If you ask people what they think would improve their relationship, their immediate answer is often a clear formulation of what changes their partner could or should make.
In the light of the debated disclosure of the CIA interrogations, the racial tension ignited by the Ferguson shooting case of Michael Brown, the NFL’s handling of Domestic Violence and the continued evidence of Campus Rape, it is worth asking why we justify regrettable actions.
Can you say NO to your partner?
Can you tolerate hearing NO?
In a relationship, the freedom to say NO may be one of the most important dynamics your share. If there is no space for NO, there really is no space for an authentic relationship. Partners believe in the “ I do” because it is a choice of Yes over NO.
Most couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words. Be it walking the dog together, cooking side by side or listening to music–it is the silence of connection and love.
Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “ We just don’t talk anymore!”
If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the special interest of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then we understand that this is a silence that can start to feel emotionally deafening.
Why do couples who once had so much to say end up feeling this way? Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage? Is there a way back?
Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.
Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality, but if couples are curious rather than blameful about the silence between them, they may find some reasons and remedies to speak together again.
If we look closer at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of the couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing or what has happened to shut down the verbal connection.
Here are some possibilities:
Recently the American Psychological Association reported the latest findings on what makes love last in a marriage. The results of one series of studies by Shelley Gable and colleagues were particularly interesting because they were unexpected. They invite speculation and application.
Responding for Better and For Worse
These studies revealed that although we need our partners to be there for us during the “worst” of times, it is our partner’s positive responses to the “best” of times that we receive best and remember most.
Adding to this and surprising is the finding that our partner’s responses to positive events directly contribute to the perception that our partner will be available in the worst of times-regardless of the specifics of their actual support during those times!!
How Do We Explain This?
It seems that context matters. Crisis, be it the aftermath of surgery, the lost job or family problem, makes giving and receiving support challenging and more complicated.
In difficult life situations, a partner’s attempted or enacted support is often not well received or not perceived as helpful for a number of reasons:
Missing the Mark
“ You should know that I didn’t want any visitors.”
“ I didn’t know what soup to get so I got a few…you don’t want soup?”
Can’t Work the Miracle
While the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.
A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.
Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.
What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”
Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?
You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.
You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.
Neurochemistry supports …
Thanks to a plethora of self-help books on relationships, most partners, whether dating, committed or long married, have become aware of the value of listening for improving understanding and connection. Most recognize or are reminded by their partners when they are not listening.
Validation is much more than listening or even active listening. It is a verbal affirmation of another’s right to think or feel a certain way.
“I can see why you felt embarrassed when I said that in front of our friends.”
“Most people would feel betrayed in that situation.”
The problem with invalidation, and the reason it is so caustic to relationships, is that it is not simply the absence of validation.
Invalidation is actually the disqualification of another person’s thinking or feelings. It carries the implication that you must be crazy, bad, over-sensitive or inept to feel a certain way.
While there is no doubt that striving to be your personal best and feeling good about your efforts is healthy as well as relationship enhancing – perfectionism is something else.
Perfectionism is the belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. The literature on perfectionism underscores that there is an important difference between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. It is a difference worth considering.
Whether you have just begun dating or you are celebrating a Golden Anniversary, most partners are aware that communication is a crucial component in relationship happiness and satisfaction. Most self-help books extol it, and most experts working with couples encourage and facilitate improved communication.
Dr. Marianne Legato, author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget contends that without effective couple communication, there is no relationship at all.
A crucial but often overlooked communication skill for partners is knowing when it is best not to say anything.
This skill is not about suppression, quiet compliance, the silent treatment, dismissal or neglect. It is a choice that reflects attunement, empathy, regulation of emotions and prioritizing the bond you share.
It is knowing those times when your comment, critique, opinion, question or news not only fails to add value – it makes matters worse!
With increasing longevity we have become very concerned about the impact of old age on memory. Notwithstanding the importance of this focus, it is worth remembering that we have been forgetting all kinds of things throughout our lifespan – our violin in fourth grade, the due date for the final paper in High School, and the time of our first job interview.
Understanding and enhancing memory is actually a life-long process.
A particularly interesting area is the way in which memory operates between partners. Research findings remind us of the potential that couples have for maximizing mutual use of this precious resource.
A recent study in Science of “Google Effect on Memory” reports that our brains are adapting to technology such that we remember less information when we expect to have access to it on the computer. What we do remember is where to find it.
What the authors suggest is that we have come to use the computer as an external source of stored memory much like the transactive memory used between partners.