ERP 125: How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love [Transcript]

ERP 125: How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 125, How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love.

Before we begin in today’s episode, let’s just set our heart and our mind and our whole being to the intention of improving our ability for love and relationship, as we talk about areas that run the full spectrum. That is from the places where we get challenged and triggered and upset; the natural impulse is to maybe react and behave in ways that are not as constructive as we would like, and how on this show we’re really talking about how to use that as an opportunity, and to do relationship differently so that we grow and we grow our relationship.

On the other end of the spectrum, looking at the places that we can receive more love, more intimacy, more joy, more connection, expand our capacity for that. And then in the middle zone – that’s the zone of stability, security, consistency, that the foundation, the roots of the relationship are solid.

All of these aspects, the full spectrum is extremely important, so thank you for joining me as we kind of get our mind around the intention and the focus on the Empowered Relationship podcast.

One other thing I will mention – if you’ve been interested in the Connected Couple program or you have actually signed up, I just wanna say thank you for your interest and for your engagement. I full-heartedly believe in these principles and practices and languaging that you and your partner can have a solid system in developing your relationship moving forward. That is if you’re feeling challenged currently, or if you’re just wanting to be proactive and really set your relationship up well.

The information page is EmpoweredRelationship.com if you’re interested in checking that out. I no longer have the 20% discount, but of course, at any time if you have any questions about the course or anything else, you can e-mail me at jessica@drjessicahiggins.com.

Also, today’s show notes, along with other show notes, are on my website, which is a different website – that’s DrJessicaHiggins.com.

Let’s get started. How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love – the idea for this topic was inspired by last week’s episode, “How To Improve The Climate Of Your Relationship”, and that is really paying attention to the place that we hold for the relationship dynamic and the interactions, and that we can bring a positive vibration, tone and energy to that, and that over time, the overall quality can be greatly improved. I talked a lot about how to do that and what’s involved in that.

One of the main pieces that has bared out in the research is kindness. A long while back, I remember an article that really got my attention. It was titled Masters of Love, by Emily Esfahani Smith. Basically, in this article she is highlighting John Gottman’s research, and he is one of the premier psychologists and researchers in the couples field. The main point was that the key to lasting relationships comes down to kindness and generosity.

I’ll quote her here by saying “kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.” When kindness is expressed in relationship, couples feel more care, consideration, love, and understanding. Kindness contributes to that overall feeling of goodwill and positivity, similar to what I was talking about last week, and it creates this positive cycle of love and generosity. When partners are feeling that goodwill and that positivity, they’re inspired and motivated to continue the pattern. It results in this upward trend, rather than the downward trend – if somebody is critical or is rude, the inclination is not to be kind and generous, it’s more protective and reactive and to follow suit.

Another quote here:

“There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.”

Masters is a term that John Gottman uses for couples who do relationship well, who over a period of time sustain happiness and satisfaction, opposed to Disasters, who end up breaking up, getting a divorce, or who are extremely unhappy and unfulfilled in their relationships.

Going back to this concept of kindness being a trait that we can actually grow, that’s something we can exercise and increase, in this episode I’m gonna give you ideas and examples of how to cultivate more kindness and generosity in your relationship.

As I was preparing for this show, I may have gotten a little carried away. I created 25 ways that kindness can be expressed and can be communicated in your relationship. Given that we are approaching the holiday season – now, granted, I realize not everybody celebrates the same way; a lot of people celebrate Christmas, other people celebrate Hannukah… Even though that might not be the primary holiday, there’s a real coming together around that. Or Kwanza, or whatever it is the tradition supports or the philosophy, the religious or spiritual philosophy… But even if you don’t have a religious or spiritual belief, many people still subscribe to the holiday season, whether or not it’s of giving, or of joy, or peace… There’s this desire to connect and bond, come together with close friends and family, and loved ones. And there’s different traditions that people partake in.

When I was young, I remember the advent calendar, and it was essentially a countdown to celebrate Christmas. It was 25 little windows; there’s different types of advent calendars – the ones that you can usually get at a grocery store are for 1st December. You would open up number one, and there’d be like a chocolate in there, and there’s all kinds of variations of an advent calendar. And I had the idea of doing a reverse advent calendar, and I looked it up online and actually there are people doing this, where instead of getting a little candy or some type of gift, it’s actually an invitation to be generous or give, so some people have created a box that’s partitioned off so that there’s 25 sections, and they put something from their home of value into each slot, and it’s intended to be a gift to someone who may appreciate it or be in need.

Okay, so the play on this is essentially 25 days to building more kindness and generosity in your relationship. Now, whether or not you’re inspired by the holiday season, or if you’re just interested in taking on an extra challenge to bring focus and attention and intention to, again, strengthening kindness as a muscle in your relationship, I would love for you to consider joining me in a 25-day experiment. I’ll be sharing more details with you later, but I just wanted to give you a heads up around it, so that you can maybe just feel it out if it’s something you are interested in.

It’ll be free to you, and it may also be a place to join in community; if those of you that are interested in experimenting and building this muscle, I’ll have an opportunity for you to do that.

For today, I have five recommendations for how you can build the muscle of kindness and strengthen your love. Now, these are in no particular order, but I am sharing five with you today.

1) Do a loving-kindness meditation. Now, this doesn’t have to be a spiritual, religious practice at all. It is more about generating feelings of warmth, positivity and tenderness. As I talked about last week, when we can set a positive tone within ourselves, it can dramatically affect our interactions with others in a really beneficial way.

The loving-kindness meditation has been fairly popularized by the field of mindfulness. It also has its lineage in Buddhist philosophy, and it has also been called the Meta Meditation, and there’s a format to it.
At its basic level, it’s about wishing yourself peace, goodwill and happiness, and really focusing in an internal, in-bodied way; breathing, relaxing and centering your focus and your attention to your heart’s space… And by repeating a certain phrase several times, invites the sensation of those words, of that sentiment internally.

Then, as you get that connection with that sense of peace and well-being and happiness, then we can extend it outwards to our significant other, to our community, and even to people we have strife and hardship with.

The phrasing might go something like this (the first level): “May I be happy, may I be well, may I be safe, may I be peaceful and at ease.” And again, after a period of directing this loving-kindness towards oneself, then you can begin to move outward, and the phrasing of loving-kindness towards others would be something to the effect of “May you be happy, may you be well, may you be safe, may you be peaceful and at ease.”

And again, this repetition and this breathing and centeredness can evoke, again, a tremendous amount of tenderness and warmth and love. If you’re interested in some resources on today’s show notes, which can be found on my website, again, which is DrJessicaHiggins.com, you can find a couple links. I have Tara Brach’s Guided Meditation of Loving-kindness. I also have Jack Cornfield’s Loving-kindness Meditation instructions, and a link to Berkeley’s  Guidance on Loving-kindness Meditation, and it provides an audio, as well as written instructions.

I remember when I was first exposed to this meditation; I was actually in a workshop and I was being guided through this experience. It was amazing to me what could be generated in a very short amount of time.

I went from being in a rather neutral mood to when we were doing this meditation gradually connecting with my heart and feeling a sense of love and warmth and tenderness generating, and gratitude, and just really moved… So much so that I had tears in my eyes and I felt a sense of benevolence and connection, and again, that love and kindness towards myself and others.

The impact of this meditation was palpable and profound, and the idea here is that if we were to practice a loving-kindness meditation at any level of frequency – be it once a day, once a week, once a month or even once a year, that it would greatly impact our felt sense of, again, kindness and love towards ourselves and others, which allow for a very different quality of connection.

If we imagine us doing a loving-kindness meditation and including our significant other – spouse or partner – that we can actually generate feelings of love and warmth that could provide a sense of goodwill and kindness and generosity as we interact with our partner. How beautiful does that sound? It sounds like an elixir of some sort; those of us that are very health-conscious might go to a juice bar and get a tonic of some sort to really boost our health and our immunity and our overall vitality, and this is something that can be done internally for our emotional world – an elixir of love and kindness.

2) Be a person of increase. Being a person of increase is essentially adding good in some way to an interaction or a situation. This is all about positivity – generating that sense of goodwill. It’s being a plus, an added value; adding to the equation in a positive way. You’re not taking away, you’re giving, and giving something of contribution.

Perhaps it’s looking at how you and your partner’s life can be improved; is there something you can do to contribute in some meaningful way? Sometimes it could be as simple as offering encouragement or affirmation to someone, or in this case your partner.

I can tell you, I feel so much positivity and goodness when I send a thoughtful, supported, meaningful, genuine text to my husband. Let’s say he’s up against a deadline and he’s working really hard and I know it’s a struggle, if I genuine take a moment to just acknowledge and encourage… “You’re doing great! Keep up the good work! I’m so proud of the work and effort you’re putting in.” Just to send that text to him with no expectation of getting anything back – I’m adding some value, I’m trying to increase the positive quotient in our life and in his life.

It could also be letting your partner know you’re thinking about them. Leaving them a voicemail, sending them a really sweet e-mail. Some people do this by sending funny jokes, or a graphic of some sort, or a story… “I thought about you. Did you see this?” Couples have all kinds of ways of including each other, letting them know “Hey, I’m thinking about you.”

Another way of being a person of increase is just simply looking for a way to help, being of service. It actually doesn’t have to be something big or grand, like “I cleaned the whole house. I know you’ve had a hard week and I cleaned the whole house, and I went grocery shopping, and I made your favorite dinner” – it doesn’t have to be a huge amount of effort, it could just be in the subtle, small things.

Recently, my husband had a trip and he was going to a location that was pretty cold, and I know he loves this particular North Face vest, and he had washed it a couple days before and hung it in a particular area of the house that we don’t frequent, and I remember seeing it and I grabbed it for him and I laid it out. He might have remembered it – probably would have – but I was trying to be helpful. I was just trying to make his life a little easier. I know that’s a small example, but these little things matter.

Being a person of increase could also be doing something out of the ordinary. Again, if your significant other has a busy day, maybe packing some of their favorite snacks, or a really nice lunch, as you know, it will make their life easier. Or even if you’ve listened to a recent interview with Arielle Ford, she talked about writing a love letter, a sweet card, and putting it in a place where they’ll find it when you’re not around.

Just yesterday my husband bought some flowers, and I just got a really great smile on my face when I saw him through the window approaching with a few groceries and some flowers; I was like “Yay!” He didn’t necessarily buy them for me, it was just for our home, but it was, again, adding an increase. It was adding life, adding love, adding beauty.

There are many ways to be a person of increase, and if you look and you’re aware of how you’re adding to the interaction or the situation, I imagine you’ll come up with many of your own ideas.

3) Number three in how to build kindness to strengthen your love – Give unsolicited attention and interest. When your partner has your attention and focus, it’s likely that they feel important. We’re all so busy, and most of us feel that time is extremely valuable, so when your partner feels that they’re your focus, they’re your priority, they can feel significant, important, and like they matter.

Many people feel that when it’s unsolicited, it means more than when they have to ask for it. Now, I’m not entirely convinced that this is true, because so many people are genuinely interested and do really care, but other things get in the way, and I can really appreciate that on the receiving end it feels like an extra bonus when it’s unsolicited, that someone went out of their way to think about me, to consider me, or it’s just simply putting me as important and priority.

Perhaps consider, how do you show your interest and your intention? Do you show your partner non-verbally that you’re listening and that you’re curious? This could be done by facing them, giving them your eyes, your eye contact, nodding… These are all signs that show you’re deeply interested and listening. Do you get curious about their life, what they’re experiencing during the day? Do you think about it and take time to really consider it?

Do you give them the space to talk about what they want? Do you show them that you’re available and present without an agenda? So often times we talk to one another and we have things on our list, things that we wanna address, which can be important  and useful. And there are other times when it’s unstructured, and you’re just available and deeply present to your partner in a way that might feel good to them.

If they have a complaint or an issue, do you take the time to really listen? Do you ask them to share more so that you can fully understand it?

Do you spend time with them just to be with them? Some examples of this are keeping them company maybe when they’re doing a chore; if they’re in the garage working on a project, do you go and hang out? Or if they’re gonna run an errand, do you say “I wanna go!”? Just to be with them, or simply just sitting next to them if they’re reading, or just watching TV or something, and just being with them; less about engaging in their activity, but just to be with them – sit on the porch, sit by the fire…

Do you express interest in something that is important to them, like a project, a hobby or a sport? Examples are do you ask them how their learning is going? “What’s your progress? Do you wanna share it with me or show it to me?” Maybe showing up and watching one of their recreational games; not high-level (probably not), but it’s showing your interest and your care, unsolicited. “I wanna support you, I wanna show up for you. I wanna see how things are going.”

4) Speaking positively about your partner. Giving your partner an authentic complement can really brighten their day. On the contrary, let’s say a couple is getting ready to go out on a double date on a Friday night with some friends. The couple finished getting ready at home and they meet each other at the door. They look at each other and they say “Are you ready?”, not acknowledging each other’s efforts to look nice.

They make their way to meet their friends at a restaurant. Upon arriving they greet their friends with hellos and hugs. The husband says to the other woman, “You look nice.” The wife hears this and feels a little bad. I have heard this complaint several times before from both genders… Acknowledging other people and not really acknowledging each other.

In parenting advice, it is recommended to acknowledge your child’s strengths and successes when talking to others, particularly when they are listening. Not to brag or say something disingenuous, but to focus on some of their positives and strengths. It is how you represent them, what you choose to focus on and highlight; when you have a limited time to share, what is it that you’re choosing to share?

Imagine with me – if you’re young and you’re (let’s say) making great progress in math and science and you’re really doing awesome in soccer (these are just examples) and you overhear your mother talking to the neighbor… And the neighbor asks about you and she says something to the effect of you could be doing a better job keeping your room tidy and making a joke about it. Well, you might maybe not think too much of it, it might sting a little. You feel maybe misrepresented, misunderstood, and it’s as though those positives efforts and qualities aren’t being recognized or even given credit, like they don’t really rank.

I have to tell you, this is one of the most common objections that I get in sessions with couples and families – it’s how their loved one characterizes them unfairly, or misrepresents them. We all wanna feel loved, appreciated and valued by others, and all of us have strengths and all of us have weaknesses, and how we choose to talk about someone else has an impact on the other person. To them, it indicates where you focus your attention, what matters to you.

When someone fairly and accurately acknowledges your efforts, it can feel really nice. This isn’t the example where they’re overcompensating or saying things that aren’t true or exaggerating your strengths; this is just accurate, fair acknowledgement. Again, it’s just that sense of recognition; you may feel that your positive strides count, they make a difference. You may even feel valued, appreciated, and it may even increase that feeling of self-esteem.

I invite you to just pay attention – how do you talk about your partner to others? Do you complain and point out their flaws? When you are with them, do you feel competitive about earning the approval of others? Almost like you’re competitive with your partner.

I’m guilty of this… This is more years and years ago, but I noticed a subtlety to this with my husband. Most notably, I remember we were visiting his family, and we were at the airport and I think we were late or there was some issue, and I was quick to explain how it wasn’t my fault, but the side effect of that is I was essentially putting the blame and responsibility on my husband. I recognized this and I said “I’m sorry, I think I’m throwing you under the bus”, and he’s like “Yeah, why are you doing that?” And it was just a subtle interaction and we were playful about it, but I did recognize that the way I was communicating about him with others affected our feeling of having each other’s back. He felt like I threw him under the bus, and that is the last thing I wanna do.

An example of the positive is a few weeks back we had a couple friends of ours (a couple) over for dinner, and in the midst of the conversation my husband spoke about me very favorably. He complimented my efforts and what I had created for a previous event of ours that we had put together for family and friends, and it felt so good to hear his expression of appreciation; I just felt warmth towards him and a closeness towards him… More than anything, it just adds to the positivity between us. If we’re looking at this as a math equation, we wanna add positives, so that the net equals something positive.

5) Be playful. As adults, it’s amazing to me how we forget to play, be silly and have fun. I’m so guilty of this. I’m a person that loves to play, and I can get super in my head and focused and driven, and I lose touch with that creativity, that silliness; it means so much to me.

Whether or not it’s cultural expectation that as adults we need to be responsible and practical and logical, or if it’s just an impression we’ve gotten along the way… With these responsibilities and goals we become driven and focused, and sometimes pretty serious.

If I look back in the history of my husband and I’s relationship – I think this is about 12 years of us being together now – some of my favorite times are times where we laugh together and are silly together. When I was doing these show notes, I don’t know why, but one example came to mind… This was pretty early on and we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, and we had just done a weekend trip in Tahoe, and we were coming back. We were on the freeway, we had been driving for many hours so we were a little fatigued – it was at night – and my husband turned on the radio and he found a station, I think it’s Energy 92.7, and they play really upbeat music; my husband had found a song that he really liked… And he, in his own demeanor is not a super expressive person; there’s people that will dance quickly and be super demonstrative or expressive with their non-verbals… My husband is pretty grounded and somewhat contained, so it’s a little uncharacteristic of him to do this… But we’re in the car, we’re driving on the freeway, we’re listening to Energy 92.7, there’s this fun song on, and he starts car dancing in the most extreme way.

I was laughing so hard, I was gut-laughing and belly laughing and I almost couldn’t drive, because it was just — he was moving and dancing really wildly, and it was just hysterical. He was having so much fun and being really joyful about it, and I actually like to dance a lot and I appreciate that type of humor, and just silliness and playfulness; it was totally up my alley, it was just hilarious. I’ll just always cherish moments like that.

Humor and play are so important for enhancing the energy level. I think even as I was talking, I started talking louder, and it just is exciting, and it engages us and it provides that sense of being alive. And for moments of tension, if we can add a sense of play, it can really decrease that negative charge that can escalate. More than anything, humor and play allow for more joy and more connection.

When I was working on these show notes, I felt a very palpable sense of appreciation for my husband’s sense of humor. Sometimes he says some really clever, witty things that take me off guard; it’s so unexpected. Sometimes we need reminders, sometimes we need to engage each other. It’s easy to forget about being playful and silly and laughing together.

I even remember in the past my husband has said to me that when he makes me laugh, it brings him the greatest sense of joy, and that’s just so sweet. Again, it’s building this goodwill, this positivity in the relationship.

So I’ll ask you, if you can just reflect – are you available for play? Are you accessible, are you responsive? Many, many years ago I took a workshop, something to the effect titled Art Of Play. I loved the instructor, I thought she was amazing… And one of the first things that she did with us was asked us to think about our willingness to play. She likened it to dogs. If you have a pet dog, or you know dogs well, you might know this posture well. When they wanna play, they communicate it very clearly with a certain posture. They put their front legs down and they’re crouching down; it’s almost as if they’re ready to pounce. Their tail is wagging, and they’re looking with intense anticipation. There’s just so much excitement, and they’re just ready — you can tell they just wanna play and they’re ready at any moment to engage.

She asked us to experiment with this quality of engagement, and with this mindset shift it was amazing how much move available we were to interact with each other in a playful way.

As I talk about this, it just reminds me of people in my life that I have had fun with, that I have laughed with, and I associate with some level of humor. It’s almost as if when I get around them I’m much more ready to laugh and I’m anticipating playing, and it’s a different quality that I bring. I am like this with my brother – I find him to be extremely funny in his delivery, and it’s almost when I’m around him I’m just anticipating his humor and I’m ready to laugh.

What if we were to bring this playful quality to our relationship from time to time? Granted, it’s not realistic to be playful all the time, but what if we held space for this and engaged with this on a regular basis, with that desire to play and have fun? Would you get more in touch with your own sense of humor and joy and play? Would you laugh more easily at your partner’s jokes? Would you be more responsive to find joy with your partner?

This could also contribute to more flirtation, the ability to play with each other and this flirting, maybe even sexy way, that could just spawn a lot of romance and passion – how fun would that be?

Alright, let’s reiterate the five suggestions or examples around how to build kindness in your relationship, let’s recap:

1) Do a loving-kindness meditation.

2) Be a person of increase.

3) Give unsolicited attention and interest.

4) Speak positively about them.

5) Be playful.

Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode. Again, if you wanna access the show notes, you can find them on my website, which is DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast and you can find all the episodes there. If you have a question or comment or feedback for me, please e-mail me – jessica@drjessicahiggins.com. Until next time, I hope you take great care!

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