A Different Take on Invisible Support

On April 22, 2013 I blogged about the value of invisible support in a relationship. Invisible support is help given in such a way that it is not clearly perceived as such by the person receiving the help.

Today, I wrote again about the value of invisible support.  See here for a slightly different take on the use of this valuable tool.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Compromise is Good!

I know I keep coming back to this issue,  but I keep stumbling across situations where compromise is seen as a bad thing.  It really isn’t. Not only is it a good thing,  it is an absolutely essential thing.  Especially in lasting relationships.  That’s why my first e-book and more than one blog post have been on the value of give and take in lasting relationships. It’s also why I wrote about it in a recent article on GalTime.com.  Have a look if you are interested in only the most important element in lasting relationships.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Money Matters in Lasting Relationships

After talking with a friend yesterday I was reminded how important it is for partners to think about, and use, money is similar ways.  I first wrote about this issue in a post on March 26, 2011 and then wrote about it again in a recent article on The Good Men Project website. Take a look.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Apologizing and Relationships, Part II

In a blog post on January 22, 2011, I commented on research examining gender differences in the frequency of apologizing. For a slightly different twist on this same idea see my recent article on BlogHer.com.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Communicating Needs in Lasting Relationships

Lasting RelationshipsEvery now and then I seem to decide that turning on the television and surfing channels would be a good way to relax.  Inevitably, though, I quickly realize what a huge mistake that was. I linger too long on one channel, get mindlessly absorbed, and then see something I can’t forget.  This happened recently when I came across a rerun of a show called The Marriage Ref. Here is the genius concept: They film a couple having an argument and then a panel of minor celebrities makes fun of the couple.  The unfunny host then decides who won the argument, and the couple wins a vacation package.

I hope already you can see why I didn’t like this show.  For one, it was terrible.  Second, I am interested in helping couples stay together, and no piece of research has ever found that filming an argument and submitting it for others to view and laugh at helps couples stay together.  Nor has it ever been helpful to decide who won or lost an argument.

The only saving grace for this show is that it did give me some fodder for my blogging appetite. I bet this isn’t the reaction the show’s producers were after but that was ten minutes of my life I can’t get back.

Rather than use the show as the impetus for a general post on communicating and arguing I want to focus on a specific argument a couple on the show was having and the underlying problems that caused it. The argument occurred because the husband wanted to put a stripper pole in the bedroom.  And, go figure, the wife was against the idea.   And not surprisingly the panel and host decided the wife was right.

I certainly can see why the wife would be against having a stripper pole.  She is likely to feel a little disrespected and maybe even humiliated by being asked to perform for a man who is supposed to be her equal in the relationship.  So, I, too, would have agreed that having a stripper pole was not a great idea.  But what everyone missed was that the husband was trying to communicate.  He might not have been doing it very well, but he was trying.

I think it’s fair to say that many men don’t do a very good job at communicating their needs and desires. About fifteen years ago books and articles were promoting the idea that men and women communicated in entirely different ways, as if they were from different planets.  More recent research suggests that there are more similarities than differences in the communication skills of men and women, but some specific differences do exist.

One difference is that, on average, men tend to be less expressive than women.  That is, compared to women, men are less likely to talk about their feelings, needs, and desires.  But these men still have to communicate somehow.  And in our example, the husband suggested having a stripper pole and had given his wife about 50 thongs. He was trying, in his own ineffective way, to communicate his desires to his wife. It’s not that he wants his wife to feel embarrassed or disrespected; he wants some “spice” and adventure in the bedroom—maybe something she would enjoy as well. So why was it so difficult for this man to get his point across?

One model of communication, developed by well-known researcher John Gottman and his colleagues, gives us a sense of how hard it is for even good communicators to get their messages across.  Gottman suggests that somehow we have to identify our intentions (which are completely private), translate them into words and actions, and “send” them to the receiver of our message. The receiver then has to decode the words and actions (in his/her own, perhaps equally ineffective, way) to make meaning of them (this interpretation is also individual and private).  In between our intentions and our receiver’s decoding are our individual styles of sending and receiving messages and all the interference that comes with differing styles. It reminds me of the children’s game of telephone; you might think that a game of telephone between only two people would be easy.  But when each message is filtered through our own unique styles, abilities, insecurities, expectations, needs, and worries, it is like we are playing telephone with six or ten or maybe twenty people.

What words could the guy on television use to more clearly express his desires? I am not sure but the sentence might begin with “I want…,”which he might be uneasy with because it sounds selfish.  But expressing our needs and desires need not be selfish.  In fact, it is important for partners to be able to share their desires and also comment on each other’s desires.  The sharing of desires must be a dialogue.  And the decision to put a stripper pole in the bedroom was not the result of a dialogue. So, maybe this is the crux of the issue:  He decided what he wanted and his wife had no input—it was not the result of shared decision making.  Maybe what he should have said was something like, “Honey, I would like it if we could be a little more adventurous in our lovemaking.”  Then she has an opportunity to share her feelings and together they can explore the possibilities.  In this way, it becomes about them as a couple rather than him as an individual.

Once he says what he wants and she responds with what she wants, there is progress.  They are sharing ideas.  They may find that their individual desires overlap greatly.  Or they may not, in which case they will need to engage in a little give and take to figure out what each can give so that they can both feel satisfied.

There are two things to say about the process of communicating our needs and desires: It is essential and it often gets bungled.  Partners in lasting relationships must look past the bumbling efforts to see the underlying point.  Sometimes saying you want a stripper pole doesn’t really mean you want a stripper pole at all.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Compassion Helps Relationships Last

Cataloguing all the ills of modern society would be a big task.  It might take daily blog posts just to keep up.   And I think, ultimately, in 50 years all the people who now think overpopulation is the root of modern evils will be thinking (and saying), “I knew it.”  And many will be saying, “I told you so,” though I hate it when people think they have to say that; we remember you telling us.

But overpopulation is what we psychologists, who think big words make us look smart, call a distal cause.  There are more proximal (see previous sentence) causes too. Proximal causes are typically ones that we can do something about.  Though true that choosing to have fewer children is doing something about the problem of overpopulation.

So here is my list of what’s wrong with modern life.  And yes, eventually, this is going to relate to lasting relationships.  The problem is that we have too much of some things and not enough of others.  Things we have too much of: greed, greed, greed.  Things we don’t have enough of: empathy, compassion, responsibility.

Now, you may have other things on your lists of too much and not enough (and I’d be happy to learn what they are) but I don’t think you can argue with mine.  Some other time I will write about greed, empathy, and responsibility.  Here I want to write about compassion.

Dictionary.com defines compassion like this:

com·pas·sion  [kuh m-pashuh n]
noun
1.    a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Compassion is the opposite of schadenfreude (see first sentence of second paragraph), which is pleasure at another’s misfortune.  In a recent article on compassion, Emma Seppala discusses many benefits of compassion.  Of course, the benefits she describes are not just her opinion; rather, “Scientific studies show that being compassionate can have surprising benefits for physical and psychological health (p. 21).”

Not surprisingly, and finally, compassion can help relationships last. There are several ways that compassion can play a role in lasting relationships.  First, research has found that kindness, a trait closely linked with compassion, is one of the most desirable traits in a mate.  Deciding to be kind to others, not just to our partner, can lead our partner to continue to be attracted to us.

Second, there is evidence that it is, in fact, better to give than to receive.  Or at least research has found that giving is as pleasurable as receiving.  In research studies, the reward centers in the brain (those that are active when we are experiencing pleasure) are just as active for acts of giving and acts of receiving.  So, giving itself is pleasurable and then consider the rewards we receive from our spouse when we have communicated that we have received pleasure from making them happy.

Finally, compassion can help relationships last because being compassionate causes us to think beyond ourselves.  Rather than being focused on ourselves, this broader perspective allows us to focus on others, including our partners. So we may be more likely to consider our partner’s needs, see things from their perspective, and act with their well being in mind.

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar it might be because it supports all that we have said in the past about the value of communal relationships–those where individuals are more concerned with their partner’s well-being than with their own.  Much research suggests that relationships that are communal, rather than exchange-oriented, are more likely to be rewarding and lasting.  See our blog post on the value of communal relationships for more information on this idea.

As we continue to learn more and more about the benefits of compassion, we will learn more and more about its potent and positive effects on relationships.  Compassion is powerful because it has a double impact.  The first impact comes from the rewards we experience when we act with compassion.  The second impact comes from the benefits we experience when others, including our partner, express their gratitude for our behavior.  It is almost by definition a win-win situation.

 

In case you are interested, you can read more from Emma Seppala and contact her at emmaseppala.com.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.