Many of us turn to psychology to try to make our own lives better. However, there are a number of proven psychological strategies that will help make our partners and loved ones better. Here are five such strategies, the psychology behind them, and how to use them:
1. The Pygmalion Effect.
One of the most researched psychological phenomena is the Pygmalion (or Expectancy) Effect. Psychologist Robert Rosenthal demonstrated that by holding positive expectations about another’s behavior, we can subtly influence their behavior in a good way. (You could also call it the "I-know-you-can-do-it” effect.) In a classic study, Rosenthal demonstrated that teachers who expected certain students to intellectually “bloom” during the school year actually produced academic gains in those students, even though the students had been randomly chosen. How? The teachers gave more attention and support to the students they thought would perform better. Truly believing that your loved one “can do it,” verbalizing that, and reinforcing him or her can lead to positive gains.
2. Positive Social Support.
Considerable research shows that giving positive support to a stressed loved one can help them cope. The key, however, is to avoid negativity—making comments like “I told you so,” or lashing out in a scolding or punitive manner. Be positively supportive by listening rather than telling. If your partner primarily needs to be heard and understood, be empathic and supportive. If problem solving is in order, try to help. Be what your loved one needs at the given time, and if there's any doubt about what that is, ask.
3. Cognitive Reframing.
When your loved one is troubled and dwelling on only negatives—an illness, a misfortune, some stressor at work—try to provide an alternative way of viewing the situation in a more positive light. This is the old, proven technique of counting your blessings—having the individual focus on positives instead of negatives. (Here is a helpful website to help you understand cognitive reframing.)
4. Empathic Listening.
The goal of empathic listening is to allow your partner to disclose feelings, thoughts, concerns, stress, or problems, and to do so by fully listening and empathizing. One difficulty is our tendency to want to say something—to offer advice or make suggestions—but it is important to focus simply on gaining understanding of our partner’s emotions and concerns, and to demonstrate that we understand their feelings. Empathic listening can make our partner feel better, relieve stress, and provide a sense of security. Like many of these strategies, empathic listening is something that needs to be developed; here is a detailed guide to empathic listening.
5. Unconditional Positive Regard.
Developed by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, this is about being accepting and supportive of a loved one, regardless of what the person has done, experienced, or said. Like empathic listening, showing unconditional positive regard takes patience and practice. You need to suspend your own feelings and opinions, and just value the other individual. Over time, knowing that you have positive feelings about your loved one will give that individual the sense of confidence and support to improve, feel better, or get back on track.