I was recently on the TODAY Show discussing communication problems in relationships. Do you want to learn how to build a stronger relationship for 2008? Here are the top 5 communication mistakes I shared on TODAY:
1). Confronting instead of communicating
In any long-term relationship, it's easy to get stuck in a negative pattern of confrontation, but this isn't just a relationship issue, it's a health issue. Confrontation naturally triggers the brain's "fight or flight" response, and most men respond by fighting, which raises heart rate, increases blood pressure and plays a role in chronic stress and heart disease. In women, the opposite reaction, flight, can be just as harmful: This self-silencing and bottling-up of emotions leads to stress, anxiety, depression and a cascade of unhealthy behaviors. Our "fight or flight" responses are naturally hard-wired into our brains, and often hijack our emotions before we have a chance to communicate rationally and lovingly.
So next time you find yourself wanting to fight or take flight, instead just take a deep breath, and let those gut responses pass through. Then start talking.
2). Coaching instead of cheering
From dealing with money to managing a household to keeping a family running, it's all too easy to get stuck in a pattern of "coaching" each other, when what we really need is a little praise from our partner. Too often, we feel like it's us against the world, and knowing our partner is on our team and believes in us can make all the difference. No one's telling you to pick up a pair of pom-poms, but if your face is constantly scrunched up like an umpire's, it's time to introduce some praise into the game. Praise is mutually beneficial. The receiver feels acknowledged and supported and the giver feels connected and empathetic. A little bit of praise can quickly change your relationship outlook from negative to positive. So go find one thing about your partner that you can praise.
3.) Saying too much
When it comes to communicating, sometimes you need to know when not to talk. This is especially true when your impulse is to say something negative to your partner. Research shows that the difference between those relationships that succeed and those that fail is the ability of a couple to stay in the 5-to-1 zone: five positive interactions to every negative one. Of course you can't go through life tallying every interaction, but you absolutely can know whether you're fundamentally in positive or negative territory and start swinging the pendulum back to where it belongs.
4.) Saying too little
At the end of the day, it's easy to feel that communication is a chore, that talking to your partner is boring or routine and that there's nothing new under the sun to possibly talk about. When you're feeling this way (when you're nodding and half-listening and have no real interest in how your partner's day went), you're in serious danger of getting too detached and disconnected, and becoming vulnerable to things like infidelity, depression and indifference.
If you feel like communicating with your partner is boring or uninteresting, then this is a time to create new things to talk about. Try to do at least one new thing together. Use this new connection to set the foundation for a process of relationship renewal and expansion. That sense of novelty drives dopamine activity, which plays a key role in both desire and pleasure but also enables us to idealize the qualities in our partner we find most appealing. At the start of a relationship, dopamine activity enables us to see our mate with a "rose-colored tint" that filters out the negative. (How often do those quirky habits and eccentricities that we first adored in our partner eventually become the very things that annoy us?)
By re-investing our relationship with a sense of newness, however, we trigger that dopamine rush that allows us to surf on a hormonal wave of good feeling. And finding ways to remain focused on the positive without getting too bent out of shape about those irritating little things we once adored is critical to ongoing relationship success.
5.) Talking when you should be touching
There's more to communication than just using your mouth. Sometimes a simple touch takes us where words cannot go. Studies show that even a 20-second hug raises oxytocin levels in both men and women ? oxytocin is the "cuddle hormone" ? it helps us to feel calm and connected to our partner. According to the New Scientist, "Oxytocin also boosts trust, which is an important step in developing a loving relationship." British scientist Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg and his team at the National Institute of Mental Health found that oxytocin release "reduced activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that signals fear, and therefore helped them to bond to another person."
So when words fail you, go for that 20-second hug. It may be just the fuel you need to fill up your tank for the relationship-road ahead.
You can also see the video of my TODAY Show appearance here:
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