The Key to Happiness? Prioritizing Your Relationship
The results are in; research has confirmed that human beings are biologically and physiologically wired to connect to others and exist in relationship with others. The science confirms something we have known intuitively to be true for some time: that to be truly seen and heard, and to feel that we truly exist, we need healthy relationships with others, whether it be with family, friends, or a romantic love partner.
In fact, Harvard Medical school’s ongoing 75-year Grant Study, the longest running study of human development in history, found that the single biggest predictor of life satisfaction is not money, power, or possessions. No, the results showed that the key to happiness is, in fact, love and connection, and warm human relationships.
What’s more, further research has demonstrated that those of us in relationships live longer and experience better health, both physically and emotionally.
So why does it still feel so hard at times to relate, to communicate, to love, and to stay in love? Here are some tips to help you take care of the most important part of your life: Your relationships.
Want an Amazing Relationship? Dig a Little Deeper…
If you want a truly exceptional relationship, the place to start might be with your personal history. The first and longest relationship we experience is usually with our parents. We absorb whatever they model for us in their relationship. You could say that when I work with a couple, I actually have six people in the room with me: the couple and each partner’s parents!
For example, if one member of a couple had parents who fought all the time, they may bring a volatile, argumentative style of communication (Read: How to Handle An Angry Partner) to their current relationship. Alternatively, they may tell themselves that they want to avoid the hostility they witnessed between their parents at all costs, so they may be excessively accommodating with their own partner. (Read: How To Communicate With a Partner Who Shuts Down). Either way, by knowing our own and our partner’s history, it can help us understand and break the relational patterns we repeat over and over without even thinking, giving us more choice in how we respond to one another in the present.
Once we understand our history and its effect on who we are now, the next goal is to foster quality communication, which helps to deepen bonds and enables people to turn toward each other instead of away when things start to heat up.
Cultivating Communication That Connects: Understanding Your Feelings
The most important skill needed to communicate more effectively is to be able to locate within ourselves what is happening for us inside—our core feeling—so that we can express it. After all, it’s never about the dirty dishes in the sink (which can be annoying!), but rather what feeling lies under the experience. Maybe the feeling is disrespect, and under that a lack of caring, and under that a core belief, “I must not matter.”
Self Awareness is Key to Healthy Communication
When we understand what's happening inside of us, and can slow down, we can use “I statements” (“I feel disrespected when you don’t help with the dishes.”) rather than “you statements” (“You always leave the dishes for me!”). Speaking with “you statements” and accusations often makes others feel attacked so they get defensive, which is a sure fire way to shut down that all-important communication.
Instead, when a statement comes from a place of feeling, from your heart, it has more impact. I suggest that my clients always address the feelings first before they dive into other matters. It can also be helpful to listen carefully and paraphrase what you heard back to your partner.
Improve Your Communication: Expert Tips To Put Into Practice Today
Let’s put this into practice and check out the two very different conversations:
- You’re ignoring me again, like you always do after work! You’re so selfish! (“you statements” and accusations)
- No I’m not, I just had a busy day. Sheesh, why are you always on my case? (defensiveness)
- If that’s the way you feel about it, why do you even bother coming home? (escalation, denial of desire to connect)
- Fine! If you don’t want me here, I’ll leave!
Boy, that didn’t go very well. Those partners are both really feeling hurt, and are having such a hard time connecting. How might they try this differently?
- I’m feeling hurt because I felt ignored by you when you came home today. (“I statement,” identifying the feeling, no accusation)
- You’re feeling hurt because you think I was ignoring you? Is that right? (paraphrasing)
- Yes, I felt really terrible. (conflict is de-escalating)
- I see. I’m so sorry, it wasn’t my intention. (addressing the hurt feelings) I’ve been feeling worried about the big budget meeting coming up. (shares a feeling also)
- Oh, you were thinking about the meeting! (paraphrasing) I totally forgot about that. I know it’s a big deal, but I wonder if we can find a way to connect when you get home, because I miss you. (invitation for intimacy)
When we speak from the heart, understanding can begin, and that fosters connection. The truth is, we all want to be loved, appreciated, and valued in our relationships. However, this isn’t easy. After all, a good relationship takes work, but the rewards are tremendous: emotional balance, physical well-being, and the knowledge that we truly matter.