Folk wisdom, friendly advice and even scientific research offer us guidance on how to have more satisfying relationships. It can be overwhelming to make sense of all the conflicting information. Should I wear this perfume? How much smiling is too much smiling? How many days should I wait to call? How do I get my spouse or partner to notice me more? Not to mention, the risk of rejection and heartache inherent in all romance is daunting.
According to an article by Drs. Julie and John Gottmann, who are experts in successful romantic relationships, successful couples consistently show appreciation for each other. Specifically, whenever one partner makes even the most mundane bid for the other’s attention, such as saying, “Look at that beautiful bird outside,” the other will respond by engaging with the partner, appreciating the moment and giving his or her full attention.
The couples in the study were demonstrating some of the same qualities and communication skills I regularly use in my work with patients and teach to students. At the core of all good counseling is being a mindful and reflective listener. These skills take work and practice, but anyone can learn them to enhance existing relationships or as a great asset in dating.
Here are five tips for using more mindful communication with your partner, date or potential date. Alone, they might not be the key to true love, but they’ll go a long way:
- Pay attention. Just listen and really hear what the other person is saying.
- Show you’re paying attention. Use comfortable eye contact, a few natural and genuine head-nods and mm-hmms, and a posture that says you care. Lean in (just a little) and show that you’re present.
- Show understanding. Reflect back what you’ve heard. For example, “I understand that you’d rather work in IT if you could find the right position.” Just respond now and then with a short summary to show you are understanding. If you didn’t quite get it, the other person will tell you more to help you understand. If you did get it, he or she will tell you more because you’re showing interest, so you really can’t lose!
- Show empathy. Reflect back the feelings the other person expresses. An occasional and simple acknowledgment of everyday feelings shows you care. For example, “When your co-worker said that, of course you felt offended.” You can follow-up with a validating comment like: “I think anyone would feel that way. It was such a shocking remark!”
- Use “I” statements. This one is less of a listening skill but still requires mindfulness. Now and then, disclose your own feelings: “I feel really sad that happened to you.” This skill is especially important in the conflict department, to help prevent or de-escalate a fight: “I feel really irritable right now, I love you, and I’d like to talk more about this after I have a little while to calm down.” Owning your feelings helps prevent the other person from feeling the need to take up either an offensive or defensive position.
With mindful practice, anyone can learn to be a better communicator, even in stressful situations when emotions run high. And if you’re still on the dating scene, these skills should make for more meaningful and enjoyable dates that might just lead to love.
Anesia Groves, ND, is a naturopathic doctor and faculty supervisor at Bastyr University Clinic, as well as an assistant professor at Bastyr University California. Her specialty is mind-body medicine. If you are interested in learning more about mind-body medicine, call the clinic at 858-246-9730 to schedule an appointment, or fill out our quick contact form and we'll call you back. The clinic is offering a $20 first visit special during the month of February.