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.

 

Common Patterns that Threaten a Relationship

shutterstock_313918514We have few places to seek out what the model healthy relationship looks like. This is not taught in school, despite the litany of other inane things that are. If you were lucky to have parents who modeled a healthy relationship to you growing up, congratulations. But even then, no couple is perfect. We may pick up unhealthy habits that end up in our own later in life. Besides a lack of education on what is or is not good etiquette, our media doesn’t exactly portray relationships in a healthy manner either. Instead of round characters and the thorny difficulties that partners face, we get cute problems that are cured in just under an hour, and men and women who objectify and use each other, instead of engaging in complex, loving, supportive relationships. Luckily, psychologists have conducted a lot of research concerning what are and are not healthy habits over the years. It is unfortunate that a lot of couples take part in patterns that actually threaten the health of their love rather than strengthen it. Here are some of the most common relationship practices that are in fact toxic. See if any inhabit your love life, learn to banish them from it, and replace the behavior with something healthy.

Are you “keeping score?” In some places or situations a little healthy competition is good. It keeps things interesting and encourages each person to call up extra energies in order to achieve a certain task. But keeping score is different. Here, one person usually keeps a mental tally of each time the other has made a mistake. Tallies are compared to see who messed up the most over the months or years. Sometimes the scorekeeper thinks they can even the score, or have some wiggle room to say flirt with a cute coworker, because after all the scorecard says they are way behind. The reason this is toxic is everyone makes mistakes in relationships. But this tactic uses bitterness and guilt to control the other person. Usually, a lot of resentment builds until the relationship is no longer viable. If there is a habitual problem one or another person is taking part in, it must be addressed. But otherwise learn to forgive your partner when they make a mistake, and how to seek forgiveness when you have. Bringing up actions or problems from months or years ago will only cause greater friction today.

Passive-aggressive tendencies can hurt a relationship. This is dropping hints through sarcasm, or doing little things to hurt your partner to get revenge for certain slights, whether real or imagined. Instead of communicating clearly with the other person and letting them in, passive-aggression shields the user from their real feelings and sets up an adversarial relationship with their partner. Sooner or later their S.O. is going to be tired of being the bad guy. Instead, wait until the initial anger has passed, sit down with your partner and directly tell them what is on your mind. Lastly, no one should hold the relationship hostage. This is when minor problems are thought to be the end of the world. If you or your partner uses statements like, “I can’t be with someone who…” or “How can I be with you if you keep…” then either this behavior has crossed a line and needs to be discussed in depth, or you or your partner tend to overreact. The better way to interact is to communicate calmly and clearly. Outline the behavior and how it makes you feel. Don’t attack your partner. Just let them know what is going on inside your head and heart. Then give them a chance to respond. Most of the time if you address issues frankly from your standpoint, without shame or blame, you will get a positive response. Remember that emotions are not right or wrong, it is how you act upon them, and particularly within a relationship that makes all the difference.

For more on avoiding negative patterns read, Why Can’t You Read My Mind? Overcoming the 9 Toxic Thought Patterns that Get in the Way of a Loving Relationship by Ph.D. Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D. and Susan Magee.

How Giving Advice Can Hurt Your Relationship

shutterstock_259629341It’s really important that the balance of power is more or less equal in a relationship. Take for instance advice giving. When power is equally shared, partners value learning from one another. It enriches both. And neither feels as though their partner is lauding knowledge over the other, or parenting the other. There is no resentment here. But some feel compelled for advocating for their way of doing things. After all the thinking goes, when a certain method for completing a task is clearly the most effective, why should we not offer it to our beloved? The problem comes when one person is better at dishing out advice than receiving it. Another is when one is the giver of advice and the other the receiver. This sets up an unfair power structure which is sure to cause resentment if left unchecked. Usually, this starts with a lot of passive-aggressive behavior being thrown around. If someone asks for advice, that is surely an invitation. No one should be denied helping their partner. But when it becomes pedantic, when a holier than thou attitude inhabits the exchange, or when what is being peddled as advice turns out to be veiled criticism, trouble will ensue. That’s why we have to be careful how we approach our partner in the advice department.

Are you a first born sibling? Do you have a younger, same sex sibling? Psychologists have noticed that these type tend to want a partner who listens to the way they do things and follows them. If a partner is say appreciates and admits he or she requires such guidance, there is little problem. But usually after a while the other person will find this arrangement stifling. We should allow our partner dignity and the ability to make their presence in the relationship felt and known. How things are done should be negotiated, not one partner telling the other what to do. Or else this becomes a monarchy rather than a fair and mutually beneficial arrangement. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing at the beginning how a person conducts household affairs. Sometimes couples squabble over how certain things should be done, the cooking, the parenting, laundry, and so on. These may come from deeply held beliefs, ones education, or family or cultural custom. By denying your partner’s way to do things, you may be also denying much more deep-seated elements of their identity, and unwittingly rejecting them as well.

What partners need to do is to sit down calmly and find out when advice is warranted by the other, and when it seems like an invasion or an order. Some couples just relegate each person’s personal traits and strengths to whatever household duty must be done. One is a better cook for instance, the other better able to handle the yard work, or the bills. In these cases, many have found that not asking questions about process can avoid fights and allow each person their dignity. But for other couples, it helps when each is allowed to discuss their process a calm and matter of fact manner. You can learn a lot about your partner, the relationship, and yourself by sharing how you do things, and how you see things. If you and your partner struggle with this, instead of looking for places to offer advice, get upset at how your partner does something, or offended because they ignore your previous instructions, ask questions. Find out where they are coming from. You can discuss, debate, and figure out the best way forward.

For more tips on cultivating a more successful long-term relationship read, Love Busters: Protecting Your Marriage from Habits That Destroy Romantic Love by Willard F. Jr. Harley.

Year Two Can be Hard on a Relationship

That sheer rush when you fall for someone can be so exhilarating. Every insight they share fills you with awe, their jokes are hilarious, and every idiosyncrasy tickles you pink. But some two years later some find their partner’s insights stale, their jokes lame, and the little habits you used to find so cute are now positively irritating. What happened? The biochemical that kept you high on this person this entire time has leveled off. This is what some people call limerence and others the “honeymoon phase.” After about six months it begins to wear off. The two year point is heavy for most people. Some never want to settle down. They just want to jump from person to the next, chasing the feeling of newfound love. But many people want a life partner to share things with. So in this case to keep those feelings alive takes a lot of work. It takes a considerable investment in time, effort, thinking and planning for any relationship to run smoothly. Once those feelings end you have to evaluate it for what it really is, and consider whether you indeed have a deeper connection with this person or if it was all just infatuation.

Take a good look. Is there good communication? What about affection and tenderness? Do you treat each other with respect? Can you work through problems constructively? If the thrill is gone and you can’t for the life of you figure out what you saw in this person, be happy that the fog of love has lifted and cut your losses. Don’t keep trying to breathe life back into the corpse or you will waste a lot of time and effort, and frustrate yourself to no end. If you have been through a series of these relationships and are always let down in the second year or thereabouts, take a look at your standards. Are they perhaps too high? Some dating experts say apps and websites have made it seem like we can find someone perfect, when it’s really in our foibles and our acceptance of one another’s that we find acceptance and through it, love. Another aspect may be a fear of intimacy. Those who fear commitment often find their fears bubble up to the surface once the feel good chemicals of love wear off. Take it slow, communicate and seek help so as not to sabotage a good relationship if you are indeed in one.

As things develop, that frantic intensity might be gone. But there are other advantages not available before. Sometimes we forget how those dizzying first days, weeks, and months give us tremendous anxiety. But relationships in later stages are more comfortable. Partners who know each other better are closer. Though the instant need to gobble one another may be gone, many married couples say sex is better once you get to know each other’s likes and dislikes, and perhaps what kinks you share in common. You have your technique down too. Sometimes relationships and sex can get dull and need some sprucing up. Having a date night, plan a vacation, consider tantra, learn a hobby together like cooking, rock climbing, yoga, or salsa dancing. These are novel experiences which will invigorate your relationship. Talk about what you want to explore together. Also, partners who spend too much time together can get on each other’s nerves. Spend a little time apart to explore different hobbies or spend time with friends. You can talk about something new over the breakfast table. Consider your relationship carefully. But if you have all the right things to make it great, try and infuse a few changes and you’ll be able to reignite the spark. For more readHow to Keep Your Relationship Exciting: 85 Tips to Keep the Romance in Your Life! by Kate Anderson.

Are your Ready for a Long-term Relationship?

 

According to society, the media, our family, and perhaps even friends, a long-term, monogamous relationship is the only legitimate kind. Dating around is considered something for impetuous youth, and for the eternal playboy who flaunts societies rules and fails to slow down. Women are judged even more harshly if they do not want to find “The One.” Though many powerful, innovative female role models in the past never settled down, the fact is gleaned over, if not forgotten. Even after a painful breakup or divorce, folks will reach out, try to set you up with someone, ask when you are going to “get serious” with someone again, or merely inquire, whether politely or otherwise, why you are still single. The fact is, there is no right or wrong way to manage a love life. It is really all up to each, particular individual, what works for them, and where they are in life. No one can tell you if you are ready for or even want a long-term relationship, right now or ever. Only the voice in your own heart can tell you. If you rush into one with the wrong person, or with the right person at the wrong time—failing to allow things to develop at their natural pace, tragedy can ensue. It really is out of anxiety for others or societal expectations that we jump into a long-term relationship when we do not want one, or when we are not ready. So if you are interested in a long-term relationship, and that is your goal, how do you know when you are ready?

Did you just get out of such a relationship? If so, jumping into another may not be the smartest move. If you are seeing someone to get over your ex, to make them jealous, or if you know in your heart of hearts that this is just a rebound, do not move forward. You would be doing so not because you want to but out of expectation. A house of love built on a flimsy foundation will sooner or later come crashing down. You will have broken the heart of someone you had no intention of truly loving. Do not set up false expectations. Let the person you are dating know where you have been, where you are at, and how you aren’t looking for anything serious right now. Do not open the door to future seriousness with them if you have no intention of doing so. You will only set up a false expectation.

There is nothing wrong with a rebound or dating casually, as long as each party is aware of exactly what is going on and everything is consensual. Another time to avoid a long-term relationship is when you are expecting big changes soon. If you are moving away, starting a new job, entering into medical school, or taking some time off to take care of a sick relative, your time will be limited. Do you really have the time and energy to make this relationship work? Spreading yourself too thin will only cause arguments, derision, and heartache. A Long distance relationship needs even more of an investment. Talk it over with your love interest and let them know where you are at, and where you are going.

Some people love singledom and hate being tied down. Then they meet someone that they like, and even though becoming a unit doesn’t feel right, they do it to not lose the person. But they are never truly happy in captivity. Whether it is a temporary thing such as you are at a transition point and need to do some soul searching, or you have always been a lone wolf and will always be, do not settle for what you know in your heart will never work. State who you are and what you like clearly. If they won’t take no for an answer, you probably shouldn’t be dating this person to begin with. Perhaps you feel as though you need to keep your defenses up. You cannot trust anyone to get close. This is not the time to get serious with someone. They will attempt to get closer to you, while all you will be doing is pushing them away. This situation makes both of you dissatisfied. Instead, work on yourself. Why do you have these trust issues? Where do they stem from? Get yourself where you need to be, and once you get there, you will know how to manage your love life in the way that is right for you.

For more up a copy of Every Single Woman’s Battle: Guarding Your Heart and Mind Against Sexual and Emotional Compromise (The Every Man Series) Workbook by Shannon Ethridge.