according to a firm spokesman is that the children or the grandchildren have had a nice holiday, opened up their presents, and the other family members have gone back home. The study surveyed 500 newly divorced UK residents. 25% of respondents said they filed in January and knew they were going to split well before New Year’s Eve. Some had even seen a lawyer before Christmas vacation, and decided to go forward with a divorce in the beginning of the next year. 43% of respondents said they wanted to wait until after the holidays in order to make sure everyone else could enjoy them. One-third said they wanted one last family Christmas. And one-third said they didn’t want to go public just yet, so they kept quiet about it. 11% of respondents didn’t want to hurt family members with the news, while nine percent didn’t want it to crush a child on or near their birthday, which happened to fall around the same time.

Of the intrepid few couples who chose to announce their divorce over the Christmas break, a third said they would have kept it a secret until after New Year’s. Most psychologists agree that keeping a divorce hush-hush until after the holidays is a good idea. It’s a sort of benevolent lie. There are few in this category. But the announcement of a divorce does cause a family a lot of stress and upheaval. This is especially true if there are children involved. Any parent’s first job is to make sure their child knows that they love them. But getting divorced over the holidays will leave a lifelong bad taste in the child’s mouth. A company called Atomik Research conducted the survey on behalf of the law firm. They found the most common reasons for divorce, in 51% of cases, was infidelity. 32% said they fell out of love. 18% said they argued all of the time. Now you know the most popular month for divorce. For those going through it, remember to take care of yourself, and your children should you have them, learn to co-parent successfully, and only fight for what is important to you.

For more divorce related knowledge and advice read, Divorce: Complete Guide to Fast Recovery, Emotionally and Financially With Proven Strategies For Success by Victoria Poindexter.

What to Do if You are in Love With a Liar

shutterstock_277073900Most people say they can’t stand lying. But some let themselves be swayed by a singsong voice that soothes them into submission. Allow yourself to be wooed too long, and you will only be endangered to further and perhaps more significant mistruths. Remember that trust is the single most important quality to any relationship. If you don’t have that, you really don’t have anything. Still, some people lead with their heart instead of their head. They justify every action, word, and behavior, and end up crying their eyes out, wondering where they went wrong, while all the others around them huff, and silently say to themselves, “Told you so.” Even when things carry on and the liar gets away with it, this behavior slowly boils the relationship away. The deep, hot embers of anger, resentment, confusion, and mistrust will sooner or later cause a conflagration sure to burn everything away. Some people bury their feelings for years. But sooner or later they will resurface again and wreak havoc. Of course, to let go of an out and out liar, you first have to determine whether or not this is true. Weigh the facts against their justifications and see if they measure up. If you do find you are in love with a liar, this is how you proceed.

First determine the extent of the lie. Was it a little white lie to hurt your feelings? If so, they probably just care about you, and you might be a stickler for what is and is not considered a lie. Was it to not inconvenience you? This person may lack self-esteem, and have a hard time establishing themselves. They may be trying too hard to make you happy, and forget to advocate for or even explain what it is that they want. Instead, they think they know what you want, and they advocate for it. If this is the case, sit down with them and have a long talk. Put them at ease. Let them know that you understand their intentions, but that they need to be honest for this to work, and that you want them to also get what they need out of this relationship. Was it something to do with their ex, or someone of the opposite sex texting them? Were they calling or hanging out without you knowing? Chances are they are considering being with this person. They may be a player or they may be subconsciously drawn to this other person, while at the same time fighting their true feelings. The best thing to do is to extricate yourself and wish them all the best. You want to be the center of someone’s attention, not just picking at the scraps after another has finished with them.

Do they shower string of lies upon you? Determine whether this person is a compulsive liar or a pathological one. A compulsive liar does this for perceived, self-preservation. A pathological liar does so in order to continue to leech off of you, or society. Either way, such behavior does not bode well for any relationship. Get out while you still can. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the sweeping romance of a feeling or in being with a person, or love being a part of the story they portray. But if you get enchanted by their siren song they are likely to lead you into murky waters, from the depths which you may never return. Generally speaking, you can be devastated by infidelity, chronically anxious—never knowing what they are doing, who they are with, or where they have been, or cleaned out of house and home, and find no funds in the bank account. If you are with someone who is a liar, consider how they lie. What are their motivations? What are they doing it for? This along with some fact finding and evidence gathering can help you to find the truth. But stick with the reality of the situation, and if it’s right to leave them, do so and never look back. In hindsight, you’ll be so glad you did.

In the aftermath of such an affair be sure to read, When Your Lover Is a Liar: Healing the Wounds of Deception and Betrayal by Susan Forward and Donna Frazier.

Six Year Study Compares Cohabitation with Marriage

shutterstock_294024353Cohabitation has come a long way in our society. Years ago it was referred to as shacking up, and in some areas “living in sin.” Today, Gen Xers and Millennials are choosing this form over traditional marriage in numbers far above that of their parents. There are many reasons for this. One is a lot of children of the 80s and 90s had divorced parents, and vowed they themselves would never go through it. The cost of going to college and setting up a career both in time and finances make a wedding impractical. The sheer cost of weddings today are astronomical, which is a hard price tag to swallow, since student loan debt and other personal debts are high. Meanwhile, after pushing off marriage and cohabitating for some time, couples just get used to living together, and don’t see the point of going beyond “Facebook official.” Couples who cohabitate see many advantages. They still retain a certain level of independence. What’s more, a person can extricate him or herself from the arrangement without significant cost or legal wrangling. Of course, long-term cohabitation is considered common law marriage in some states. Anyone cohabitating long-term should look into the law, for their own knowledge.

Still, many couples today wonder what advantages, besides tax incentives and for some health insurance coverage, they would warrant by being married? A six year study looked into happiness rates between the married and those who cohabitate, and the results are fascinating. Advocates of marriage say that a relationship cannot have the depth and breadth without the strong commitment a marriage provides. Some studies have also shown health benefits that do not carry over to cohabitators. This study compared the health and wellbeing of married versus cohabitating couples, as well as how much time each partner spent with friends and family. This was a national sample including 2,700 U.S. adults. Participants at the onset were people who were single and not cohabitating. They were questioned in 1987 or 1988, and then followed up with six years later. Researchers examined three particular romantic arrangements: those who went from single to married, those who were cohabitating, and those who had lived together before marriage. They were all compared among seven different aspects: happiness, health, depression, self-esteem, contact with parents, time spent with friends, and the quality of relationship with parents.

In the final analysis several things of interest popped up. In terms of happiness, there was no difference between those who got married without cohabitating, and those who married after living together. In all cases, contact with parents and relationship with parents remained the same. Those who cohabitated first before marriage spent the least amount of time with friends. Whether they got married or not afterward, cohabitators had higher self-esteem than married people. If the couple only stayed together for the six initial years of the study, cohabitators rated happier. Overall with all couples, there was no difference in happiness between married people and those who lived together, whether cohabitators decided to get married or not. Researchers concluded that married people may be healthier because of their ability to be covered under a spouse’s health insurance. Other than that, marriage and cohabitation lined up the same category by category. There was some indication however of additional satisfaction with cohabitators, due to their flexibility and a little extra autonomy. This should be food for thought for anyone considering whether to continue to cohabitate or get married. Though social pressure may be off, expectations fulfilled, and access to health insurance and other incentives gained, if you are expecting it to make you happier, closer to your partner, and more fulfilled, think again, at least as far as this study is concerned.

For more information on cohabitation read, Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple by Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller.

When Does the Truth Help or Hurt in a Relationship?

shutterstock_256158817One of the main behaviors that can compromise a relationship is a significant lie. Poll after poll shows we detest liars. And psychologists will tell you that telling the truth, even if it is uncomfortable, is the best way to build up the bond of trust. They will also tell you that people lie an average of three times within any ten minute conversation. Robert Feldman, Ph.D. is a professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He says the number one reason people lie is spare the feelings of another. These are little white lies. We just don’t want to say anything that may cause another confusion, hardship, or pain. For some, the same is true in their relationship. You see it in the woman who drinks coffee as her husband fixes it, secretly wishing for years he would add just a little less milk, but never saying so, or the husband who endures a pet name from his wife, who inside gets pangs every time she calls him it. We sometimes don’t speak up, or lie to give in to what we think our partner wants. But in the end, we are just hurting ourselves, and not being honest with them. At other times, being brutally honest with our partner or spouse can hurt them, yet, add nothing to the relationship. So how do we know when the truth helps or hurts?

Err on the side of the truth. There is no reason to lie about how you like your coffee, or agreeing you like a certain performer that you can’t stand, just to get into someone’s good graces. Bigger lies will poison a relationship, such as infidelity or addiction in one’s past. It is best when things start turning serious to sit the person down and tell them, if you have something concerning in your past. The longer you let it go, the worse it gets. When you hide such things, you have to know that sooner or later they will find out, and it will be devastating to hear it from someone else instead of from your own lips. If your partner is wrapped up in a new hobby or something that doesn’t interest you in the least, do not feign interest. But you don’t have to be brutally honest, if you say think it is the most boring thing in the world. If you and your partner disagree on religion. Say one person is religious and the other an atheist. The atheist shouldn’t feel the need to tell their partner how ridiculous they think their religion is, or vice-versa. If it is just an opinion and that opinion will hurt your partner, without improving the relationship one iota. Keep any severe opinions to yourself. You can just say, “It’s not for me.”

Some people consider lying as a normal part of courtship or dating. In one study 147 people were surveyed. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 71. All of them admitted to lying to their partner at least one-third of the time. In another study, psychologists found that men and women lied in relationships for different reasons. While women generally lied to avoid hurting the other person’s feelings, men usually fibbed to improve the impression they gave. Sorry guys, but all truths are revealed in time. Sooner or later she is going to find out, and be disappointed. The best thing you can do is to evaluate what you are going to say before you say it. You want to be completely honest on the things that matter. You don’t want to swallow a lie on something inconsequential however, and endure some injury from it, like the wife and the coffee. But you don’t want to hurt your partner’s feelings with the truth, without they, you, or the relationship seeing any gain from it. Just keep negative opinions to yourself, or better yet formulate them in a positive light. “It’s not my thing, but I can see why you are interested in it.” Otherwise, be completely forthright and you’ll have a lot to talk about and work through, but you’ll also be building a deep understanding and a close and loving relationship. If you’re okay what you’re saying, but on the lookout for mistruths from the other side read, Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage by Paul Ekman.