Tag Archives: couple

Relationship Skills for Parents

In every relationship – whether with our romantic partners, our children, our parents, our co-workers, or friends – we have good days and bad days. We can have more good days if we know and use effective relationship skills. Here are some I find most helpful, with links to more details on each.

Turning Toward your Partner (based on Gottman)

When someone wants to make a connection, they make “bids for affection.” These can be questions, invitations, non-verbal gestures, glances, or touch – anything that asks you to connect. When someone bids for your attention, there are three main categories of ways that you might respond.

Turn Toward: Act in a responsive, interested, positive, and loving way. Reach out, touch them, look at them, smile. Say “I hear you”, “I want to connect with you,” “I’m interested in you.” Ask a question.

Turn Away: Act in a way that ignores them, or dismisses their bid. Look away, wander away. Don’t respond verbally, or respond in a way that has nothing to do with what they said.

Turn Against: Act in an angry way that rejects them and their bid. Walk away, glare, make threatening movements. Use sarcasm or put-downs, roll your eyes. Do the opposite of what they asked you to do.

In the most successful relationships, partners have a 20:1 ratio. They have 20 positive bids and/or turning toward incidents for every one incident of turning against or away.Can you aim for at least 5:1?

Expressing Appreciation (inspired by Hendricks and Louden)

When juggling day-to-day responsibilities at work, home, and with children, we  we might start feeling disconnected and invisible, or drained and undervalued. One of the best ways to re-fill our tanks is by creating a “culture of appreciation”. Some ideas:

  • Always thank your partner for the things s/he has done. Even if they’re part of his/her “job.” It’s still nice to know that they are noticed and appreciated.
  • When asking your partner to do something, make it a real question (i.e. something they could say no to) not an order disguised as a question. (And say please!) Thank them if they say yes.
  • Five minute writing. Each of you takes a piece of paper and a pen. Spend five full minutes listing everything you love about your partner. Pour out all the appreciation you haven’t had time to share. Give your list to your partner to have and to hold.
  • Exchanging appreciations: Sit facing each other. One person begins with “Something I appreciate about you is…” The other partner listens to that, lets it sink in, says thank you, and then shares something that they appreciate about the other.
  • Post-its: leave notes around the house, listing what you love about each other or life in general.
  • Write a thank you note, letting him/her know why you’re glad s/he is a part of your life.

Speak your partner’s love language (Chapman)

In Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, he argues that different individuals have different “languages” they use to express love, and that we “hear” love best when it’s spoken in our language. Which one of these sounds most like how your partner hears love from you? Which describes how you hear love?

Physical Touch: Feels most loved when you touch him/her: stroke her hair, hold hands, massage, rub her feet, hugging, kissing, sex. Feels most rejected when touch is missing (or if touch is used in anger).

Words of Affirmation: Encouragement and praise are vital. Being acknowledged for work, appreciated for who s/he is, validated for concerns, cheered on for efforts. May be very sensitive to criticism.

Acts of Service: Wants active support with household tasks, like laundry, washing dishes, running errands, making a to-do list together and taking on jobs. Feels unsupported when you don’t pitch in.

Gifts: Loves any special little thing done just for him/her. Little notes left around the house, something special from the grocery store, pictures of the baby texted during the day. Will be especially upset if you forget a birthday, anniversary or other gift-giving occasion.

Quality Time: Wants your Presence – time together, spent talking and connecting, doing activities together. Feels unsupported if you’re off buying gifts or doing tasks instead of spending time together.

Discuss this with your partner. Are you right about what his/her language is? What does s/he think is your language? Sometimes couples discover that if one is feeling unloved, it’s not that their partner wasn’t trying to communicate love, it’s just that s/he was shouting a lot in the wrong language.

Spend Time with your Partner

Ideally, you will find a way to have a regular date night with your partner. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just a chance to be together, really listen to each other, really see the other person, and remember why you chose to spend your lives together. Celebrate being a couple!

But beyond date night, think about ways that even a few minutes a day can make a big difference. In an article by Carolyn Pirak (www.parentmap.com/article/make-time-for-your-partner) she recommends making a commitment to 40 minutes a day to improve your relationship: When you separate, spend at least two minutes saying goodbye. When you reunite, spend 20 minutes talking about your days. Take five minutes a day to express appreciation to each other. Devote at least 8 minutes a day to showing affection. Give at least five minutes a day to sharing dreams and planning ahead.

Make a plan for special time together this week. Each day, grab some sweet little moments together.

Conflict Resolution / Communicating needs

Many conflicts arise because one or both of you is not getting something that you need. You can start feeling like opponents on opposite sides of an issue or like competitors for scarce resources. Here are some steps to start thinking like allies again, and being working things out.

  1. Identify what you need. Sometimes you need to figure it out yourself before you can tell your partner. Hint: if you often find yourself saying “You never do X” or “You always do Y” or “I never get to do Z,” there’s a hint in there somewhere.
  2. Communicate that need to your partner. Be clear, and specific. Use the “I” word – “I need this”, not the “You” word – “Here’s what you need to do.” Help them understand how you feel about this emotionally. “It makes me sad when…” “I feel overwhelmed when…”
  3. Ask for help meeting that need.
  4. Listen to your partner’s opinions and concerns. Avoid interrupting, criticizing, defensiveness, and contempt. (Expressed out loud or with body language.) Paraphrase – repeat back what your partner has said, and make sure you heard him/her right.
  5. Ask your partner what s/he needs and work together to get that need met.

Next time you find yourself in conflict, try these ideas. Even better, try working preventatively. When you’re not in the heat of the moment, explore one areas of conflict, and see what you learn together.

Here’s a printable handout covering this information on Key Relationship Skills.

Sources: Louden’s Couples Comfort Book, Hendricks’ Conscious Heart; Gottman’s Baby Makes Three.

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Relationship Skills Round-Up, part 1: Turn toward your partner

Over the next week, I’ll be sharing a collection of my favorite tools for strengthening a relationship – whether that relationship is with our partner, friends, co-workers, or kids.

Turning Toward bids for connection (based on John Gottman’s work)

When someone wants to make a connection, they make “bids for affection.” These can be questions, invitations, non-verbal gestures, glances, or touch – anything that asks you to connect. When someone bids for your attention, there are three main  ways that you might respond.

By Michelle Spaulding (Flickr: Gratuitous Cuddle Shot) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Michelle Spaulding (Flickr: Gratuitous Cuddle Shot) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Turn Toward: Act in a responsive, interested, positive, and loving way. Reach out, touch them, look at them, smile. Say “I hear you”, “I want to connect with you,” “I’m interested in you.” Ask a question.

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Turn Away: Act in a way that ignores them, or dismisses their bid. Look away, wander away. Don’t respond verbally, or respond in a way that has nothing to do with what they said.

Turn Against: Act in an angry way that rejects them and their bid. Walk away, glare at them, make threatening movements. Use sarcasm or put-downs. Do the opposite of what they have asked you to do.

Examples:

A friend might bid “Want to go out to that new French restaurant Friday night?” You might ‘turn against’ by saying “A formal restaurant?? With a toddler?? In the evening?? Are you crazy?” Or you might ‘turn away’ by calling out to your child to be careful or asking if he wants a snack, then turning back to your friend and saying “I’m sorry, what were we talking about?” Or, you could ‘turn toward’ by saying “I would LOVE to go out with you. I’ve really missed all the long talks we used to have over meals. But what would work better for me is brunch before nap time… or a kid-friendly restaurant… or just meeting at my house.’

Your partner might bid “After we put her to bed, do you want to snuggle up on the couch and talk for a while?” You might ‘turn away’ by saying “The couch is covered in laundry I meant to put away during nap time. Oh, that reminds me, I’ve been meaning to…” You might ‘turn against’ by saying “I am so exhausted. I just want to go to bed. If you’ve got time to kill, could you just fold the laundry for a change?” Or you could turn toward by saying “Yes, that would be great. I’ll warn you that I’m exhausted, and I may just fall asleep.. but I’d love to have a little time with you.” Or “I’d love to snuggle. I’m stressed out by the laundry though… could you help me put it away real quick and then I can focus on snuggle time with you?”

What leads to a successful relationship?

In successful relationships, partners have a 20:1 ratio. They have 20 positive bids and/or turning toward incidents for every one negative bid or incident of turning against or away. Learn more.

Young children are very clear and obvious in their bids for connection: they chatter non-stop, they cry, they hang on your legs, they climb on your lap when you’re trying to work. Most parents do a good job of ‘turning toward’ most of a child’s bids: we look at them, we smile, we echo their words back to them. Even if we say no, we often say it in a connecting way “oh, honey, I’d LOVE to read that book to you, but right now I need to finish washing the dishes.”

Unfortunately, we aren’t always this responsive to our partners! At the end of a long and tiring day of parenting and work, and feeling under-appreciated, we may feel like we only have a tiny bit of energy left to give in our day, and we save that up for our little ones, assuming our partners will “understand.” And they do. Generally. But eventually, all their bids are ignored (turn away) or rejected (turn against) that can really damage a relationship.

What can you do today to “bid” for affection – let your partner know you want to connect?

What can you do today to tune in to bids from your partner, and try to turn toward?

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Look here for Gottman’s suggestions on ways to connect, such as “Your partner sends you a text message about something, anything. Send them one back that lets them know how irresistible they are to you.

Or look here for Gottman’s suggestions for how to apply this idea in the work setting to build better relationships with co-workers, such as: “Turn away from your work and look at the person who’s talking to you.

Look here to see simple examples of the mundane ways this idea plays out in a relationship and learn why those little things matter: http://alwayspsyched.blogspot.com/2011/05/for-love-of-gottman-make-your.html: “Comical as it may sound, romance actually grows when a couple are in the supermarket and the wife says, “Are we out of bleach?” and the husband says, “I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case,” instead of shrugging apathetically.”.

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