Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock
Source: Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock

Relationships today are tough. With the hustle and bustle of keeping up with the Joneses, the endless array of online dating sites, and the false pretenses created by social media, it's become a realm of “buffet-style dating." If you don’t like what you see, delete it and move on to the next, even if it means not taking the time to truly engage in getting to know someone: “She watches The Bachelor. Why would I date her?”; “He doesn't like baseball, he's not going to be my type." We make so many false assumptions about people before we even take the time to get to know them. So what happens when you finally find someone you fancy, and relationship bells are ringing?

Many of us are not able to deal with conflict. We run, hide, become defensive, clam up, blame the other person, etc., without understanding why this conflict arose, why this person is hurt, and how we, as humans, can better each other while putting our egos aside for a moment. Or can we? 

The best dating/relationship advice I have ever received: Look at your close friends who are in happy and healthy relationships, and ask them their advice. My best friend, whom I admire as a woman, a human, and a friend, is someone I go to for advice on everything, including relationships. She is wise beyond her years and actually “gets it." Following are some key factors that people like her live by when it comes to relationship maintenance:

1. Effective Communication

We all know that communication is important, but the majority of us don't know how to really communicate. We judge, engage in technology, blame, and make generalizations, instead of actively listening with patience and kindness. One key factor in effective communication involves clear and intentional language. It is important to be as specific as possible and to state how you feel, instead of what someone did to you. Use “I” instead of “you." Claim what you are stating, and in stating your belief, have a comprehensive reason to back your word. If you're upset with something your partner said or did, then state, "I am upset with X, and here is why...." Remember that everyone's brain processes information differently, so in giving an example of why you're upset, you should paint a picture for your partner to grasp without being defensive. The beautiful aspect of effective communication is that direct language leaves no room for confusion. The confusion is where the human mind attempts to fill in gaps and creates false scenarios, leading to anger and a viscous cycle of blame.

2. Present Listening

Have you ever found yourself talking to someone, and his or her eyes meet yours, but you can intuitively tell the person is not listening? They claim to "hear you" via a head nod, but their body language and response both tell you otherwise. We all have the ability to multi-task and absorb erroneous information in the ether. Present listening includes going into a disagreement without being defensive.

It is common for our innate instincts to cling toward protecting ourselves from anything that appears threatening. I'm referring to our "reptilian" brain, the oldest part of our primitive, instinctual phrenology. This is what protects us from being "bullied," so to speak. However, as evolution has taken its course, we have evolved into more sophisticated creatures that can use different strategies to cope with confrontation. It is in our innate nature to protect ourselves from threatening topics; even something as minute as a disagreement with a partner can stop us from listening. If you care about your partner, and truly want to grow, then a concern that he or she brings to the surface should not evoke defensiveness on your end. Wouldn't it be revolutionary to see another viewpoint? To delve inside the lens of the one you love with hyperfocus, eye contact, and an unclenched aura?

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

3. Positive Affirmations

There is something to be said for positive affirmations. How often do our superiors at work point out what we're doing wrong, as opposed to the things we do right? It never feels good. It is not uncommon for a romantic partner to use hurtful words in a relationship, tearing their partner down—and these words can never be taken back. Sticks and stones will break bones, but bones can be put back together; broken hearts from hurtful words may stay broken and create emotional baggage. We are not wired to be built up through negativity; we seek love, kindness, and compassion, especially in relationships. We step into our optimal greatness through acts of kindness and adoring words, and esteem is founded upon positive affirmations. Make it a point to tell your partner something nice every day, even something as simple as “I love you,” or “I can’t wait to see you,” or “Thank you for coming into my life."

4. Being a "Space Holder"

What is a space holder? An individual who literally holds space for their loved ones to talk, vent, and express their thoughts and emotions. How many times have you had a hard day, as a parent, as a student, or as an employee, and desperately needed to vent? In venting, the listener on the other end exists to listen and support, rather than to fix or resolve. To hold space for someone is to allow another individual to share, vent, cry, and explain feelings of concern and hardship. The idea of being a space holder for your loved one and truly listening without being defensive can actually help you reach a solution, grow as a couple, and be more aware of your environment. Taking the time to “show up” for someone in need by listening, without passing judgment, is a major part of the healing process.

5. Intimate Awareness

If you can check off half of the aforementioned traits, you are dancing toward the flow of intimate awareness of your partner. Intimacy involves many factors, and is not just limited to copulation. Masters and Johnson came up with a term, sensate focus, that was associated with a set of specific sexual exercises for couples or individuals. The exercises were aimed at increasing personal and interpersonal awareness of self and the other's needs. Through various exercises, partners gained a heightened awareness of both self and the individual exposed to this. As an example, the simple, innocent act of caressing your partner’s forearm, or ears, or fingertips allowed for introductory and exploratory stimulation to conjure. The idea of awakening nuanced senses and sensitivities to all parts of our bodies, without the act of coitus, allows for arousal and salient communication to exist. Positive responses lead to continued exploration and getting to know your partner's needs and desires, while any negative responses speak equally as learning experiences of untouched and uncomfortable territory. Either way, communication is founded, and trust is then built upon. The body speaks, and it is our job to listen.

Contributed by Tiffany Dawn Hasse in collaboration with Dr. Kristen Fuller 

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

Tiffany Dawn Hasse is a performance poet, a TED talk speaker, and an individual successfully living with OCD who strives to share about her disorder through her art of written and spoken word. 

Kristen Fuller M.D. is a clinical writer for Center For Discovery.

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