Life doesn’t become complete just by adding newer relationships / deleting some; it gets meaningful and blissful depending on how we transact and be with each other. Seriously, quantity of relationships doesn’t matter at all.
With the definition of marriage clearly having moved away from being a license to procreate / security and identity for a woman / the next logical phase in a young adult’s life / training ground for one to mature or evolve… to one of Companionship, the focus is obviously on ‘compatibility’ and ‘emotional connect’ between two individuals. Wait! I can already hear some of you muttering, “if you don’t get what you like, then like what you get”. Well! that’s what 90% of the world ends up reconciling to and somehow, survives in relationships…semi-happy ☹
This Valentine’s month, I implore you to think whether you are getting into a relationship just because you are supposed to / expected to OR because you want to experience a soul-nourishing experience in the company of another soul. Whether you are contemplating marriage or not, the write-up below will be of interest to you. I only hope, you find meaning in it now than much later in your relationship.
To establish compatibility in a newly formed relationship or to revive in an existing one, I share with you 5 non-negotiable essentials.
#1 Give a listening ear
I would rate this first and foremost. Listening is that powerful tool connecting two souls, almost instantaneously! It is the highest form of Respect. When you listen, you are being fully present and available for the other person. It is not only about keeping your device away when your partner is talking; it is about the genuine curiosity to listen to their side of the story. Maintaining eye-contact, giving listening sounds, asking curious questions from what the other has narrated and also reflecting back their unsaid words…are powerful connectors. In fact, when you are genuinely listening, you don’t have to artificially ‘show’ you are; you’ll naturally come across as listening.
Scientific evidence – Research points to our sensitivity to ‘status threats’. When a person is not listened to, they may perceive a threat or real reduction in their status (am I inferior to him?) thereby generating a ‘threat-response’, reducing openness and connection between two individuals. On the contrary, attentively listening and being present for another, releases oxytocin – a chemical in the brain responsible for creating / maintaining strong bonds and fidelity. Yup! You read it right. Fidelity!
#2 Conversations, not just communication
Engaging conversations happen only if listening is guaranteed from both parties. It is furthered when you are curiously asking questions about the other person and their life. If you really intend to have a conversation, then you ought to mentally turn the spot-light from ‘I, me, my, myself’ to the ‘other person’.
A barrier arises when the spot-light is on yourself which leads to monologues such as - how fabulous I am, how wonderful my family is, how popular I was at college, what great wealth my dad has created, what a star performer I am at work, etc.
A second barrier to great conversations is impatience. Turning or walking away when the other speaks amounts to saying, “I have no time for you.” Unless your partner is a gifted fast speaker, they wouldn’t be able to successfully express all they wanted to within your short attention span. Also, one cannot express well when in a hurry or anxiety to speak because the brain-mouth coordination is lost and when this is lost, linguistic slip-ups happen. Ending up expressing awkwardly or feeling forced to express in a condensed version, your partner may choose to coil up or completely shut down from talking with you.
The third barrier to conversations is selective listening – we have all experienced this. Some individuals listen to us attentively only when it is a topic of their interest (such as some gossip / an appreciation they received / something that satisfies their ego) OR if the speaker is a person of influence or authority talking to them. Otherwise, they are uninterested or impatient to listen to us.
Another reason why conversations fade in relationships is when one partner gets too condescending of the other. For example, your partner is overwhelmed by the complexity of his organization and you remark, “so, you are incapable of navigating through complexities!” Or, say, you just graduated from a University and your partner insensitively remarks, “this University ranks somewhere at the bottom”. Such remarks can trigger a whole lot of negative emotions in an individual resulting in their own self-destruction and low-morale or, create animosity and distance between two individuals.
Scientific evidence – Research shows, the process of having collaborative, contingent conversations (that is, being emotionally attuned and non-directive) builds positive neural connections in the brain and activates the “trust hormone” oxytocin. This hormone not only makes us feel connected and bonded, it actually increases our propensity to trust each other more.
#3 Appreciations and Acknowledgments
Express your appreciation sincerely. There is enough of this nonsense called “I will not appreciate anybody openly” going around in relationships and work-teams. It is like saying “I don’t want to make any deposits in the bank. But will expect returns from time to time”. Your ego might prevent you from appreciating others; but, consider it non-negotiable when it comes to primary relationships and team-mates. It works like magic on their self-esteem, morale and helps them feel good about themselves. And when you do this for them, the reciprocation comes back to you manifold. But appreciation is an art, that has to spring from the heart. If you thought appreciation was all about saying “you have such pretty eyes”, you may want to read further…
Genuine acknowledgements come up if you constantly search for good qualities in others and sincerely express your adulation for their ‘being’ (their attitude, their talents, their capabilities and their whole person). Doing this often can only sky-rocket your relationship; as much as absence of it, can spiral your relationship downwards, horribly fast! Most individuals are able to spontaneously compliment on the good looks or clothes of their partners, but nothing can be more heartening than getting some acknowledgment about one’s personality, traits, capabilities, talents or even hygiene and manners. Here are some examples that show some helpful and least helpful appreciation styles in relationships…
“Don’t expect appreciations from me”
“I don’t easily appreciate people”
Score: Doesn’t help at all!
“You look gorgeous”/ “Looking handsome!”
Score: Not bad!
“You look gorgeous! I like the way you do your make-up. It’s subtle and classy”
“you look handsome! I like your choice of clothes and accessories”
“Not postponing, strong intent and passion are your key strengths! No wonder your output is great!”
“You are so courageous. You stood up for the team and spoke to your CEO”
Score: Most Helpful
As we can infer from the examples, the most helpful styles are the ones that acknowledge some capability, trait, strength, values or talent in the other. This gets etched in the receiver’s brain and promotes more and more of such positive behavior in them (like: the skill of doing good make-up / choosing great clothes-accessories / not postponing work / standing up for team/ etc.). It is important to understand these differences because compliments on one’s looks are no doubt, good to hear; but, strengths of an individual are way too special when spotlighted. They are special because they will last in the person for long, are unique to them and can be strengthened with time, unlike physical beauty which is transient. And hence, the person feels secure that he/she is being loved for something beyond their physical appearance.
This doesn’t mean, every appreciation has to be carefully planned, crafted and delivered. But, just keep your eyes and ears open to see the goodness in the other person that is more than skin deep and ensure to genuinely express it, as often as possible. After all, the deepest desire of every human being is to be acknowledged and appreciated. Your appreciation could create a nice memory in their minds long after you have forgotten what you said.
Scientific evidence – a study conducted by scanning brains of people when they are feeling appreciated shows increased blood flow to various parts of the brain. Oxytocin, the ‘feel-good-trust’ hormone is increased, thereby strengthening the bonding. Also, a psychological phenomenon called Pygmalion effect occurs in the receiver whereby they tend to perform at the level others expect of them. For example, if you acknowledged openly and often that your spouse is a great home-administrator, they will subconsciously be driven to be great at that. The converse is also true! If you were to preempt that your spouse might not drive the car well, they subconsciously will end up faltering. Doesn’t it make sense to positively nudge them to be their best if you really loved them?
#4 Trust, the big T
How you honor commitments, big or small, can make or mar the trust factor. Dishonoring even seemingly small commitments such as “we’ll go out for dinner tonight” or slipping in a small lie such as “of course, I told you already that the train is at 8pm” (when it was mentioned differently before), can mar one’s credibility. The more often you break your promises or throw in those tiny lies to escape a situation, faster the trust factor shuts down between you and your partner. As far as possible, live up to your words and give your word only if you are sure of living up to it! Understandably, we may not be able to honor every single time. But, as far as and as often as possible...
The moment ‘Trust’ is mentioned in a relationship, people immediately think of fidelity or loyalty. But that’s the final resultant of several small ‘t’s:
“Do I trust, when my partner says we’ll go out on a date night?”
“Do I trust, my partner will not diminish my image in a family gathering?”
“Do I trust, my partner will stand up for me when someone belittles me?”
“Do I trust, my partner will not judge me if I shared this goof-up I made?”
“Do I trust, my partner will be genuinely proud of my accomplishments?”
“Do I trust, if I were to quit my job today, my partner will not deprive me of my financial needs? Even if it means spending money for fun and recreation?”
“Do I trust, my partner will help me with cooking or chores if I were to invite my friends for dinner?”
“Do I trust, my partner will step up with parenting responsibilities if I were not to be around”
Scientific evidence – Neuroscientific research shows that in many ways, our brains are hardwired to trust others. This is also the reason why having our trust betrayed can short-circuit our neurobiology and make it difficult to trust again. Ever wondered why you felt devastated when someone you so wholeheartedly trusted, double-crossed you and didn’t stand up for you? This is because, every neural network of positive emotions towards this person dissolved at a neurobiological level and got replaced with animosity, suspicion and resentment.
This is a very important factor in building trust. Don’t sympathize; instead, empathize! To show the difference between these two, here is an example as beautifully explained by Dr. Brene Brown, on how you can handle when your partner has got into a mess:
“Oh! you fell into this deep well! Let me also jump in. Yeah! it is dark and scary out here…”
“So sorry, your brother got into this mess. You must be really upset. I feel with you…”
“Oh, you fell into this deep well! It’s feeling dark and scary there, huh? Ok, let me go get some sandwiches for you”
“Am sorry, your brother got into this mess! I do feel for you. At least he could have avoided doing ….”
The “At least…” sentence is such a disaster in marriages / relationships. Time it for later, if need be. Certainly, not when your partner is emotionally down. Using it is like the infamous Texan style of sympathy, “I know it sucks. But too bad! God is on my side.”
In everyday life, you see your partner go through the home chores all day and pick up the broken pieces of her career, but you don't even pitch in to rub her feet without being asked to do. You see her cook meals every single day and even serve you new dishes but you don't even ask her out for dinner once a week. And then, after a few years, your partner is gone - either physically or emotionally. That's the kind of damage lack of empathy can do. It's the accumulation of each day of these essentials (or lack thereof) that determines the continuity of your relationship.
"empathy is about emotional honesty and courage to respond to the unspoken needs of another"
Scientific evidence – Psychologists call Impulsiveness + Lack of empathy + General disregard to others the Dark Triad of Personality and people with these traits become a subject of avoidance.
To sum up, if you are being rushed / are rushing into a relationship, there might hardly be any time for you to demonstrate or witness the other person demonstrate these 5 qualities. Before you make that big decision of your life, I encourage you to give yourselves adequate time to gauge your compatibility on these broad factors. A few extra months of waiting is better than decades of heartache…
The definition of true love perhaps, is a sum of these essentials...Happy Valentine’s Day!
Ann Betz, Your Brain During Coaching
Debbie Hampton, Thebestbrainpossible.com
aconsciousrethink.com, Lack of Empathy in Relationships
Dr. Noelle Nelson, Power of Appreciation
Christopher Bergland, The Neuroscience of Trust
‘The Dark Triad’ Raskin & Terry, 1988; Wrightsman, 1991; Zagon & Jackson, 1994
Dr. Brene Brown, TED Talk on Empathy