When I want relationships tips, I have learned to look for folks who focus on strengths and I look for folks who have a long track record of research.
Researchers are curious folks, who have learned to apply the scientific method to questions they have, and I really value the insights those folks gather up.
I have been involved in domestic violence psycho-eduction for about 20 years now, and family violence is a serious issue with long lasting repercussions for the perpetrator, the victim, and the children who may witness it, or who live in stress.
As part of my program, I have always taught skills so that when my clients leave my program, they know the difference between power and control relationships and offering choice in relationship.
The researchers whose work has been most valuable to me over the years have been John Gottman,Ph.D., and his wife Julie Gottman, LCSW., and Doc Childre and his Heartmath folks, and more recently, I have grown to really appreciate the work of Helen Fisher, Ph.D. and most recently, Robert Epstein, Ph.D., has thrown us a challenge about building intimacy.
Relationships Tips from The Art and Science of Love
The Art and Science of Love is a workshop the Gottman’s put together for those of us who cannot get to one of their in person workshops to use, and use it I have with my domestic violence folks.
The workshop is composed of a series of written exercises for couples to use, and accompanying videos, that teach the skills that the Gottman’s have observed the Masters of Marriage using over their 30 years of doing this work.
I can really appreciate their model because they include important physiological measures in their observations, and make very sophisticated interpretations of non-verbal communication.
Why is non-verbal communication important to measure? Well, if you read FLOW by Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi, on page 28, he says that we process emotional communications made through facial and tonal messages in packets of seven bits at the same time, and the shortest time between packets of data is 1/18th second.
1/18th second is about twice as fast as I can blink my eyes, and I can change my hormonal bath from DHEA the anti-aging hormone to adrenalin and cortisol that fast, and if I am not prepared, my body will begin to move in ways that definitely harm the relationship, so the fact that the Gottman’s pay attention to non-verbal communications is vital in my estimation.
Relationships Tips from the Heart
No one knew too long ago that the heart had its own affiliation and cooperative nervous system, a brain of its own, a brain which can learn and make decisions independently of any other brain I have.
In fact the heart feeds much more data up than the brain sends down, and if I learn to keep my heart rate coherent, using Doc Childre’s heart rate variability tool, I can learn to access my higher perceptual centers in conversation with my mate.
Just above I mentioned that I can respond to non-verbal communications very rapidly, for example, a look of contempt, in 1/25th second, according to Paul Ekman, Ph.D., who has worked for 25 years to catalog human facial expressions.
1/25th second is even faster than Czikszentmihalyi’s 1/18th second, isn’t it, so doesn’t it make sense to learn a skill which allows me to manage my physiology in a heart beat? To me it does, and I have learned the Heartmath process and taught it to many couples so that they can work on the heart beat of their relationship.
Heart rate variability biofeedback feels good, and once I have a few practices on the computer with the program, my heart will learn the cue, and provide me an affiliative and coherent heart beat which allows me to manage my response to non-verbal communications heart beat by heart beat.
I can get in the habit of cuing coherence in my heart beat and body by using my cue thought (I like to picture my children’s faces inside my chest next to my heart)every five minutes for two heart beats. Wonderful. So if my mate is upset, I can bring coherence to our conversation, where I will definitely use my reflective listening skills.
Helen Fisher’s Romantic Love
Anybody who has ever been in love can testify to the power of that experience, especially your first love.
Helen Fisher, Ph.D. has taken a look at what our brains do in this early stage of love through the unflinching lens of the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine so that we can begin to make sense of why we do what we do in the process of romantic love.
With that understanding, perhaps we can use our thinking skills to moderate the powerful dopamine, androgen, and oxytocin inspired behaviors we exhibit when in love.
Or at least we can take her personality test, and find compatible folks to have chemistry with.
Professor Fisher says that her research indicates that we humans fall into four broad personality types, each governed by a particular neurotransmitter or hormone, and we can have the best chemistry by finding compatible chemical types before we ever begin the process of romantic love.
Relationships Tips From Robert Epstein, Ph.D.
Robert Epstein, Ph.D. has some interesting ideas about building intimacy.
He is challenging us to regularly practice exercises designed to keep us close. He says that couple in countries where arranged marriages are the norm have much longer marriages, and much happier marriages, even though they may have met once prior to the marriage ceremony.
This seems improbable to those of us who are firm believers in the Disney Prince Charming and Cinderella model, which includes the intervention of the Fairy Godmother.
Epstein suggests that the regular practice of exercises like ‘soul gazing’ where we look deeply into our partners eyes for a couple of minutes can have a huge impact on feelings of closeness, and another exercise he prescribes is heart rate synchronization, which can be done very well using a heart rate variability tool.
I know because I have done, and I was actually quite excited when I read Professor Epstein’s idea.
I have taught the heart rate variability biofeedback process to clients, which is a computerized process, very easy to learn, and feels good, and then had them sit down side by side, hook up to computers, get themselves into heart rate variability coherence, and then hold hands.
What emerges on their computer screens is the “heart beat” of the relationship.
Folks get to see that what they are thinking about impacts first their heart beat and then the heart beat of the relationship, and that happens rapidly, and obviously.
Then to demonstrate the power they have, I ask them to each think of one thing that they would prefer their mate to change, and watch what happens to the heart beat of the relationship, which goes haywire.
Then I ask them to think of something they really appreciate about their partner, and to watch what happens on the computer screen.
The take away is that folks get that they can keep the heart beat of relationship coherent by choosing to think more appreciation thoughts, which leaves both parties in an affiliative and cooperative mood to do what Gottman calls negotiate gridlocked issues.
Maintaining a physiology of cooperation and affiliation is my best relationships tip.