Relationships and Communication
Different schools of mental health suggest there is one common denominator that boosts quality of life and feelings of well-being, the strength of one’s interpersonal relationships. In the landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development, researchers collected vast data on male Harvard graduates and a control group of underprivileged, inner-city Bostonians. They began tracking the study participants in 1938 and continue to follow the subjects to the present day. Since inception, the study has expanded to include the men’s offspring, who are now in their 50s and 60s. The scientists studied participants’ triumphs and failures in marriage, health, career, and other life events. The data suggest that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what kept people happy and satisfied throughout their lives. The research concluded that individuals with warm relationships lived longer, happier, and experienced less mental deterioration.
If relationships protect our body and brain, we need to nourish and strengthen the bonds between us. There are many different types of relationships; platonic, romantic, professional, and those based on common hobbies and interests. Communication is the glue that maintains each. At The Midtown Practice, we realize that relationships can be messy and difficult. We are here to help you disentangle your feelings, identify your goals, and work with you to use effective communication to resolve a conflict, ask for what you want, all while maintaining your self-respect.
Maintaining a Good Relationship
What is the best method of communication to acquire and keep healthy relationships? In all relationships, romantic or platonic, there is a “courting phase” as you get to know each other. During the relationship, it is important to maintain peace and manage conflict. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) has a helpful acronym, GIVE, to guide obtaining and maintaining relationships. The “G” stands for gentle. People are more likely to respond positively to kindness than to severity. Tone of voice is critical. If your tone communicates judgment or sounds threatening, it can cause others to retreat, shut down, and remove themselves from the situation. The “I” is acting interested in what the other person has to say. Do not interrupt or look over someone’s shoulder. Make eye contact and avoid the temptation to prepare what to say while the other person is talking. “V” is for validation. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings, point of view or opinions by showing understanding and expressing empathy. You can do this using statements such as “I can see that this subject is painful” or “I know you are extremely busy but…” Finally, the “E” stands for easy going manner. Good humor can calm a tone and ease a conversation. Try including a sincere compliment and remain positive and upbeat.
Learning to Hear “NO” and Love Others Despite Their Differences
Everyone has the right to say “no” to requests. Learning to tolerate rejection and stay in a discussion even if it becomes difficult or painful is an important skill. Every relationship hits conflict and hardship at some point. Each of us has our limitations and fallibilities, and successful relationships acknowledge this. It might be easy to list reasons why you are attracted to someone. Characteristics such as appearance, charisma, and sense of humor, draw us towards one another. However, we all wish to love one another and be loved despite our shortcomings. We all hope that those who are closest to us accept the good and the bad. Learning to do this with those you care about, for example, accepting someone’s impatience as the other side of their sense of whimsy, or their tardiness for their ability to be in the moment, strengthens our relationships.
Success in Relationships
In general, you cannot avoid conflict. Inevitably, it arises. The relationships that are able to manage disagreement successfully grow closer and thrive. Learn to check in with your mood and become familiar with your mental life. If you notice you are irritable and having a difficult time being patient or tolerating your friend, partner, or colleague, take a break from the conversation. Tell the other person that you are taking pause and would like to return to the communication once you feel more grounded. Use some calming techniques to center yourself and clear your mind. You can do this by splashing some cold water on your face, engaging in breathing exercises, or distracting yourself by engaging the five senses. Take time to balance thoughts to prevent saying or doing anything you might regret. Then you can return to the GIVE skills to approach your conversation. This is one of many approaches that can help you build more rewarding relationships.
At The Midtown Practice, we can teach you ways to develop, maintain and improve your connections. We can help you identify patterns that might stymie your relationships and make you vulnerable to greater discord. Coping and communication skills are integral to strengthening those bonds that add to our longevity, health, and quality of life.