RELATIONSHIP MAINTENANCE- SUSTAINMENT

woman-playing-chess-with-husband

“A penny saved is a penny earned”

 Proactive Practices

Relationship maintenance sustainment practices and protocols are skills, management ability and efforts directed at keeping a relationship on-going, making sure it stays on-course, continues to be vibrant, flourishing and exciting. They are pro-active by nature, meaning they should be done with a degree of frequency prior to any loss of effectiveness and satisfaction within the relationship (normal wear and tear). Historically relationship maintenance has been the sole domain of the feminine; supporting, caring and nurturing the relationship and its dynamics, but as society and culture have shifted towards a more feminine-centric society, many of these dynamics and their accountable responsibilities are more aptly placed within the masculine prerogative and leadership role. It is important to keep in mind that these tasks and behavioral patterns of proactive relationship sustainment are not typically associated with elements of relationship fault or repair (when there is a malfunction or damaged within the relationship- these will be covered in later blog posts), but are more associated with sustaining emotional energy and health levels within a relationship, such as relationship morale, maintaining relationship value and managing ego depletion, to make sure that the relationship stays on track, is well nourished and alive.

The Big Four

Relationship sustainment efforts should fall under four distinct categories of behavior efforts,(which will all be covered under individual future blog post) but are limitless, as to the specific nature and action elements one can take within each of categories, which include;

 Relationship Stability efforts– which focus on longevity

Relationship Quality efforts– dealing directly with satisfaction, love and intimacy

Maintaining the relationship Status Quo– maintaining specific stages or states within the relationship such as attraction, trust and respect– (opposing Hypergamy).

Maintenance of relational Dialectic Tensions – natural opposing forces or ideals found within relationships, such as connectedness vs autonomy, predictability vs novelty etc…

A Tailored Program

A successful sustainment maintenance protocol or program isn’t just a ‘to do list’ and a process of checking off of the relevant and completed boxes of completed tasks, but an established and tailored program centered specifically on the context of your relationship (because relationships change over time and within one’s life trajectory arch), the objectives you have for the relationship, and the needs, desires and values that each of you want from the relationship. Understanding specifically what you and your partner need and want will help immensely on what to focus on and the frequency it should occur at. Understanding that meeting or exceeding expectations is fundamental to relationship satisfaction, which ultimately determines the relationship heading. Furthermore, the simple reality is that it is human nature to become incredibly enmeshed in routine patterns of behavior, occupied with the rigors of life and to come to expect maintenance behaviors by your partner to occur routinely, which introduces negative behavioral traits into the relationship, namely, taking each other for granted. Keep in mind, there is no such thing as ‘cheating’ at life; either you get it right or you don’t. In this regard, it just makes sense to be organized, diligent and assertive in taking specific timely action to counter our basic instincts and to create a tailored proactive relationship program for ourselves that should include routine elements, tactical application efforts and strategic campaigned efforts to maintain overall relationship satisfaction in the following manner;

Daily Temperature Readingswhat’s your partner’s emotional state and morale? How is this affecting them and the relationship? Are you actively listening to you partners body language, tone, attitude and demeanor when they speak? What is she really communicating and are you letting them know you care in return?

Weekly Gas Ups- We only have a limited degree of emotional energy (ego) and managing ego depletion is critical. Weekly emotional/ego refueling is essential for satisfaction in life. Often the best fuel isn’t having fun, but simply de-stressing and increasing intimacy. Know what works best for both you and your partner and be generous in the refueling. Never run a relationship on an empty emotional tank.

Monthly Tune-Ups- noting what’s impeding relationship satisfaction and taking steps to remove or remediate it, as removing a negative is 4x-8x more effective than adding a positive (actually negatives are just simply that much more destructive than positives, so we should first focus on those first). One of the most important is a self check; what’s your branding status? Are you being the guy you lead her to believe you to be?

Annual Check-Ups- noting the relationship direction in relation to the relationship’s objectives. If the relationship were a ship, does it need to be righted? Are you on the right course despite the relationship tack (alignment in relationship to the wind)? What isn’t happening and what needs to be done? Like ships, relationships rarely sail in straight lines to their objectives and doing so may actually be less than optimal. Understanding the forces that surround your relationship and sailing appropriately is always a better course of action.

Great, healthy relationships just don’t happen. They take a considerable amount of work, empathy and foresight to get right the first time. We naturally get better at those tasks and functions we repeat often and with thought. Our actions define who we are and the quality of the relationships we are in. Often it’s as simple as knowing what needs to improve and taking the necessary steps to act on what we know to be necessary. Understanding the framework that governs that surely helps considerably.

 

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The Power of Perception

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend”

Being socially competent in a relationship means recognizing that other people have emotions, desires, thoughts and beliefs, being able to properly interpret the other person’s inner state based on a multitude of observable behaviors that include body language, facial expressions, tonality, cadence of speech and word choices, while appropriately making behavioral decisions to nurture and support that relationship. The power of perception is a critical skill to develop for reading the wealth of information that is generated and communicated through body language within social interactions. This is incredibly true with intimate personal relationships, yet a common phenomena takes place; as we are exposed to greater and greater levels of shared information, personal narratives, thoughts, beliefs, dreams, fears and aspirations of our partner, we naturally tend to be less observant to the subtle social cues that we are highly vigilant of when we knew the person less. Countering this natural tendency, and actively being perceptive of our partners is an important relationship skill to develop, as it aids in communication and increases relationship bonding by validating your partner emotionally.

The power of emotional validation…

Women consistently state in social studies of being more satisfied in a relationship when their partner was attempting to be emotionally sensitive, demonstrate empathy skills, along with active listening traits to understand them and accurately judged their emotions (this is a form of preemptive emotional needs communication) . Consequently it is the second greatest factor in determining relationship longevity, the first being having an upbeat and positive attitude. (Depressed and negative partners are more than a drag, they are emotionally toxic and a direct threat to the health, wellbeing and effectiveness of the relationship. Militaries the world over recognize this and openly promote and manage morale welfare. It wouldn’t be foolish to develop a similar posture in our relationships.) What is of particular interest in these studies is that women also value the effort men make, almost as much as the outcome of the conversation. Women essentially value the emotional support given to them by their partner over any other base trait other than raw sexual attraction and security. By actively taking a leadership role and consciously monitoring our partners, being sensitive to their emotional shifts, employing active listening skills and providing simple emotional validation of our partners on a regular basis can we hugely affect the health and wellbeing of our relationships for the positive.

Poker face…

In poker, a “tell’ is a detectable change in a player’s behavior or demeanor that gives clues to that player’s assessment of their given hand. More accurately it is a change in a person’s behavior that gives clues to their emotional state or awareness. We all have them as we all have detectable changes in behavior based on our state of mind and the situation around us. This will be true of our partners as well. There is simply no substitute for practice when we are looking to spot our partners tells and thus being more aware of the emotional state, desires, drives and prejudices of our partners. A partner’s tell is obvious signal at a need for communication if we learn to look for them.

Letting light in…

Sometimes we just don’t know what the signals we see are or represent. There may be conflicting verbal statements with a myriad of body language displays that do not point directly to any one emotion or unknown issue or are out of sync and conflict with one another. The simplest way to clear up any confusion is to simply ask; ‘ Hey, babe, is everything ok, you seem upset by something?’ This simple act of opening up communication based on observable behavior may all that they are looking for or needing to get dialog flowing and coming to grips with whatever is occupying them. Other times our partners will state that they are ‘fine’ when in fact they are not. Usually this is because they have not resolved their feeling prior to engaging in communication or are resistant to bring it up for fear of any number of reasons. By asking a question, we open ourselves up to the possibility of a deflected response or a denial of an underlying issue. It is far better to take the emotional risk and demonstrate leadership traits by making a statement regarding your observation; ‘Babe, you’re walking around like an angry cat, tell me what’s going on.’ By being perceptive and actively being receptive to unclogging the lines of communication we can help do our part in getting information, understanding and connectedness to our partners to flow.

Unchecked dependency needs…

Being a competent and sensitive social partner does not mean soliciting continuous requests for verification from your partner, as to their emotional status. Monitoring your partner is not a relationship form of the Verizon phone commercial where you ask your partner over and over again “Can you hear me now?” We are looking for changes of behavior, flash signals and behavioral keys that are social signals that there is something troubling our partner, to develop and utilize the skill of perception within a relationship to trigger needed communication or connection with our partner.

When there isn’t a problem, but a desire…

Being stressed in a rushed world or otherwise preoccupied with the daily grind, it is terrifyingly easy to neglect a relationship, to take our partner for granted, to not be available, to miss signs that our partners emotionally want and need to feel more connected with us. Frequently our partners will have tells not only for what is bothering them, but for when they desire closeness and connection with us. These are effectively ‘bids’ for your attention, as they are in many ways competing for it from everything else that has your attention over them. As was stated earlier, happiness measured in a relationship is directly correlated to the number and degree of bids offered and accepted between a couple… in correlation to that rebuffed or ignored bids are a form of rejection, and it too is directly correlated to the degree of unhappiness and in-validation a partner feels within a relationship. Stop paying attention to your partner and it’s game over… We cannot afford to become complacent within our relationships as hypergamy doesn’t sleep. It is always at work and play. The question becomes then, do you see your partner? Do you take the time to notice them? Being perceptive of your partners tells them that you do and is the starting point for many essential relationship discussions.

Providing Feedback

“Without feedback you’re operating in a vacuum”

We live in a world and age of constant feedback, most of it subtle, others not so much. We recognize intuitively, if not rationally, that there is a direct correlation between performance and structured feedback, yet in an area as critical in our lives, such as an intimate relationship, we tend to provide little leadership and guidance to our partners, until a boundary has been breached. A strong, healthy relationship will be one in which both parties are able to grow and develop within a safe, secure and trusting environment. That growth and development will be fostered in part under an observance and guidance of well-meaning and appropriate feedback, geared towards removing conflict and improving the relationship bond.

Checking your relationship altitude

To perverse goodwill and not risk alienating our partner, structured feedback should only occur if there is truly a constructive purpose for it and you have a surplus reserve of emotional goodwill in supply. (There is a major difference between providing your partner feedback and becoming her parent.) You should be well versed in the 4:1 praise-criticism ratio where this is the baseline between respondents stating that they feel “OK” in their relationships and not being “OK”. Going below this ratio level and we are at risk of alienating our partner and ultimately bankrupting the relationship. This simple form of social diplomacy should be a basic guide and indicator of how much emotional reserve is available and potentially how well received your feedback will be, prior to deciding to initiate any structured feedback with your partner. If need be, build your relationship and partner up prior to putting any additional pressures on them or the relationship. Note: this does not mean metering our praise like a ‘yes, ladder’ just prior to going for your ‘sale’ of providing feedback.

A.S.A.R.

Providing feedback in real-time may not be to everyone’s, nor the relationship’s best interests or option. Even though any incident or concern may be fresh in everyone’s mind, discretion is the better part of valor. Rather than focus on a general policy of ASAP in addressing an issue, a better and more appropriate approach of ‘As Soon As Reasonably Ready’ (ASAR) should be considered. This gives you enough time to collect your thoughts, prepare them and to initiate the discussion in a calm and reasonable manner, aka ‘like a man’.

Value Follows Energy

How you approach a critical conversation, how you initiate it, the tone and attitude of your words and the nature of your body language matters more than what you say to your partner. The first few seconds of the interaction sets the tone for everything that follows, whether your partner feels under attack or is being guided and received by a loving and caring hand. It is important to remember that value follows energy. Where is your emotional state when addressing your partner? Is it loving? Is it controlling? Is it angry? Is it upset? Is it condescending? Learning to control the emotional state of the conversation will do more for helping to direct the consequences of your conversation, than your words ever will.

A Spoon Full of Sugar

Un-prepare content is rarely palatable. In conveying your thoughts make sure to infuse and express appreciation for your partner. Doing so not only takes off the rough edges of the topic but adds fuel and incentive for initiating change. It is also important to express concern regarding the nature of relationship, as this discussion is about avoiding breaching potential boundaries or failed expectations, which will have a much greater damaging effect to the relationship if left un-addressed. You must be sincere in this regard. It communicates that you care and have respect for your partner. Without it you’re unlikely to foster and empower change.

The Power of “I”

Before launching into the specifics of your concerns it is vital that you place it in context. This is about how you feel. This is about what you have observed. This is what you are noticing. These concerns are about your perceptions. Make sure your partner understands that, by addressing your concerns with “I” statements. Once you have done so, then you are free to address your specific concern, while focusing on the behavior or actions in question. It is important to never make this about your partner, but upon specific behavior or issues. No where during this is it appropriate to bring in snarky comments, sarcasm or character attacks. Lead the relationship by example.

Channel Dr. Phil

Having just communicated the issue of concern, but before actually making your request for change, elicit your partner’s input into the situation. What’s driving the behavior? Why do they feel it’s appropriate? Are they aware of how this makes you feel? In conducting any emotional needs communication it is important to be honest about your own needs, while at the same time validating your partner’s, by providing respect in understanding them by applying the techniques of active listening, prior to soliciting change or proffering specific suggestions of alternative behaviors and collaboration in doing so.

The Cornerstone

Only after your partner has been heard, understood and re-affirmed are you truly free to make room for change. Having done so, frequently people will fail to verify acceptance or understanding back from their partner in exchange. Confirming that your partner hears, understand and recognizes the importance of what you have expressed, after-all, is the cornerstone of the entire conversation. Check their understanding not only of the issue at hand, but their commitment and agreement to amending the issue.

Bring it together

In going through the conflict management points of determining the context, setting the tone, taking perspective and discussing emotions it is vital to resolve any emotional needs communication with re-affirming your belief in your partner as a person and the value you hold for the relationship in general. We started this process with an understanding of the hazardous half-minute, end with the same sensitivity, caring, affection and appreciation.

Developing Empathy Skills within Relationships

 

 

 

 

In the age of sharply increased narcissism, empathy is a dying art.

 

Bad Seeds…

True Alpha males make shitty relationship partners. Their well established brand of endless string of short-term failed relationships and prepotency for fast fused-quick to fizzle marriages are a pure testament to this, as are the baggage laden train wrecks that follow in their wake. While the alpha attraction triggers female hypergamy on many levels, it fails to transition into appropriate nurturing roles which are critically needed to sustain long-term committed relationships. Their low emotional quotient (EQ) plays out as they tend to find themselves to be constantly at odds with others, in a state of being angry, stressed and frustrated, acting out in a controlling manner, which ultimately leads people to push away and tune them out. Ask any child of an overbearing parent.

Remove the Negatives First

It will be no surprise to most to know that empathy is one of the main components of emotional intelligence and that empathic people are skilled in placing themselves inside the shoes of others and seeing the world through another person’s perspective. The problem isn’t the awareness of the skill, but their implementation that stymies people. In trying to improve almost anything it is vastly more effective to remove a detriment than add an accruement. As such we’ll discuss first behaviors that should be removed or reduced.

Lack of Role Models

Our exposure to multiple role models to gather and develop early behavioral traits and reference points for learning social skills is fundamental in our development as adults, as those without them will be at a severe disadvantage to learning appropriate ones, as they will be ignorant of them or exposed to poor ones. Additionally individuals embracing a arch-type that is obsolete can be more detritus than not having an acceptable one, as the individual will need to let go of their false belief system first prior to learning and developing new skill sets, which never seems to happen without a major life crisis. In this regard family structure, the quality of parenting and exposure to appropriate social culture cues largely prepare and determine one’s preliminary social skill sets, to include empathy, leadership abilities along with many others.

At a Drop of a Hat

Sadly empathy is sacrificed when we are upset, angry, disappointed or frustrated. We must not only fight this natural impulse, but to be well aware how our lack of empathy at these times tends to make the most horrific, life impacting emotional wounds when we fail to control ourselves and lash out on blind compulsion. We need to be aware of how we influence our relationships by not only what and how we say what we do, but the manner and regard for how we care for the people we are interacting with when emotions have put so much at stake. While a liberal use of diplomacy and tact is called for a clear sign that we should be on point is any time anger, frustration or disappointment first raises it head.

Double Standards

We all know the ‘Golden Rule’ of treating others the way you would want to be treated, but are we really holding ourselves to the standard we place on other’s behaviors to you? Would you find your behavior acceptable if someone else did it to you? It is all too common to leave our own behaviors unobserved, but they are precisely the behaviors in which are most visible to others and as a consequence of this human trait, leave us incredibly vulnerable to their impact on the relationship. It is important to remember that one can be empathic, validate another person’s view point and yet still disagree. An important step in doing so is developing a personal boundary of dropping any double standards that may exist.

Relating Instead of Understanding

In a misguided attempt to relate and thus foster a sense of rapport and connection with others, we will often try to relate to what they are saying in our own lives and then share that. While fine on occasion it can lead to a situation where the speaker does not feel they are being truly herd or listened to and comes across as a ‘me-too’ type of one-upmanship conversation. Left un-checked it can have negative impact on the relationship, as it is a detriment to shared understanding, as the comparison does little to foster greater insight or further the rapport with the speaker. Instead of proffering a similar comparison, ask a simple question of ‘what did that mean to them?’, ‘How did that make them feel?’ or ‘why was that important to you?’ can go a long way in fostering the connection we think we’re trying to make.

Not Being Present

The less we are being in the moment, truly utilizing the skills of actively listening, the harder it is to tune into other people’s feelings and intentions, which is critical to providing emotional support, as they are communicating them. In our rush to project ahead, to get to the bend in the conversation and to frame our response, we completely lose sight of the reason of our conversation in the first place, sharing information as a means to build, maintain and sustain the relationship.

Accentuating the Positive

Having removed many of the common obstacles to greater empathic understanding and relating with our partners, we can progress into understanding common traits that will enhance and further our empathic skills which will serve to strengthen these important emotional bonds.

Drop Your Agenda

A central part of being present is setting aside your beliefs, concerns and dropping your personal agenda in order to fully hear what your partner is saying. It is the skill of going into a conversation without expectations, without goals of fixing or resolving issues first. Our presuppositions muddy the communication and our thinking process. Our only agenda is listening to our partner’s feelings, sentiments, points of view and reference points in attempts to understand where they are coming from and what they are trying to express. We are listening to gain their perspective. Once we have listened and we’re sure they have been heard correctly can the communication progress from there.

Getting Beyond the Facts

Most of us consider listening to be made up of clearly able to understand the ‘Who, What, Where, When , Why and How’ of what is being communicated, but fail to take into true account the speakers emotional state, energy, tone and body language as they are communicating. These social clues can be imperative to developing a connection and understanding between the parties, as much as the words expressed. Frequently what being said isn’t nearly as important, as what’s not being said, but otherwise communicated. Learning to fully watch, as well as to listen to our partner strengthens the connection between the cognitive and emotional brain which leads to deep emotional rapport that is defined as empathic connection.

An Indian’s Moccasins

In actively listening to our partner we are trying to place ourselves in their shoes, to see the situation from their position, their emotional standing point and how that is affecting them. If you are unsure, it is completely reasonable and beneficial to simply ask… ask them ‘How do you feel about that?’ ‘What does that mean to you?’, ‘Do you mean that you feel…X?’ etc… learning to use open-ended questions regarding thoughts, feelings and beliefs can not only clarify an issue but bring underlying driving issues to the forefront, often these will be issues surrounding emotional needs.

Relate to their Inner-Child

In times of high contest, immense emotional fray, over-whelming pressure and expectations we are faced with a situation that has created a barrier to communication and connection that seem insurmountable. At times like these a simple and effective strategy of visualizing our partner as their vulnerable inner-child we can lower and lessen our defenses, that will then allow us to preserve the relationship and communicate in an effective way. It is by a combination of seeing through our partner’s presence for the vulnerable person that they are and defusing the emotional intensity that we can then focus on the issue at hand without being distracted by the enormity of them or the situation.

If we want our partners to appreciate what we are communicating, if we want them to respond to and work cooperatively with us, then we must consider their perspective, how they perceive us, how they perceive how they’ve been heard and how they’ve been received by what they’ve expressed . Utilizing empathy is key element within this whole process of communication, emotional needs expression and grounding and solidifying the relationship.