Archives for Communication
Keeping keep passion alive over the long haul is the greatest challenge to monogamy. After you’ve rolled around together a few thousand times, sex can become rote, which is, to use the technical term, a bummer. People in long-term relationships do all kinds of things to try to keep the passion alive—dressing in costumes, role playing, bringing gizmos and gadgets into the bedroom. Or they could try just talking, suggests a study titled "Day-to-Day Changes in Intimacy Predict Heightened Relationship Passion, Sexual Occurrence, and Sexual Satisfaction." Not any old talking, but the kind of talk that advances intimacy. That is, self-disclosure; telling your partner stuff he or she didn’t know about you. Of course, this only works when your partner responds with warmth and sympathy. And vice versa. The researchers theorize that one reason passion is so high in budding relationships is because couples are learning about each other, and each sympathetically received self-disclosure causes passion to flare. Over time, however, the revelations slow, the new information dries up, intimacy reaches a plateau, and sex hits the doldrums.
Have you been watching "Downton Abbey" like the rest of us? Think about the Dowager Countess of Grantham, marvelous Maggie Smith. When she doesn’t like something, she gets a face like a cat that’s smelled something bad. And you get the message. If you read authors like Edith Wharton and Jane Austin, you know there’s not a lot of bellowing and stomping around. Hearts are broken, fortunes lost, people became ill, or bereaved, despondent or angry, and through everything, they all use their inside voices. Compare that to, say, the last week on this blog, in which the volume on everything was turned up to 11 (although the comments remained civil and I thank you all for that). Daughter had to rant in public to make her point, Dad had to shoot a computer to make his point, I had to “hate” Dad to make my point. And I'm not generally a hater. But I got swept into what seems a trend of our time: anger that becomes superheated, superfast. It’s not necessarily just that America is getting less civil. For some reason these days, it seems we need the volume on all our emotions cranked way up. Even negative emotions. Maybe especially negative emotions. We need to watch screen violence that is increasingly extreme, we need to fight our battles publicly and with insults and vehemence, and we need to grieve extravagantly, where everyone can see us.
Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." I picked up The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way To Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, Enhance Self-Esteem, by psychologist Guy Winch, in hopes of learning something about the chronic complainers in my life. But the book taught me as much about myself as others. Despite the many years that have passed since, I still wince remembering my last months on a job that had gone bad. I became the person whose friends ducked for cover when they saw me coming because they knew to expect a litany of complaints about my miserable life. And a few years ago, when I was again floundering professionally, I realized with horror that friends had started looking at me with pity. It was an awful epiphany. As Winch points out. “By succumbing to the special attention pity offers us, the convenience of lowered expectations, and other secondary gains associated with being objects of others’ sorrow, we become victims in our own eyes as well as those of others." I am going to imprint those important words on my brain. I don’t want friends pitying or dodging me. And while I've been feeling bad about wanting to avoid the chronic complainers in my life, this book helped me understand the risks of complaining for the sake of complaining.
There was one bright spot amid all the hand-wringing over Facebook and its supposedly negative effects on relationships. Psychologists thought that Facebook allows people with low self-esteem, who typically are wary of the kind of self-disclosure that fosters intimacy, feel safe enough to express themselves, thereby expanding their social networks. People with low self-esteem thought the same thing. Here, they thought, I can open up, show myself, make new friends. Well…maybe not. New research suggests that rather than getting out there and making new friends on Facebook, people with low self-esteem get out there and get all negative, pushing people away.
Several years ago, I got into an online squabble with a friend who was in grad school, getting her MSW for a future career as a counselor. The whole thing unfolded in the comments section of my blog and concluded (along with the friendship) when she spluttered that I am “…WEAK! And I MOCK weak people!” Wow, I thought. Your future clients are in for a treat. This incident came to mind when a Twitter buddy sent me a note wondering if any research had been done into “potential damage done by therapists who tweet/blog judgmental, hurtful views, jokes...?” This person, a retired counselor, first noted a former mentee doing it. “I talked to her about it and she thanked me, stopped it.” But that young counselor was the exception. When my friend noticed a couple of others doing the same, “I gently pointed out to both of them the problems both career wise and client wise with some of their postings (fat put down jokes, sharing very personal info about their own issues, sarcastic misuse of words like crazy and psycho etc) Both ignored me; one posted to mind my own business. “All of this was done with their full names and locations and accessible to any of their clients with a quick google search,” my friend said. “I know how hard it is for most clients to trust and how vulnerable they are to being judged,” she continued. “I can just image how crushing it would be for a desperate, suicidal client to read something demeaning/too revealing written by the person they expect to be compassionate, stable and on their side.” The Internet strikes again.
“The Internet has ruined everything,” my husband likes to grumble. In some ways, he’s right. The Internet has laid waste to newspapers and threatens traditional publishing in all forms. It sucked the money out of the music industry. It's killing off traditional bookstores--even the superstores that killed off the small independents. New technology has opened up forms of expression to people who had been blocked by gatekeepers, but at the same time threatens to drag down the quality of that expression overall, because of the lack of those same gatekeepers. (If you saw some of the press releases I receive for self-published books, you would understand what I mean.) News operations struggle with the ever-increasing speed of the news cycle, trying to balance getting news out fast and getting it right. What I wonder now is what the speed of technology is doing to creativity. And because we are taught to “write what you know,” I will write about writing. Specifically blogging.
Remember when I interviewed Post Secret founder Frank Warren about the app that launched just a couple of months ago? Well, say good-bye to that. Warren had to close down the app because people were behaving so badly, his screeners couldn’t keep up with the screeds. In a post explaining the decision, he wrote, 99% of the secrets created were in the spirit of PostSecret. Unfortunately, the scale of secrets was so large that even 1% of bad content was overwhelming for our dedicated team of volunteer moderators who worked 24 hours a day 7 days a week removing content that was not just pornographic but also gruesome and at times threatening. Pathetic. Why are people so hateful online?
I’ve recently started listening to audio books. The idea never appealed to me much because I’ve never liked being read to. Reading is a solitary experience for me and being read to always seemed a little icky, though I couldn’t tell you why. Certainly being read to has a venerable history. At one time, all writing was meant to be read aloud, since few people could read. And reading aloud was family entertainment in the pre-radio, pre-TV days. And, of course, reading to children is both cozy and the first step towards their literacy. So it's not like listening to books is anything new. But downloadable audio books are increasingly popular (though the growing popularity of ebooks is the headline news in publishing.) Fans of audio books even have their own magazine. The first audio book I listened to was Bossypants, which is read by Tina Fey herself. Now I’m listening to Never Let Me Go, by Kazua Ishiguro, which is beautifully read by Rosalyn Landor, who strikes a tone as wistful as the book and conveys changes of character with just the slightest change in her voice. Narration, I realize, is an art form unto itself. But I’m still not sure how I feel about the audio book. It might be seducing me, but I worry about whether I’m having the experience of the book the author originally intended. Do we lose something of a novel when we don’t see the words spelled out in front of us? Is the medium integral to the message?
A friend told me that one word guaranteed to infuriate his teenage daughter during any disagreement is “relax.” Riders on New York City’s subways were for years irritated by the phrase “Please be patient” at the end of announcements about subway delays. And the quickest way to get a rise out of me is to tell me, “Don’t be ridiculous.” Oooh, that burns me up. What makes phrases like these so incendiary? Some phrases are guaranteed to turn a disagreement into a fight, or make a benign situation toxic. They're not blatantly insulting, so why are they so irritating?
You know how some women are afraid that if they toot their own horns, people won’t like them? Silly, right? Actually, no, it’s not. Research finds that this is, in fact, the case. I recently wrote an article about self-promotion for GradPSYCH, an American Psychological Association publication, and what I learned was one big ol’ bummer. Women face a double-bind. If they don’t promote themselves, they risk not getting ahead. But if women do promote themselves, they turn people off because self-promotion violates a stereotype. They are perceived as immodest.