file0001508919007Do you know what the number one answer is? Are you sure? Let’s be honest. Did you guess that men want more sex and that women want more help with the housework?

While certainly both of those claims are true for many, when men in self-described unhappy relationships are asked what they want most from their partners that they’re not getting, the first answer was communication and the second answer was affection. Exactly the same answers that the unhappy women answered!

When it came to the third answer, men said more sex and women more financial security. More sex was #4 on women’s list. So the surprisingly good news is that all of us want more of the same thing…more talking and listening. Although improving our communication can take hard work and commitment, at least we can be assured that this goal is both mutual and a deal-breaker for healthy relationships.

New Study on What is “Normal” in Relationships

This information and a lot more is now available thanks to Chrisanna Northrup and social science researchers, Pepper Schwartz and file000502395545James Witte, who conducted an on-line survey of  more than 70,000 participants from around the world. The results, published in the new book, The Normal Bar, provide us with hard empirical evidence about what really goes on behind closed doors, not only in America but in Europe, Australia, Latin America and Asia. As Northrup discovered, “Cultural stereotypes and the media’s fantasies of romance and lust have little to do with what really goes on in relationships, especially since conduct varies over time and across geographic boundaries.”

Although their study does indeed reveal some differences between men and women and across cultures which I will discuss in future blogs, the broad similarities are striking. Men and women in almost every country described communication as the biggest relationship issue. The only exception were the French respondents who ranked affection first and communication second. Go figure.

“Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.”  -Oscar Wilde

file6221263244628What do couple and families need to build a strong sense of loving connection? The answer is simple, even if difficult. We must spend quality time together talking, or if separated by geography, still stay in communication with one another. Only by making the time to share the details of our daily lives as well as our successes, hardships, dreams and disappointments can we reap the rewards of our intimate bonds.

Unfortunately, twenty-first century families are more isolated than ever before. With both parents working more hours than ever and with the demands of work infiltrating family time via computers and cell phones, most everyone we talk to complains about the same thing. There’s just not enough time!

So remind yourself in the following week to take some time each day–even if only minutes– to connect with your family members. Remember to use the precious times you already have to talk and listen rather than remain plugged into cell phones or ipods. Catch the moments in between–like driving in the car, eating a snack, walking the dog–to share thoughts and feelings with your loved ones. Use your cell phone to send your love or to check in on how your partner’s day is going.

One of my favorite times to talk to my mother is when I am chopping vegetables for dinner with my headset on. We take those minutes tofile1381234745570 share details of our day, and my mom always asks me what’s for dinner. My adult kids know this is a good time to reach me as well. My husband has long weekly talks with his mom (who lives out of town) when he goes on hikes. It often helps to schedule talking and listening time in whatever schedule “book” you use, committing yourself to family time instead of slipping into the habit of watching TV, computer surfing, video gaming or answering one more email.

If you think that you need more help to become a better communicator, there are books and blogs, podcasts and videos. There are seminars that couples can attend together and therapists who specialize in working with couples and families. If you set only one goal for self-improvement, this would be the place to start.

“Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.”  -C.S.Lewis

As for the second most important ingredient to build more close and loving bonds, make a conscious decision to be more affectionate with your partner. The need for physical touch is a basic human desire for both men and women. Remember the early days of courtship when you held hands, kissed and hugged hello and goodbye (and then some), shared back rubs or cuddled up on the couch? Do that again.

file4451287283974Our words and gestures can also be affectionate. Both men and women feel more loved when they are complimented rather than criticized, when their partner smiles at them when they walk in the door, when they blow kisses or wink from across the room. Use pet names like sweetheart or honey, and don’t forget to say the precious words “I love you” like you really mean it.

None of these things will repair a deeply distressed relationship but they won’t hurt it either. When people are asked what is most important to their happiness, the universal answer given is “my family” or “my relationships”. If you want to be happier, start by giving what you most want to receive.