By Jonathan Decker, Clinical Director, LMFT
“Don’t go wasting your emotion. Lay all your love on me.” – ABBA
We have to show our loved ones that we love them. It’s a common sense notion that far too often gets left by the wayside. Perhaps we get “too busy” or assume that people already know how we feel about them. Maybe we’re uncomfortable showing affection, unsure how to communicate “that mushy stuff.” Or, it could be that our hurt feelings and frustrations yield a tendency to turn bitter and cold towards one another.
Whatever the reasons, many people are famished in love-starved marriages, dating relationships, and family ties. In these situations people often grow highly critical of each other, quick to point out flaws but slow to give genuine praise. Bitterness and defensiveness settle in and become the norm for the relationship.
The Real Problem
People tend to think that “improved communication” will save the relationship, but in truth it’ll merely help them to communicate cruelty more effectively. Poor communication is a symptom, it’s not the disease. Disrespect and waning affection are the real illness, and love is the cure.
Many believe that their relationships need less fighting and withdrawing, but what they really need is more affection. After all, one one wouldn’t try to remove coldness as much as replace it with warmth. Love, expressed with clarity and regularity, provides a buffer to our negative interactions.
Famed marriage therapist and researcher John Gottman found that unhappy couples and happy couples actually fight about as often as one another. The difference is that unhappy couples argue then withdraw and withhold affection, while happy couples fight then make up and are consistently affectionate. In fact, Gottman observed that happy couples have twenty positive interactions for every one negative interaction, while for couples in conflict the ratio is five to one (for soon-to-divorce couples it’s 0.8 to one).
The Real Solution
While it is important to learn how to fight less in your relationships, even more crucial is developing the skill of loving openly and genuinely. Try to catch your loved ones doing something right, then praise them for it. Express gratitude. Spend quality time together. Help them frequently. Tell them you love them. Give your spouse a massage, hold their hand, and make love more often. Hug your kids and roughhouse with them. Look for the good in them more often than you look for the bad. You may be surprised at how other things can sort themselves out when you (and they) feel loved and respected. Don’t hold back.
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