As Valentine's Day rolls around, many of us begin to think of ways to show people how much we care. We shop, bake, and plan celebrations hoping that those special people will understand that they are truly loved. While celebrating this love is very uplifting, shouldn't we be practicing this appreciation all year long?
Everyone needs to feel loved and valued. Relationships thrive on practicing gratitude, especially during challenging times. We all love that surprised feeling of being thanked for something we didn’t even realize we were doing. It is a gift to be honored for making someone’s life lighter and brighter.
So why do we sometimes forget to appreciate those who provide us with unconditional love? In addition, why are we so quick to point out their human imperfections? As children, many of us were exposed to more negative comments for unacceptable choices, than positive comments for our accomplishments. Significant adults in our lives modeled these maladaptive behaviors and we grew up to take them on when we became adults. These habits have been ingrained in many of us for decades.
How can we let go of these old behaviors and adopt new ones that will increase the harmony in our relationships?
1. Practice the 5/1 rule. Dr. John Gottman, renowned therapist known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis, tells us that for every negative interaction you need to have at least five positive interactions to balance it. So when communicating with friends and loved ones, it is important to make 5 positive comments from the heart to balance out 1 ego based negative comment. Start small and look for any positive behavior that you can point out in an appreciative manner. For example, “Thank you so much for taking out the trash. I really appreciate you taking it out especially when it is so cold outside.” No act of kindness is too small. Practicing gratitude from the heart will promote more acts of kindness. It is a universal law.
2. Accept the idea that conflict is inevitable. It’s how we resolve the conflict that determines the strength of our relationships. In every interaction there are at least two people trying to get their needs met. Disagreements are bound to occur. When we are able to look at others through compassionate eyes rather than bruised egos, our interactions are much more effective. In addition, our relationships develop much stronger foundations.
3. When an interaction becomes uncomfortable, stop and breath. Proceed in a calm voice as you remember to find compassion in the moment. If you cannot communicate genuinely from your heart, take a time out and excuse yourself for as long as you need to calm down. For example, “ I am going for a walk to clear my head. This conversation is important to me and I want to give you my full attention.” Keep it short and sweet and void of emotion. This way when you return to the discussion, you will be able to be guided by your heart and not your animated ego.
4. Lower your expectations. Many of us have very high expectations of ourselves as well as others. Our unrealistic expectations keep us from getting our needs met. Even superheroes have bad days. Seriously, if we are able to allow ourselves to be human, which means not being perfect 24/7, then we need to allow others to also be human. Humans are late, forget things, say things they wish they hadn’t, and have been known to emit sounds like aggravated zoo animals. The more we are able to lower our expectations, the more empathy we will develop for others.
Sometimes we forget how blessed we are to be loved. We may not even realize it takes a lot of energy for others to see past our humanness and love us unconditionally. Relationships are sacred and should be celebrated with deep gratitude. So this Valentine’s Day and all year round, remember the words from that timeless song, “All you need is love.”
Laura Goldberg has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development, and a Teaching Credential. She has worked with under served youth and their families as a Child and Family Therapist in the Foster Care System, a Positive Parenting Educator for Burmese refugees, and a Math and ESL Tutor. Currently Laura is a Life Coach helping individuals navigate the waters of change. Utilizing a strength-based approach, she has had the honor to assist many individuals work towards empowerment and increase their quality of life. Read more of Laura Goldberg's inspirational writing at http://navigatingthewatersofchange.wordpress.com