ERP 128: How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love – Part Two [Transcript]
ERP 128: How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love, Part II
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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 128, How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love, Part II. Before we get started, let’s just set the tone and the intention for our conversation on today’s episode.
The goal of these conversations on the Empowered Relationship Podcast are to help you feel better prepared in the complex landscape of long-lasting intimacy. When we talk about the spectrum of this complex terrain, we’re talking about the ups and the downs and everything in between. One of the principles that I operate with on this show is that relationship will grow us in the most profound, deeply unique way, and that it’s up to us to turn towards that growth, and use it to develop ourselves and develop our relationship, and that there’s nothing but greatness and goodness that comes from that… But again, it takes the choice to engage.
For today’s episode, we are picking back up with the topic of kindness. In episode 125 I started this series of “How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love”, and I referred to an article that talked about the importance of a lasting, happy, satisfying relationship – this is based in research – and that kindness, along with emotional stability, is the most important predictor of a satisfying and stable marriage.
I offered five suggestions of ways to build the muscle of kindness. Because as we’re talking about kindness, I wanna encourage you to think about this as something that can be strengthened and can be developed. Yes, kindness as a characteristic is something that some people might be more inclined for based on their temperament or their upbringing, yet all of us can develop more of this quality of kindness.
To recap, the five suggestions that I offered in that first episode (125, Part I, How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love), they are:
1. Do a loving-kindness meditation.
2. Be a person of increase, generating goodwill.
3. Give unsolicited attention and interest.
4. Speak positively about your partner.
5. Be playful.
As I mentioned in that episode, I have 25 suggestions of how to build kindness in your relationship, and what I am inspired to do and what I’m gonna be sharing with you on today’s show notes is an opportunity to engage in a challenge, more or less, and I’ve developed this graphic that has 25 spots. What I would love to suggest, if you’re interested in joining me, is on December 7th, starting a 25-day practice; what you’ll do is you’ll take this graphic that has 25 spots, and essentially you’ll choose one of the 25 kindness actions and just do one a day.
Now, in this series I’m gonna be giving you examples and explaining each of the 25 suggestions, so hopefully you’ve had a chance to listen to those as you begin your practice of a better sense of perhaps what you would like to do for each day. And again, I would love to encourage you to have some creativity with this if you wanna add your own, but the goal here is to do something different, to try something new, and to practice a form of kindness once a day for 25 days.
Why December 7th? Well, I like the idea of it approaching something significant, so what this will do then is prepare you for the New Year. So this 25-day starting on the 7th will lead us up to New Year’s, so if we can infuse the quality of our relationship and the quality of our character in this kindness and generosity and goodwill and what we can create entering into the new year with that energy can be extremely positive… And really, more or less, you could do this at any time you want, but I like the motivation of having kind of a countdown, or having something that it’s inspired by.
If there’s another date that you wanna practice the 25-day and really lead up to, perhaps more than welcome to tweak and mold this to your liking. To get access to this PDF and this document of the 25 Ways To Build Kindness To Strengthen Your Love, you can visit today’s show notes, which can be found on website which is DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast, and you can find today’s episode (episode 128) there at the top, if you’re listening to this sooner rather than later.
If you’re on my e-mail list, you will be getting a copy of this directly in your e-mail, so no need to go to the show notes if you would prefer to just get my e-mail, encouraging you to join me in this experiment of building kindness.
Let’s get started with today’s suggestions of how to build kindness to strengthen your love. I have five more suggestions to offer you, and I’m gonna be continuing the sequence of numbering, so we’re gonna start with number six… And this is, again, six within the 25.
Number six – celebrate wins together. When you experience success – perhaps you got a promotion or you finished a project that you felt extremely good about, or perhaps you ran a race and you beat your best time, whatever the accomplishment is, or let’s say you won a contest and something good happened to you, who do you turn to to share? Are you and your partner able to celebrate the joy and excitement of good news together?
There is something called the winner’s effect. When we experience a win of some sort, we get a release of dopamine and testosterone. Dopamine is one of the feel-good neurochemicals. The beginning stages of love, romance and desire in relationship are often fueled by large doses of dopamine, along with other neurochemicals like oxytocin. So essentially, in those beginning stages of romance, we are high on love, and when we are in a long-term, lasting relationship, most of that has settled. When we experience a win, positive changes are happening within our chemical make-up and brain structure. We typically will feel more confident, quick-witted and more courageous.
Cognitive neuroscientist Ian Robertson explains winning increases the dopamine receptors in the brain, which makes you smarter and more bold. When we can share these wins, successes and accomplishments with our significant other, it builds connection. We get infused with that spark of newness and feel-good chemicals, and we have a greater sense of relationship quality and connection, which can bring that sense of intimacy and closeness and passion. When we can’t share these successes and wins, it can be extremely damaging, when they’re not celebrated, not acknowledged, or even perhaps dismissed.
When we think of pivotal moments, those can be our upsets, our hardships, they can also be our joyous accomplishments and milestones. In these pivotal moments, when you turn to your partner and you share your joy, you share your excitement, you wanna feel received, celebrated and acknowledged.
In a psychological study by Shelly Gable and her colleagues, couples were asked to discuss recent positive events from their lives. The purpose of the study was to observe how partners would respond to each other’s good news. They found that, in general, couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive.
Basically, you have destructive and constructive, and you have passive and active of both. The most common responses are passive constructive. “That’s nice, congratulations!” So it’s positive, it’s constructive, but it’s not necessarily super engaged.
Sometimes couples will get a passive destructive response, such as receiving a really flat response; perhaps they look at you and they maybe don’t say anything, or they’re like “Hm.” or like “Okay…”, or perhaps just being ignored altogether. On rare occasions, a critical or active destructive response is given.
I’ve been working with an individual client around her relationship concerns with her husband. Her and her husband had been caught in patterns of disconnect, protesting each other’s behavior, blaming, criticizing each other and actively defending against the other’s characterization. Her husband is extremely successful in his industry, and she for the last 10+ years has been focused on their family and their children. In the last several years, she’s been pursuing some of her own interests. She described a project that she had worked on and that she was extremely excited about, and he was not that supportive and was rather dismissive of it.
Then recently she talked about being invited to sit on a board with an organization that she cares deeply about and has great passion for their cause and their mission… And when she shared her excitement, she stated that he responded “You just got that position because they just want your resources.” She talked about feeling crushed, insignificant and unloved.
Again, I wanna reiterate, I don’t work with them as the couple, and I do believe that there’s a dynamic at play, so when I give this example, it’s not within the context of the relationship dynamic; I don’t think he means to be hurtful, but as we’re talking about this specific sharing of good news, when we are destructive, that can be very damaging to the quality of the relational bond. When we’re constructive, that’s obviously helpful… But when we can be really active, that’s the most positive way that we can show up and the best way to increase our sense of connection, closeness and real love.
In the article “Why You And Your Partner Need To Celebrate Each Other” by Linda and Charlie Bloom, they write:
“What truly enlivens a relationship is an active constructive response, when the person who hears about our success is sincerely happy for us. An active constructive response shows generosity of spirit and eagerness to hear more about the good news. Celebrating triumphs in life, from small, seemingly trivial ones to those that are more significant, strengthens the bond between two people. Being genuinely enthusiastic in responding to a partner’s good fortune can have a positive impact on them.”
They continue to write:
“The genuineness and frequency of active positive responses are essential to the development of healthy relationship. When we celebrate each other’s accomplishments, we thrive. We are more likely to be securely bonded to each other, satisfied with our relationship, and enjoy greater love and happiness.”
Number seven – express affection. A few days ago I was meeting with a couple that I’ve been working with for a couple months. Unfortunately, they are really experiencing some pretty big disconnect, and have for many, many years.
One of the areas that they experience a difference in their style and have had difficulty really being creative and collaborative together is in the way they express and receive love. She’s more grounded, reflective and introspective in her nature.
On the other hand, he’s more active, energetic and forward-thinking. Based on many variables – upbringing, psychology, relational dynamics, and many factors – the pattern in their relationship is that she would defer and he would lead. More recently, she has been vocal about her discontent and has gotten in touch with some of her longing, and she was describing the need to have non-sexual touch and affection.
When she was talking, I was hearing her desire to feel his presence, to feel his emotion and his affection through touch. As he was listening, he was honest in saying “I have no idea what this looks like. I wasn’t brought up with this style of relating, and I didn’t receive this in my upbringing”, so that feeling and that quality of really being present and attentive and conveying emotion and affection through that kinesthetic touch was very unfamiliar to him. And they are familiar with the love languages, so I think that that’s helped them bridge some of this gap.
In an effort to give him some examples, I was using the analogy of some sports, even a martial art called aikido, or even the dance of tango… When we see the dance done well, the amount of energy, intention and passion that’s conveyed is palpable. I’ve actually a tango class with my husband many years ago, and it was amazing to me how complex and difficult the dance was, despite the steps. The steps are pretty simple, but where it gets complicated is where the energy lies, and the intention, and the nuance of which you hold your body and you express your step. That’s where the actual dance becomes alive, in the presencing and the embodiment of the dance. Some people can really do embodied movement through yoga, and the list can go on and on, but it’s basically how you occupy and really hold your body, and how you are living in the moment.
I use the example of driving with my husband. I could put my hand on his leg, and that could be out of habit and comfort. There’s not a lot of emotion I’m feeling, I just put my hand on his leg and it’s just a form of being affectionate, and that’s nice. But there’s an extra layer there. Let’s say I’m thinking about something, or the way that he is looking and what he’s talking about, I’m really appreciating him and I’m feeling love towards him, and I reach to him and I feel love in my hand, and I just appreciate him, and it’s a part of what I’m experiencing, and I extend to reach to him from that place.
In the effort of building the muscle of kindness, perhaps looking at is there a way that you can express affection, make physical contact that’s tender and kind with your significant other, possibly through a hug? Holding hands? Maybe an endearing kiss? There’s even the thought that we all need at least eight hugs a day. Some people say ideally it’s twelve, others say four is necessary for survival.
As a reference, I will post a link to an article titled “10 reasons why we need at least eight hugs a day.” I think it’s just a great example of the benefits, from reducing our stress to building connection and warmth… But again, today’s suggestion is about cultivating the muscle of kindness.
The other day my husband wasn’t feeling well, and when he doesn’t feel well he tends to kind of go inward. I could see it in him, and it was towards the end of the night so he was really tired, and he just — I had been out with a friend so I had gotten home late and I was wanting to connect with him, and one of the first ways that I tend to reach towards him is through verbal… And when he doesn’t engage, I typically will slow down and I’ll try to feel him. I could tell he wasn’t in the best space, and I didn’t know if he had had a bad day or if he just wasn’t feeling well, so instead of asking more questions around how he was doing or how his day was like, I just tuned into him and I rubbed his lower back, with just some gentle kindness, and really extending my care, but through physical touch.
He responded, and he told me how he wasn’t feeling well, and how he was a little achy, and it was just a nice moment where he really responded to that form of me caring for him and reaching for him.
Rarely are we encouraged and reminded to give affection physically, kind, loving touch, and it’s easy to forget, especially if you are in the mode of being in your intellect throughout the day, or action-oriented, or very task-driven, to really attune to someone and physically connect in a tender way. Again, we might need to remind ourselves, and again, examples of this are gently touching your partner’s arm, letting them know you care, or perhaps high-fiving them when celebrating a win, or embracing and just hugging after a long day… Or perhaps taking it one step further and giving a foot massage or a neck massage.
I also like the idea of expressing through your face, through your eyes – smiling, having kind eyes, giving a kind expression, and looking at your partner with that kindness I think can actually have a really strong effect on the nervous system.
The client I was just speaking about, she was describing her longing for this kind, affectionate touch, she described this is the experience of love; this is the way in which she feels love. And one of the challenges in her marriage is not feeling love… This is profound. So I’m really inviting you to consider what ways can you use touch to convey your care, your affection and your tenderness?
Number eight – give them thought. Most of us will focus on and pay attention to what we’re experiencing. Day to day we’re immersed in our immediate experience and environment. It takes a mental leap to put ourselves in someone else’s perspective. We feel cared about, we feel special and we feel that we matter when someone puts energy into thinking about what we would enjoy and what we would like. This often is demonstrated in the little things.
When people describe how their partner cares for them, often times it’s in the small and infrequent ways… Whether or not it’s the way your partner makes coffee for you, or gets your favorite blanket for you, or perhaps buys your favorite snack. I know my husband, when I buy his favorite items, he feels really cared about. Or when my husband heats up hot water for me to have tea… It’s just a nice gesture that feels really kind and caring.
Small acts of kindness and care are powerful ways to increase the positivity in your relationship. For example, if your partner has been working on a project, asking them “How is it going?” and being available to listen to them share. Or perhaps bringing up a topic that they love; maybe it’s not your favorite topic, but you know that it’s something they’re passionate about, and it’s important to them.
Being willing to focus on and give attention to your partner’s interests demonstrates your care and that they matter and are important to you. Perhaps even doing something extra to help them feel your support and your love. Maybe they’ve had a bad day and they’re not feeling so great… Perhaps picking them up something that would lift their spirits, or something they particularly enjoy. These are the small gestures that over time accumulate to strengthen that bond and connection as a couple.
The goal of being thoughtful is putting yourself in their perspective. What would they enjoy, what would they love? What would they find considerate and respectful? Perhaps being on time, knowing that this is significant for them. Picking up after yourself, doing the dishes, sticking to a budget, or even bringing up a topic that perhaps is a difficult topic, might not matter that much to you, but it matters to your partner. These small gestures of kindness and thought may seem insignificant, however they provide the positive signals that allow partners to feel valued, and that their relationship is important.
Number nine – treat your partner with manners. A few episodes back I interviewed Dr. Fred Luskin, an old professor of mine. I remember him at one point commenting on the fact that we tend to treat other people in general, even strangers, with more civility than we do our significant other.
Unfortunately, sometimes we will take each other for granted or feel entitled to have our significant other’s attention, focus and love, and sometimes we will treat each other with some disrespect, even being rude at times… Maybe you’ve even heard the example – or even experienced this; I know I have, many years ago – where you’re in the heat of a disagreement, perhaps it’s escalated to the point where unkind words are being exchanged. Perhaps one another are being rude to each other, and it’s a little ugly; we’re not treating each other with respect or much dignity… And the phone rings. We look at the phone and we realize we wanna pick up the phone; we collect ourselves.
We pick up the phone and do a 180. We change our tone and we’re pleasant and polite… “Hi, thanks for calling! It’s so great to hear from you!” A total change… And again, we will lose ground with our significant other around treating them with manners, and that is when we’re in the heat of an argument, and that’s where it’s the most difficult – and I’m gonna be talking about that a little bit more later… But even if we just remember maybe the care that we took when we first started dating. Yes, there’s a different circumstance around that – we’re not committed and we’re not as comfortable with each other, but we take a little more care with our grooming, we’re a little more mindful or our bodily functions; we perhaps don’t fart or burp or eat with our mouth open… And yes, these things are understandable and it takes a level of conscientiousness to be aware of these types of manners… Even interrupting each other – I know this is something I have to be aware of; I can get excited and wanna comment, and my husband finds it very rude, and that’s something that I have to watch, for sure.
And even the manners of “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me…” Yes, your body is human and you might need to burp or fart, and that there’s at least a little more consideration, whether or not you say “Excuse me” or you leave the room to relieve yourself of some way… Again, it’s the consideration and being pleasant and mindful. And again, we wanna feel comfortable with our partner, but where’s the balance. Because when we can really acknowledge that our partner is valuable and we appreciate them, saying “Please” and “Thank you” can really convey that respect.
Truthfully, sometimes the small arguments can be prevented when we can add these considerations to our interactions, because often times people feel slighted, disrespected, and a little offended sometimes when we take these liberties for granted a little bit with our significant other. So if we can be conscientious and ask “Would you be willing?”, “What do you think?”, “Would it be okay if I turn on the light?” Again, really respecting someone else’s preferences and desires when you’re advocating for your own desires, not just assuming. Perhaps even being thoughtful about what you say, right? Sometimes we’re so comfortable that we feel like we can say anything and everything, and maybe not considering how it might feel to somebody, or even the timing.
When we meet each other at the end of a long day, it might be easy to vent, and venting might be something that is considered valuable, but then also is there a mind’s eye around what’s the climate that we’re creating together, what’s the positivity level? There’s times where I might wanna vent to my husband, but I’m aware that he’s also had a challenging day, and would that actually be a think of increase?
I talked about in the last episode around how kindness can strengthen your love, being a person of increase; how you’re adding positivity, adding value to the dynamic. So sometimes I will catch myself and I’ll choose the timing. Or choosing your battles – is this something that means a lot to me to get on his case about, or take issue with?
I think it can even be good manners to ask if it would be okay to give your partner a kiss or hug them or snuggle. Again, our significant other – we might assume that that’s fair game, but perhaps they’re not in a good space, and they’re not interested in that, so it does convey appreciation for someone’s space and it conveys respect, consideration, and it promotes goodwill, that they actually have some choice in the matter, whether or not they wanna be engaged in a kiss or an embrace or a hug of some sort.
I mean, granted, not all the time, but if you’re aware that your partner doesn’t appear to be receptive, to perhaps even ask. That could be good manners. The whole intention around treating your partner with manners is to convey this appreciation, this consideration and this respect.
I don’t know if you guys have ever been around a couple where they don’t treat each other with respect or manners or consideration… It can be a little uncomfortable, and it doesn’t really express their love and their care for one another. They’re not living the love, and they’re not living the care. So again, if we can be in the practice of demonstrating and expressing what we’re really trying to cultivate, then that’s the idea here. Less about being formal and fancy and polite and structured about this; again, we wanna feel comfortable and at ease, but again, holding that place of respect and appreciation.
Number ten – give your partner the benefit of the doubt. One way to practice kindness is being generous about your partner’s intention. When you’re left with not enough information to understand why your partner did what they did instead of having a negative assumption, perhaps giving them the benefit of the doubt.
I meet with couples all the time, and I can’t even remember one time that someone was meaning to cause harm, but yes, people react and they protest and they get triggered and they get defensive and then they attack to protect themselves. But just starting out at the neutral level, I’ve never seen someone really out to cause harm or be disrespectful just off of normal interactions.
I remember watching a video from John Gottman, and I believe he was talking about how we often will feel as though our partner is out to get us when we’re in that triggered place, or when we’re having a lot of conflict. They’re punishing us, or they’re out to make our life miserable, and yet your partner likely is not waking up thinking “Okay, how am I going to really make my partner’s life a living hell?” Really rarely ever have I ever seen that occur. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s not usually the case at all.
From the research of John Gottman, he talks about disasters, and those are the people that end up getting a divorce or are not happy in the relationship and end up breaking up at some point. And he talks about they see their relationship through this negativity lens, when it’s in fact not there. And I see this a lot, where if a couple is having disconnect and they’re in pain, they will perceive their partner’s actions from that place of worry and protection, hence they’re seeing negativity when it’s not actually there.
For example, an angry wife might assume that her husband left this toilet seat up and he’s deliberately trying to annoy her, or he didn’t take out the trash because he’s trying to snub her in some way. But again, this may have been absent-minded, or there could be another reason. And again, this is largely what I’m doing in sessions with couples – unpacking and slowing it down so that couples can hear each other’s experience and really perhaps recognize that their initial interpretation is based on their own fear and worry, rather than what’s actually happening.
Or perhaps let’s say in the past I was running late, and my husband felt extremely disrespectful and that I didn’t value his time, and that I wasn’t considering him by being on time, yet perhaps maybe I was hustling to set up the bedroom in a really romantic way, and let’s say I was preparing to get a really beautiful dress, and I was trying to get all these things done with him in mind, and really trying to make the evening special for him, and I was valuing him, but perhaps he could just think that I don’t care and am being really inconsiderate.
Reminds me of a story that I heard years and years ago by an old mentor of mine. She was talking about — I’m not entirely sure if this was an actual story or her real experience, because I feel like I’ve heard it before… But she’s at the grocery store, she’s in line, and she’s observing this clerk check people out, and she’s looking at him thinking “Wow, he is not friendly, and downright actually a little rude.” She’s kind of taking offense to his demeanor; this was years and years ago, and maybe holding him to a little more customer service standards than we would in today’s day and age…
So it gets to her turn and he’s checking her out and she’s trying to smile and perhaps lighten the mood, and he is just not engaging and is continuing his being a little curt and rude. She’s feeling a little taken aback, and offended even more, and just a little unnerved by the whole thing… So she gets her groceries bagged, she pays for her groceries and she’s kind of a little huffy about it, like “Okay then! I’m feeling a little self-righteous. I don’t deserve to be treated this way.” She’s getting help with her groceries as she walks to the car, and she comments once they get outside, “Wow, he is in a rare mood”, and she is a little irritated. The person that’s helping her says “Oh, gosh… He just found out that his mother has cancer, and he is really having a hard day.”
She talked about her heart just melting, and feeling so sorry that she judged and she was holding him in this contempt, more or less, and just softened in that immediate forgiveness of like “Wow, of course he would be in a bad mood, of course he would be not very friendly. He’s devastated.”
This goes to the point of, when we don’t have information, it’s easy to assume and take issue with it when we feel disrespected or slighted, and if we can suspend that judgment, reserve the assumption of going to the negative and give our partner the benefit of the doubt, that there’s a good reason that perhaps something was going on for them, or that it would make sense if we were to truly understand… And that if we could just give a little space before we jump to a conclusion. And again, this is one way of flexing the muscle of building in kindness to strengthen your love.
To recap today’s suggestions… Again, number six – celebrate wins together. Take the moment to really enjoy the success, and be able to share in that winner’s effect, and the dopamine. Use that as a spark to fuel your connection.
Number seven, be thoughtful. Really express and put yourself in their perspective and go that extra mile to help them feel that you thought about them, cared about them and really went the extra step to take action around that.
Number eight, express affection – this is through physical contact, perhaps even non-sexual contact. That there’s a real emotion and care and kindness conveyed through physical contact.
Number nine, treat your partner with manners. Being able to be considerate, show appreciation, show respect through those small ways of treating each other with that civility. “Please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, “Would it be okay if…?”
Ten, give your partner the benefit of the doubt. When you don’t have the information, perhaps wanna assume something negative, suspend that judgment. Perhaps entertain the possibility that there’s a good reason for their doing what they did.
Again, this is all in the theme of how to build kindness to strengthen your love, this is part two.
If you are interested in bolstering, strengthening your kindness muscle, I wanna again encourage you to join me in the experiment of 25 days of practice, one small action of kindness every day for 25 days. And to support this, I have a free gift to give to you. It’s a cute little graphic, 25 spots to fill in, and you can get creative or mix and match whatever you feel is most resonant with you, but to be in the practice, again, of building the muscle of kindness.
Some of this is just remembering and reminding and reacquainting yourself with things that you already know, but being a little more concerted.
To find the link to get this download, visit today’s show notes on my website DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast, and you can find today’s episode, 128 – How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love, Part II, and you will find that link to download this PDF. Again, if you’re on my e-mail, you will get that directly.
My intention is to publish a few more episodes rather quickly. I realize sometimes I don’t get them out in seven days; sometimes it’s eight days, sometimes it’s nine days, and I just want you to know that there’s been construction in the area, and it’s difficult for me to record and find a quiet time. I also had some technical issues with my website, my website was down, so thank you for your patience more than anything, and just know that my goal is to get you this information, and I will look forward to sharing in this time with you about building kindness in this upcoming season, and perhaps entering into the new year with resource and feeling strengthened in your love and connection.
If you have questions or have a topic that you would like me to create a podcast episode on, you can e-mail me, email@example.com. Until next time, I hope you take great care.
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