It’s all too human to get lazy in our relationships and take things for granted. When things are going well, we have a tendency to coast. Here are some ways to enjoy more fulfilling connections:
- Listen deeply.Listen especially carefully when your partner or friend is expressing something about the relationship. A sincere effort to listen—even if you don’t fully understand everything they’re saying—goes a long way toward helping a partner feel that you care about them and value the relationship. Remember that your partner simply is expressing feelings, which may sometimes have more do to with their history than with you. Deep listening at such times is a powerful act of generosity.
- Be empathic.Take their feelings seriously, even if you don’t think there’s a good reason for them. If what they’re saying is difficult to hear, try to stay connected in your body. Take some deep breaths. Remind yourself that they're entitled to their feelings. Notice if you are going into a shame-freeze. Being paralyzed by the thought that you did something wrong makes it difficult to listen. Ask them to pause if you need time to absorb what they’re saying. Perhaps say something like, “I really want to hear you. What you’re saying is important to me. I need a moment to take in what you’re saying.”
- Monitor your defensiveness.Notice a tendency to get defensive and dismissive (which we all do sometimes). It’s not easy to be attentive when someone is unhappy about something we’ve said or done—or if they're dissatisfied with our relationship in some way. Do your best to hear what they're saying without going into a shame-freeze—or be aware of how the shame-freeze is feeling in your body and bring gentleness to it so that it might soften. Be mindful if you’re feeling paralyzed and therefore unable to hear them because you’re thinking something is wrong with you or that you’re not doing something right. If you’re paralyzed by shame, you won’t be able to listen well. If you agree that you did something hurtful, you can take responsibility for that without beating yourself up. You can learn something from the feedback and make an effort to be more mindful going forward.
- Tune into the intimacy.Even difficult conversations can build intimacy. If you can both express your authentic feelings and really listen to each other, it can go a long way toward deepening your connection. In a partnership, it might even enliven your sex life to share feelings that might otherwise go into hiding.
- Enjoy your time together.Make sure your relationship has ample time built into it to enjoy each other’s company. John Gottman's research into couples has suggested that building your connection in positive ways helps create an important foundation for love and connection to grow.
Attending to your relationship in these mindful ways can help nurture the connection you long for. And don't be shy about seeking help when necessary to bolster a partnership that is important to you—don’t wait until things get really bad. I've found Dr. Sue Johnson’s approach of Emotionally Focusing Therapy to be particularly helpful for couples. Getting the support of a couples counselor can help you uncover and reveal the deeper layers of what you’re experiencing, as well as learn to listen to each other non-defensively.