Audio: Making Happier Relationships
Transcript: Making Happier Relationships
Fortunately, the same skills you need to become happier yourself are the same ones you’ll need for making happier relationships. The first is presence. Although we may believe that we’re good at being present with others, in reality we aren’t. The problem is that that the other people have a habit of saying and doing things that trigger our distressing, intrusive feelings. This is particularly common with the people that are closest to us, including our partners and our children. We generally react to the intrusive feelings by becoming defensive or hostile towards others, or by avoiding them.
For example, you partner says that the pasta you made was over-cooked. Honestly, how would you likely respond? Take a moment.
And how, exactly, is that being present with your partner? If your response doesn’t begin with something like, “Oh, you find it over done, you must feel disappointed.” you’re not being present. Saying “Fine, cook it yourself next time”, or “You’re always criticizing me”, or “The pasta is not over-cooked”, are not being present, and are not going to contribute to connectedness in your relationship. Of course what has happened here is that your partner’s comment triggered intrusive feelings of hurt, inadequacy, and anger, which you likely reacted to by being hostile or defensive. This doesn’t make you bad, it makes you human, but a human in a less-than-happy relationship.
Another example. You told your child to get ready for school but ten minutes later find her watching a video, and saying she doesn’t want to go to school. How would you likely respond?
Again, if it doesn’t begin with something like, “So you really don’t feel like going to school today.” you’re not being present with her. Saying, “I don’t care if you don’t want to, you have to go”, or “You need to get ready right now or you’ll be late”, or even, “But honey, you had such a good time at school yesterday”, is not being present. Your daughter’s refusal to get ready for school has triggered your distress and to reduce your distress you are trying to compel your daughter to go to school. If we can be present with our distress instead of trying to escape it by forcing our daughter to school, we become free to focus on what matters most here, our relationship with our daughter. We may still want her to go to school, but at least through our presence we might be able to achieve that without a power struggle.
You now have a taste of how our intrusive feelings contribute to problems in our relationships. If we can be present with our feelings, and present with others, instead of reacting, everyone will be happier. There are specific communication skills that are extremely useful for helping us to navigate intrusive feelings. You can learn about them on this site too. These skills help to reduce us being triggered, and, to the extent that we do get triggered, to deal with our feelings as fruitfully as possible. These skills will also greatly reduce the chance that the other person will be triggered, so any conflict between us is much less likely to escalate into a fight. Finally, when we use these skills, others are more likely to listen to, and understand our perspective and feelings. In summary, learning to be present with our own triggered feelings, instead of blaming them on others, is a powerful skill for creating happier relationships. The most potent skill, however, is learning to be present with others in their experience. Working on the communication skills will give you the biggest payoffs for your efforts.