This past week, I had the honor of being chosen to present at an event called FanFare, a yearly event hosted by a wonderful organization called the Family Action Network. (To check out their website click here: http://www.familyactionnetwork.net/) FanFare is an event showcasing speakers on a variety of parent education topics, and each speaker gets 10 minutes to put forth their best ideas for parents. My topic was related to parenting, but from the angle of the importance of taking care of the couple’s relationship (the co-parents) as one of the most important ways to foster health and well-being in the individual parents and in the family as a whole.
My talk was entitled: Listening Passionately: The Five Deceptively Simple Habits to Foster Greater Peace, Intimacy, and Connection and was inspired by this quote from Harriet Lerner, “If we would only listen with the same passion that we feel about wanting to be heard” (This idea has really stuck with me!) and by my study of applying Buddhist teachings and mindfulness meditation and interpersonal mindfulness exercises to strategies for being more present with our partners and fostering greater connections. I wanted to share with all of you these five “deceptively simple” habits! (So called because they actually are super easy to do, but can appear difficult when our emotional reactions to our partner get in the way.)
#1 Set your intention. If you have practiced yoga, done meditation, or engaged in some sort of “practice session” of a new skill or a skill you want to improve, you may be familiar with the idea of setting an intention for the practice before you begin. The intention functions as a cue to prepare us for doing something unusual or novel, and then becomes our anchor throughout our practice when we inevitably get distracted or off track during our practice so we can simply notice and come back to our intention each time. This same concept can be applied to the relationship with our partner. Before beginning a conversation with your partner, try pausing first to set an intention for how you want to be or what you want to practice during the conversation. The intention can be anything, but one example I often use for myself is “Be the partner I want” – a version of the golden rule so I have something to come back to each time I get cranky or lose my temper.
# 2 Use water logic. “Water logic” is a Buddhist concept and means cultivating qualities of fluidity and openness to people and situations. Often without realizing it, we are using the opposite of water logic when talking to our partners which is “rock logic”. Rock logic sounds something like this, “I already know what you are going to say”. Sadly, when we use this approach in a conversation it usually functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Water logic is like a river you’ve never canoed down before, and sounds something like “Let’s see where this goes”. See if you can approach a conversation with openness (it often helps to have an image of flowing water to help you stay open) or at least notice if you are in rock logic and make an effort to shift when you notice yourself being more closed to what your partner is saying.
# 3 Don’t soil your own nest (i.e. Don’t s#@%t where you eat!) We often forget the reality that our happiness and our partner’s happiness are inextricably connected. If we treat our partner unkindly we are essentially treating ourselves unkindly. This is based on the Buddhist concept of letting go of the delusion that we are separate selves (which often sounds like “I want to be right!” esp in a conflict) and begin to practice observing, being aware, and making decisions about how to act with our partners based on the reality of our connectedness.
# 4 Nod more often. Use your body to help promote psychological openness. When we make eye contact and nod along with our partner as they speak we not only encourage them to talk more by giving them signs we are interested in what they are saying, but it also helps us actually feel more open. Looking interested is also a powerful form of validation for your partner, and when your partner feels validated, they will automatically become more calm. It works like magic! Its important to remember that validation does NOT mean you agree with your partner, it simply indicates that you understand their perspective, or are at least attempting to understand their perspective. This practice is a win-win because it promotes more effective listening, and it is a strategic move because it is soothing for your partner!
And last but not least,
#5 Decline the invitation. Our partner’s behavior can often feel like a powerful invitation to be a jerk. If they are acting cranky, irritable, or rude it can feel like permission to act the same. Though completely understandable, the problem with this “strategy” is that there is no chance for a conversation to get better or back on track. However, if just one person can stay effective (kind, patient, etc) then there is hope for things to improve in the moment. After practicing for awhile, these moments turn into a trend and then your whole relationship can change. This practice is about owning our responsibility to not make things worse, and more importantly, to make things better with our partner!
So there you have it! All five of these habits are a lot to take on at once, so I recommend just choosing one to try out everyday for a week. Each time you practice, make a point to observe differences in your experiences of talking to your partner and any differences in your partner’s behavior.
Thanks for reading! Let me know how it goes in the comments!
For more information on events hosted by The Family Action Network, click here to sign up for their newsletter: http://www.familyactionnetwork.net/#!news-letter-sign–up/cjk1
For more information on Interpersonal Mindfulness practices, check out the book Insight Dialogue by Gregory Kramer: http://www.amazon.com/Insight-Dialogue-Interpersonal-Path-Freedom/dp/1590304853