Happiness is an elusive topic that has been studied and contemplated by many throughout history. While there are many theories and ideas of what it means to be happy, I decided to focus on the relational aspect of happiness in this blog. As an Imago relationship therapist and someone who specializes in helping my clients achieve happy and healthy relationships I have come to view much of happiness through a relational lens.
Stop, Drop, Look and Listen
Life is busy. You’ve got a lot to get done and sometimes it can be difficult to give someone your undivided attention. But you know what? Do it. No matter what you’re doing, if your partner needs to ask you something or tell you something—stop, drop everything for one moment, look at them in the eye and listen to what they have to say. By stopping and dropping what you’re doing, you are showing your partner respect. By looking them in the eye, you are making a connection with them and acknowledging that what they say is important. If the discussion is something that can wait, be honest about it and ask if you can postpone it until you are finished with what you are doing.
Appreciate Them More Than “Necessary”
Dale Carnegie, the author of the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, knew a few things about successful relationships. If you take anything from his teachings, let it be that we are rarely praised and appreciated as much as we should be. Only a zombie would take for granted the opportunity to make someone they love smile every day. Be curious about your partner, praise their successes, mourn their losses and above all, always make sure they know how great they are.
Do an Internal Spot Check
But before you ask your partner to postpone, take a moment to take into account what is really taking your attention away. Is it something more important than what your partner has to say? Is it something that can’t wait until later? These are the moments where our words are put to the test and we either earn or lose brownie points. You may say, “I love you,” but if you rarely put your partner first, these words will eventually lose their meaning.
Don’t Focus on Your Checklists
Once a zombie focuses in on something they want, there is no talking them out of it. In a way, I suppose they are kind of like those relationships where one person is so focused on their own life’s checklist, they never seem to take into account what is going on around them. House? Check. Picket fence? Got it. Baby? That’s next. Hey, lists can be good, but life is not exactly a grocery store. It is good to lead your relationship in a general direction, but it is best to be present, adaptable, open to compromise and aware of your partner’s own checklist, as it might be a little different than yours. In other words, don’t get so caught up in your own dreams that you miss the opportunity to discover new ones.
Lead With Forgiveness
Holding a grudge against your partner is similar to living life as a zombie. Not only can it make you hostile towards the thing you want most (in your case, love), it can lead to insecurity, fear and the inability to trust. Being present in your relationship means taking into account every moment that you feel hurt by your partner and deciding if what they did is worth offering up consequences. According to the research of James McNulty, if the offense is minor and a first time, it is usually best to express your hurt and forgive them. Withholding forgiveness often promotes tension and unhappiness in an otherwise good relationship. However, if what your partner did was truly hurtful or their actions become repetitive, holding out may actually help illicit positive change through negative reinforcement.
Nobody ever likes to be called a zombie, but if the shoe fits—change it!