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.


How to Know When to Let a Bad Relationship Go

shutterstock_301290968Sometimes we sit back and reflect on our relationship, its strengths and weaknesses, and where it’s going, if anywhere. Sometimes this is obsessive ruminating, at other times it is a sign that things aren’t going well. Of course, every relationship has its peaks and valleys. You hope for a few plateaus. When all you have is plains for a long time that could be a problem. No couple is perfect. They may seem so from the outside. But they all have their problems. Some people look for absolute perfection in their relationship, and are perpetually disappointed when they don’t get it. A more practical approach is asking whether or not your physical and emotional needs are being properly met, and if you can adequately see to theirs. Does this relationship provide happiness, or does it strip it away? If you are by and large seeing your needs met and you still feel a significant connection, than this is a rough patch, and the two of you have to put your heads together and fix things. Unfortunately there is no algorithm that you can punch information into in order to tell whether or not this relationship should be saved. That is up to each individual. But here are some ideas that will help you make your decision.

When you spend time together, do you have fun? Or do you wish you could get away from them as soon as possible? If you can no longer appreciate one another, that is a big red warning sign. If you can’t be companions, there is no point in wasting any more time. This relationship is a desert and you must get out of it. What is the trust level like? If you don’t trust your partner chances are it cannot last. It will instead become worse and worse. But if there is a solid foundation of trust, a lot of other things can be fixed. You already have secured the bedrock of any successful relationship. Do you have common interests or hobbies you like to take part in together? This is a good indicator that your relationship has staying power. When people can enjoy their free time doing things they like together, it strengthens the relationship. When one person feels dragged to this or that, it hurts it. What are your core values or beliefs? What are theirs? If you share the same religion, philosophy, political leaning, finances, and education level, chances are you can see eye to eye on a lot of things, the better to help solve problems.

How significant are small problems? If they are well taken care of, chances are you deal with each other well. If a little thing turns into a giant issue, then this relationship may be on its way out. Do you feel supported? Does your partner feel as though you support them? Emotional support is one of the main needs people turn to their relationship for. If not for their partner, sooner or later they will turn to someone else, further widening the divide. Is there mutual respect? You can’t have real love in a relationship without respect. Is there flexibility? If when plans fall apart, no matter how droll, does your partner fall apart with them? If so, then you may be nearing the cliffs and you should probably jump ship. Relationships that can’t weather small gales are less likely to be able to keep it together should a tempest come crashing along. Is each one of you invested? Sometimes one person feels as though they are towing the other one. This can really wear you down. If you have several positive qualities, but cannot seem to work through it, try a self-help book, or couples counseling. But if there is no hope of resuscitation, it may be best to just let it slip away.

For more insights into the human heart read, If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path by Charlotte Kasl.

Reasons to Celebrate Singlehood after Divorce

shutterstock_104926916Those who have the distinct displeasure know all too well, a divorce is gut wrenchingly painful. But for those who can come to terms with their grief and pain and heal, there are a lot of advantages to be found on the other side. It doesn’t look like it at first. Many people, even in the aftermath of a hellish divorce years ago, still sit alone decrying their fate. In fact, a newly minted singlehood can be the best thing that ever happened to you. In years past, marriage was a financial arrangement and a social institution. Today, no one has to be locked into it. Everyone has the chance to find their own happiness. But we take our freedom for granted. We continue to bemoan our fate. Nowadays, we have dating apps and websites, along with traditional ways to meet people. We can take care of ourselves, and choose the right person for us, instead of just taking whoever happens to come along. The divorced sometimes wrestle with feeling like damaged goods. But it’s not true. In fact, once the pain is gone, you will probably be better at relationships now than you ever were before. Unfortunately, single people are maligned in our society. It is as if there is something wrong with them. But in fact, a lot of amazing people choose to be single, or at least for certain periods. They know that only the right person is worth getting serious with. Here are some other reasons you should celebrate your new singlehood.

Ever need someone to watch the kids? Now you have an automatic, go-to babysitter. Granted it’s not ideal. But it is not a bad deal either, especially if you are trying to get your love life humming again. But don’t be the type of parent always pushing the kids off on your ex. Be sure to use your power wisely. Remember walking around and seeing what a mess your partner left? Now, if you are the neat and tidy type, I bet the place is all squared away. And look at how much space you have, and all that closet space. Even if you moved to a new place, it’s good to admit that there’s nobody else’s junk clogging up the place. That’s a huge plus, and a reason to go shopping. Stretch out on the bed. You don’t have to huddle in a corner anymore. Use as many covers as you want. No snoring is great, isn’t it? Was there an annoying habit your ex had like leaving the toilet seat up or forgetting to put the cap back on the toothpaste? You won’t have to deal with it, ever again. Was there a certain habit or hobby that your ex didn’t like? If so, now is the time to embrace it. When it comes to watching something on TV or ordering take out, you can watch or get whatever you want, without having to argue or negotiate with anyone. It won’t matter what episodes you’re ex has or hasn’t seen, they won’t be there, and this should make you smile.

For those who have been through a controlling relationship, know that you won’t have to explain yourself anymore. You don’t have to call, or check in. You can be treated like an adult and do your own thing, without feeling an overbearing force looming over you. For those who felt as though they were a parent to their ex-spouse, now you are free of this child, or the additional one. You can live in the world of adults again. Just make sure that the next time you are going through the selection process to date someone who is mature. The best part about being newly single is you don’t have to answer to anyone. You can do whatever you wish, when you want, how you want, and with who you want. Instead of looking back on what you have lost, look at all you have gained. There aren’t many times in life where you get a second chance or a blank slate. Take advantage of it, make plans, outline all the steps, and get to work on building the life you always dreamed of. Now no one is standing in your way anymore.

For more on advice for life on the other side of divorce read, Your Post-Divorce Compass Practical, Real-World Advice for the Newly Single by Michael R. Dunham.

Fighting can be Good for Your Relationship

shutterstock_341429870There are those couples who seem to never fight. But rest assured, they do, just behind closed doors. Two people are whole worlds encapsulated in flesh. But when they come together in a relationship, as things progress, particularly if they begin living together, sooner or later conflicts arise. If they never do, then this is not a healthy relationship. For instance, take the couple where one person consistently capitulates to keep the other happy. The capitulator either has near non-existent self-esteem or their partner is a narcissist or a tyrant who has to constantly be placated in order to keep the peace. In a partnership with two are equal, each person’s ideas are valid. And so their differences have to be discussed, debated, and yes even fought over, for things to progress. Just like there is no such thing as a story without a conflict, there is no progress without disagreement. Otherwise, your relationship will remain stuck in time. It’ll become dull, ossify, and fossilize. After all, what is more of a turn on than our partner with that fiery look in their eye, passionately advocating for what they believe in?

When a person hides their feelings from the other, they get sublimated. But they are still there. Resentment builds up and sooner or later they will blow up. Or the person will slowly choke on their true self year after year until it sinks them into a quiet desperation and despair, for never having their point of view brought to the fore or their emotions recognized. There can be no intimacy if one does not trust one’s partner with one’s true opinion. That doesn’t mean one should support hashing things out in a damaging or hurtful manner. But each person should be heard and have their say. In a relationship of equals, both partners need to make their case, and then if no one’s is stronger, a negotiation worked out. The best kind are the ones where both people get what they want. But sometimes you have to dig to find out what that really is. You can easily make the case that we never really know our partner until we’ve seen all sides of them. Conflict and competition bring out the best in us. Just don’t be too competitive or play unfairly, or you may win the battle and lose your relationship.

Psychologists agree that a certain level of conflict is normal and healthy. The thing to concentrate on is how you fight. Do you scream at each other, break things, and slam doors? Or do you separate when things get heated? This is the best way. Give each other some space and time to cool down, and come back refreshed and ready to communicate. We really cannot dig into the deeper stuff hidden in our partner, or ourselves until we come across some kind of conflict. But not all are important. A large portion of arguments come from misunderstandings. But these too can be blessings in disguise. For when we begin to unravel how our partner understands things, we get a glimpse of how they see the world. We come to know them better. And when they listen calmly and patiently to how we understand things, they get a better notion of our worldview. So that understanding and closeness await any couple who can safely and positively negotiate a problem or even a crisis. But despair, decay, and even disintegration awaits any relationship that cannot successfully overcome obstacles. The moral of the story, become masters at communicating and overcoming conflict, and you will form a close, loving, and more blissful union.

Want to learn the best conflict resolution techniques? Pick a copy of, Everyday Relationships Resolving Conflicts in Your Personal and Work Life by Sheila Alson and M.A. Gayle Burnett

When is it Okay to Reveal a Secret to Your New Lover?


Everyone has a past, though admittedly some are more checkered than others. And sometimes it isn’t something we’ve done but we are. It could be an illness genetic or otherwise, an awkward past experience, a sexual fetish, family secrets, missteps in the past, a bizarre idiosyncrasy, strange tastes, and more. But for those who harbor big secrets, it can be really difficult to tell when the right time is to divulge it to a new love interest is. Most people feel anxious over what consequences such an admission might bring. What if there isn’t anything there? You would have opened up for nothing. Also, there is the potential of scaring this person away. But wait too long and you risk damaging the relationship in its most fragile stage. So at what point should you share your cryptic information? Each relationship develops differently. There is no easy answer. But here are some guidelines that you can use to increase your chance at having a positive outcome.

If you are just hooking up or casually dating, and the thing in question has absolutely no bearing on the other person, you can omit it from your interactions. If it does have bearing say HIV, it is your moral imperative to share this information with them, right in the beginning before anything happens. But otherwise, if it doesn’t touch their lives whatsoever, than see where things are going first. Who knows how long this relationship is going to last. Once things are starting to look serious, sit the person down and have a talk with them. Clinical psychologist Randi Gunther, Ph.D. is a marriage counselor in Southern California. She calls her approach, “The Law of No Negative Surprises.” It works like this, “Any data that could ever hurt a potential partner must be disclosed before it does.” You do not want to harbor a secret after things turn serious. The most important element in any relationship is trust. Failing to disclose could damage or even destroy your bond, driving the person out of your life.

If there is any information that is readily available about you, you should disclose it as soon as possible. You don’t want them finding out on the internet what you could have told them upfront. Any STDS, illegal activity you are or have been associated with, if you are already in a relationship and looking elsewhere and whether or not your partner knows, if you have children, a serious allergy, or have dated someone whom he or she knows, tell this person as soon as you can, face-to-face. When the time comes and you are entering into a committed relationship reveal any genetic diseases, serious financial obligations, any significant relationship problems from the past, family issues, any therapy you’ve had and medications you take, and anything else that might be pertinent. Make sure this is a person you trust before entering into a relationship and sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with them. Memories that are just too painful can be kept to one’s self. If it is pertinent just give them the gist. The best rule of thumb is whether or not the thing you are harboring will hurt this relationship. Any person worthwhile will accept you for who you are, faults and all, just as they wish to be accepted. Remember that everyone has a past. We all learn from it. But it does not define us. Anyone who cannot accept the real you does not deserve to have you. But the flip side is that you have to extend them the same sort of kindness, open-mindedness, and understanding.

For more on building a better love life read, Relationship Saboteurs: Overcoming the Ten Behaviors that Undermine Love