communication

My Election Choice

 

Almost there.  End of Election Day 2016.  In seriously considering how to be a good citizen in this election, I came across a sure fire one.  It’s research based, and all respected professionals agree with this one.

Communication in love = improved relationships.  

Yeah, that’s right.  I suckered you into reading this.  But why stop now?  This is good stuff!  

I’ve seen a lot of head-shaking and apathy this election season.  As a mental health specialist, I have been watching the behavioral and relational patterns of interactions, whether from leaders at a podium or the lay person on the street.  I actually DO see some really good communication patterns in some people who exhibit characteristics that follow.  But as I wrote about in a blog post entitled “Effective Communication” a few years back (right before the last election), the examples many of us see reflect abysmal communication styles.  Well, at least if we want to be respectful.  IF you’re attempting to minimize, disrespect, and emotionally distance, fair WARNING: do not read and apply the following.    

PAA

Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication styles have very clear results in various settings (in case you are wondering, passive-aggression can often be placed as a subtype under aggressive).  Assertive communication is based on mutual respect, regardless of how much you disagree with the other person.  Abusive language or behavior are out of the question.  Assertiveness always involves respect.  You may strongly state a point or quietly listen, but finding an assertive sweet spot is key- speaking the truth in love, and sometimes learning to just close the mouth.  

Check out the Mayo Clinic’s thoughts on this one, or for organizational settings, look at Daniel Ames’ research at Columbia Business School.  

Turning Towards

The famous marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found that turning towards a partner (which is not passive/casual agreement, but a positive stance of staying invested in one’s spouse), is significantly correlated with couples who stay together versus divorce.  This means that in every “bid” that’s made for attention or connection, the masters of marriage turn towards the other person most of the time.  I think there’s a lot to learn by studying successful couples’ interactions- after all, these are the people who are able to somehow stick with the same person for YEARS!!

Distress/Uncertainty Tolerance

Distress Tolerance is the ability to manage high levels of upset (distress), while staying grounded.  Intolerance of uncertainty (IU), seen especially in OCD and anxiety disorders, can be successfully redirected by developing Tolerance for Uncertainty.  Maybe the most common misconception with these are similar to misunderstanding forgiveness: to forgive doesn’t mean to just smile and approve.  These all involve character-building at a deep level of maturity where a person can still hold to what is true, while at the same time having peace when the world around seems (or is) out of control.  

Understanding

Back to Gottman.  He joined up with Anatol Rapoport to form an amazing Conflict Blueprint.  It involves working hard to really “get” what the other person is saying, and it recognizes underlying longings- and respects them- in the other person.  READ: NOT the same as adopting their perspective.  Furthermore, Softened Startup entails bringing something of significance and/or pain to another’s awareness, while staying gentle and guarding against criticism, blame, and shame.  

These things are actually really simple.  But they take discipline and deeper metamorphosis to bring about in daily life.  What can you do when all around you people communicate with disrespect and contempt?  Be a difference maker by communicating in love.  

That’s my election choice.  What’s yours?

Sincerely,

Justin K. Hughes

Ways to Be Miserable In Your Marriage

No relationship is the same.  People are extremely complex- a marriage multiplies that intricacy.  How can a marriage work?  Amazingly, we really know a lot about what makes marriages function on all cylinders.  But there is a gap between knowing and doing, and this is in large part what I work with in counseling.

Instead of recreating the wheel, I am reproducing word-for-word here the “Ten Commandments for a Miserable Marriage.”  With wit, wisdom, and brevity, Harville and Helen LaKelly Hendrix offer a tongue-in-cheek way to keep a marriage strong.  I want to express my thanks to them for the incredible contribution they have made to marriage counseling.

The Ten Commandments for a Miserable Marriage

by Dr. Harville and Helen LaKelly Hendrix

1. Be as critical as you can! All criticism, including constructive
criticism, is an ideal way to keep your partner’s
defences on high alert. Being judgmental will ensure that
you don’t get what you really want from your partner.
And disparaging words when angry or frustrated will
stimulate their fight or flight response. If you ritually
play the “blame and shame game,” your marriage will be
safe from the anxiety of being happy.

2. Expect your partner to be just like you. You and your
partner should have the same needs, wants, likes, and
dislikes. You should have the same perceptions, feelings,
and experiences. When your partner wants something
different from you, be swift to show them how being like
you is the only way to be. Absolute compatibility is the
key to a boring marriage, and insisting on it will bring
you unbearable despair.

3. Avoid intimacy as much as possible by engaging in
exits. Engage in activities that help you escape from the
day-to-day intimacy of your relationship. Engage in any
activity, thought, or feeling that decreases or avoids
emotional or physical involvement with your partner.
Increase functional exits (car-pooling, work, taking care
of kids), motivated behaviors (watching TV, reading,
sports, hobbies), and/or catastrophic actions (emotional
or physical affairs, addictions, threats of divorce). This
will help magnify the distance between you and your
partner.

4. When upset, use “You” language as much as possible.
Avoid saying “I feel” and express instead what your partner
is doing that frustrates you. Engage in language such
as, “You always…” and “You never…” to insure that your
partner remains defensive and reciprocates with rolling
eyes, deep sighs, and reciprocal speech. Remember: your
goal is to keep the power struggle active and your intimacy
level comfortably low!

5. Give conditionally and receive cautiously. Bargaining
is the process to ensure minimal growth in your relationship
and keeping score will help maximize your
frustration level. Make sure you only do things for your
partner if s/he will promise to give in exchange. But be
wary when your partner comes through with a gift—
follow the string and see where it leads. Cut the string if
necessary and refuse the gift.

6. Be unintentional about romance. Inevitably, the joy
that came easy in your romantic days disappears. At all
costs, don’t try to make sense of this since you risk moving
through the stage to a deeper experience of love.
Avoid committing to fun activities on a regular basis and
embrace the emptiness as proof you are probably married
to the wrong person.

7. Amplify the negative in your relationship. When you
are away from your partner, think about how s/he has
changed (for the worse) since you first met. Focus on
what is going wrong in your relationship and all the
things your partner is not doing for you. It’s not only the
words you use, but your thoughts, tones and actions that
will help keep you despondent. Live by the motto:
“Negativity breeds contempt.”

8. Avoid learning new communication skills. Basically,
keep doing what you are doing and engage in a one-way
monologue. Talk to your partner as if all s/he has to do is
to listen to you. Make no attempt to listen to your partner.
That will make your partner feel invisible and maintain
the set point of misery you need to regulate your
anxiety about closeness. Insist that the two of you are
ONE and that you are the ONE. There just isn’t room for
two in a dismal marriage.

9. Be sure not tell your partner what you need or want.
After all, s/he should know by now. Never, ever, tell your
partner what you really need or want. Do not drop hints
about things that truly touch your heart. Saying what
you need could tempt your partner to give you what you
actually asked for and then you will have to reject their
offering because you had to tell them. By deflecting as
much love as possible, you can maintain your narrative
of deprivation. Re-read #5 as a review.

10. Expect your relationship to be a fairytale romance.
Live in the illusion that romantic attraction should be
forever. Once the illusion breaks down and your partner
is no longer spiking your highs, demand s/he return to
your dream (and ignore their reciprocal requests). When
s/he fails miserably in sacrificing her/his authentic self
for your insatiable longings, you will realize the dream
has become a nightmare. Congratulations! You have
reached your destination.

 

P.S. For Ten Commandments to a Happy Marriage,
reverse all of the above.

Money Psychology

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The holiday season is coming to a close.  2014 is upon us.  If you are like most Americans, you have spent a fair amount of money in the past month.  Whether consciously or not, you have made a substantial number of financial decisions.

How much did you drive?  What did you spend on food?  What led to the purchasing decisions you made?  What brought about changes or continuity in how you spent money?  How are you planning to spend or save in the next week?  What are your goals for next year?

These are all money questions.  Whether we like it or not, it is integral to daily life.  Even right now, as I type, I am using electricity, wearing down the life of my computer, using time, and re-educating myself on decision-making.  This all affects money.  And money affects it all.

Money is neutral.  Good or evil can come from it.  It is a great tool to reveal what is important to us, and it will quickly reveal the true investments of our hearts- what matters to us.  So when I work with couples and individuals dealing with relationship problems, it’s no wonder that this is a regular dispute zone.

In The 5 Money Personalities, authors Scott and Bethany Palmer present 5 personal styles to handling money.  We each have styles, just like we have personalities- equal, yet different.   There are strengths and weaknesses in each style.  How a person comes to the table- their beliefs and attitudes- considerably impacts their actions and emotions.

First of all, the Spender gets a genuine rush from spending- big or small.  This type of person lives and breathes in the moment- seeking to make life enjoyable now and create memories.  Spenders love to buy for others and get much happiness from helping others and giving gifts.  However, impulsive decisions, a tendency not to communicate about money, regret, and sticking to a budget are some unhelpful results that can ensue.

For the Risk Taker, risk brings a thrill, a challenge, a joy.  They will think about the big picture.  Entrepreneurial possibilities are their life-blood.  The hunt invigorates- and this person moves quick.  Instead of looking at the data and following a standard path of conventional wisdom, their gut is often consulted.  Conversely, vulnerability to loss, ignoring reality, impatience, and a lack of empathy are some of the risks that can follow.

The Security Seeker is a researcher.  Just like the motto of the Scouts, they live by Be Prepared.  Future focus allows them to be willing to give up on immediate gratification for long-term gain.  Faithfulness with resources is an almost inevitable outcome.  The down side is the tendency to be negative along with having anxiety, possibly becoming a killjoy, getting stuck in analysis, and lacking in creativity.

The Flyer may seem out of place in a discussion on money- they hardly think about it.  This person is not consumed or obsessed with money.  They are content, centered on relationships, and usually not motivated by dollars and change.  The flyer may not pay enough attention to money, make decisions based on emotion, lack money skills, or lack in responsibility and initiative.

Finally, the last money personality the Palmer’s introduce is the Saver.  They love to, well, save.  Getting something for less is exhilarating to them.  Organization and stability are this person’s namesake, avoiding debt and calculating buying decisions.  On the contrary, financial goals can lead this personality to lose sight of the present, form anxieties around plans, goals, and saving (which can be not-so-fun), and they may also be just plain cheap.

Exciting, huh?!  This knowledge can certainly help understand the motivations and drive behind money decisions.  Many people, though, are like John and Kate, who approach money in very different ways.  When everyday decisions arise, they quickly get into conflict because they assume the other person is ignoring their needs and not being helpful.  The more a person is “vilified” for their style, the more they will shut down.  You (and those around you) will benefit if you learn to appreciate the person and personality without treating them like a villain.

Here is the thing: changing behavior- not just observing it- is the challenging task.  You will be successful in your relationships if you can really listen, show understanding and respect, and give generously.  Let money be your servant, not your master.  And when you handle money this way, will you ever look back and regret it?

Yours truly,

Justin K. Hughes

Conflict Algebra

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Watching dysfunctional conflict offers a lot of useful information.  I myself have had many fruitless arguments- trying to be heard and forcing a point.  It ends with drama, little resolution, and feelings of hurt and anger.

Let me introduce you to “conflict algebra.”
Person 1:             Issue A: “Why don’t you be more considerate?”
Person 2:             Issue B: “You always do this, complaining about everything I do!”
Person 1:             Issue C: “It’s time for you to see what you do to others.”
Person 2:             Issue D: “This is ridiculous; I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Person 1:             Issue E: “We’ve been through this again and again.  I’m tired.”

Here are five statements with five different underlying issues being brought up.  No resolution.  When communication attempts to force another person to listen and does not address the root issue, not only will there be no resolution, but the other person will become hardened, lose trust, and develop resentment.  Over time, this destroys relationships.

So what is healthy communication?  At a basic level, it is relaying a message and/or information from one conscious being to another- and to be fully functional, it is understood on both sides (not necessarily agreed with).  Communicating well is an art we often don’t see modeled in everyday conversation.  When I consider front-and-center examples, there are a lot of truly terrible models:

Movies/TV.  Magic relationships- amazing how they just happen, huh?  (Check out the actual follow-up track record of relationships in shows like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette).

Politicians.  With the goal of elevating a campaign or agenda (this isn’t necessarily bad), rarely do we see politicians truly attempt to understand another person or party’s position.  The name of the game is defeating the opponent.

Marriages/Families.  Who hasn’t seen the wreckage of a dysfunctional family?  This includes the “cold shoulder,” avoidance of important issues, abuse, shaming, and so forth.

Business.  Where the love of money is present, so will there be control, inappropriate manipulation, and abuse.  A business might be “successful” utilizing these things, but relationships will not be.

Here’s the good news: WONDERFUL examples of strong communication exist.  Just like the disciplined athlete, the savvy entrepreneur, or the skilled musician, it takes work.  It takes practice.  It takes failure.  If being able to do conflict- and do it well- is the best predictor of marital relationship success (ala Drs. John and Julie Gottman), there is wisdom in this for all relationships.  Get communication down well, and you will not be disappointed with the effort it takes.  There are a lot of ways to do this.  Acknowledge the need for help, read a book, listen to a talk, go to counseling, talk to a pastor, or find a person to mentor you.  Something different is needed in order to get a different result.  Best wishes to you!
Yours truly,
~Justin

Effective Communication

From a counseling perspective, when I study communication between politicians, businesses, and portrayals in the media, I often shake my head.  It’s pretty bleak.  Some of the very same dysfunctional communication that happens in unhappy and unsuccessful relationships is often present in these environments- and shown as an example.

Effective communication, like most anything else of value, takes work and practice.  Unfortunately, a lot of models of communication from environments like those listed above are about winning and being “one-up” from another person.  You will never get very close to another if this is your stance.  True intimacy is knowing someone and being known by them- not putting another down, trying to win, or being “right.”    

When I was a counseling intern, I was struck by a question my supervisor posed to a client in group therapy: “Do you want to win the argument or keep your spouse?”  Good question.  What are our priorities?  It’s a good idea to look at them.  Because whatever you ultimately are seeking will come through in your communication patterns.  Do you truly seek to understand, to know, and to connect?  Or are you trying to win, to defeat, and to be the big-shot?    

  

Here’s a few helpful pointers on assertive and kind communication:

-Mutual respect (their thoughts/feelings matter, and so do yours)

-Reflect (share) what you think you heard

-Strive to understand what the other REALLY means

-Ask lots of questions

-Be concise, if possible

-Say no when it’s called for

-Be direct

-If reasonable, thank the person for sharing

-Let another person know they are important

-To love and care for another requires that you set healthy boundaries

-Ask the other person how you can approach something

-Use “I” statements (saying “you,” especially in conflict, often comes across as blaming)

-Remember you are human– be patient with others as they are, too

 

 

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