Friday, September 13, 2013

CREATE: Connection Points

Are You Connecting?

I love to observe people.  I like to notice how people talk to each other, touch each other and listen to each other. How people interact and engage each other is fascinating to me, and I enjoy taking a peek into their lives.  Some people may characterize me as nosey and I understand that. But I have found that observing people is extremely useful and helpful, especially in my line of work. 

From watching people I have learned that there are six important ways that people connect and bond that strengthen their relationships. Of course there may be more than six ways and you are probably doing all six already. But if you are like the rest of us, you may need a good relationship tune-up from time to time.  So if you are ready to connect or re-connect, let’s get started.

The first way to connect with your partner is through ACCEPTANCE. I have learned, and I know you have too, that people connect better when they feel accepted. Not a new flash, right? But even though we all agree that acceptance is essential for the health of relationships, how many of us consistently practice accepting people for who they are?  Yes, we attempt to accept our loved ones because acceptance is an admirable thing to do. But to some degree, we all struggle or have struggled especially if something about a person rubs us the wrong way. 

But if you want a loving and satisfying relationship, accepting your partner is key. Why? Because when you feel accepted you feel free safe to be authentic, to make mistakes, to be silly, to be successful, to be eccentric, to disagree and to just be you without the risk of rejection. You also feel safe to reveal and expose the most fragile parts you – your emotions, your history, your failures and your dreams - without the fear of rebuke and ridicule. When I interview couples for the Happy Couple Highlights, I frequently hear statements like “with her I can be exactly who I am”, “I never feel pressured to be something that I am not” and “she lets me be myself”.  Wow… acceptance! What a gift!  

Acceptance is not something we always do well. But the more we accept ourselves, flaws and all, the easier it is to accept others. Remember this: We often criticize traits in others that reflect what we don’t like about ourselves.  So if you have a strong aversion to something about your partner, check your own spirit first. Maybe the problem lies with and in you.
Acceptance, approval, tolerance, acknowledgement or however you define it - we all desire it and deserve it. I am confident that if you sincerely embrace your partner for who she is, she will most likely return the favor and accept you for who you are. Accept and connect. You will be happier and so will she.
The second way to connect with your partner is through Affirmation. Affirmation means the willingness/desire to emotionally encourage and support someone. Believe me, that’s important if you want to cultivate a happy relationship. Why? Because PRAISE is powerful; it is instructive and inspiring.  And, many times when you celebrate and applaud a person’s behavior you usually get more of the behavior you affirm. Just think about your own life. Have you noticed that when someone recognizes and compliments something that you do, you want to repeat it?

Even though affirmation is motivating and healing, I frequently hear partners say “why do I have to tell you that, you already know it”. Why do you have to compliment her? Good question.  Here’s the answer: affirming her has the ability to change your attitude toward her and to also change her attitude toward herself.  Even if Words of Affirmation is not her primary Love Language, words still matter. Words can create or crush. They can promote or demote. They can celebrate or aggravate.  They can encourage or enrage.

Words have life-giving and life-sustaining power so speak well to and about your partner. Generously give accolades and compliments to remind her that you find her physically, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally attractive.  Remember the more you encourage and reinforce your partner, the happier and healthier she and your relationship will be. As the saying goes, a happy wife makes a happy life. Since there are two wives, get ready for double the joy . 

Authentic affirmation is powerful and it is a loving way to honor/support your partner. I call it spiritual and emotional nutrition that feeds the soul and warms the heart. The good news is that when affirmation is coupled with acceptance people report higher levels of relationship satisfaction. That’s incentive enough to share a kind word.
The third way to connect with your partner is through Affection. Some people may not admit it, but we all know that affection is important. Everyone needs and desires some of it, especially from someone you love. Affection is vital because it communicates love in ways that words can’t convey. Consider your own relationships. When you are angry or have hurt feelings a single heartfelt touch can calm you. When you are tired or stressed, a loving massage can relax you. Just a kiss, hug or a passionate squeeze can let you know someone cares.

From our own experiences we know that little acts of affection are important. We know that touching, holding and kissing create a greater sense of closeness that touches the deepest parts of our hearts. So hug and kiss often.

Also remember to show affection in non-physical ways. For example, send a greeting card or an "I love you" note. Give flowers, share secret glances, smile often and use terms of endearment. Any way that you can express love, show concern and let her know that you still desire her will enhance your relationship.  Affection is an important expression of care so let her know that you care. She is worth it and so are you.
The fourth way to connect with your partner is through Availability. “Her presence was the best present”. I overhead this statement when a woman was talking about spending time with her wife. The statement resonated with me because in my twenties and thirties I was guilty of being everywhere except beside my partner. I wasn’t accessible or available and that cost me some wonderful relationships.

Thanks to a few heartaches, I have learned a few things. I have learned that being available or just “being there” means knowing that your partner will be reachable when you call or when you visit. It is an assurance that your partner will be around to willingly support you even when/if it is inconvenient, uncomfortable and challenging. Being available communicates that you are important, and on some level, we all want to feel like a priority. 

Not only is being physically available important, being emotionally available is essential too. Knowing that your partner is fully present when you are talking, sharing, crying and celebrating makes you feel heard; it reinforces love. Also believing that your partner can access and communicate her emotions/thoughts clearly, patiently and lovingly allows you to be more vulnerable; it promotes trust.  The Ethiopian proverb is true: If I know you are there, more of me can be there too. I wish I heard this proverb when I was younger. 

“Being there” is important, and I have learned that “being there” does not always equate to a specific time. It means quality time; however, what constitutes quality time is extremely variable. So talk with your partner. Let her know what quality time means or “looks like” for you. Be sure she understands when you most need her time and attention so that she can be there for you.  Remember that expectations are just resentments waiting to happen so express your needs clearly and frequently. Don’t assume that she already knows. 

Here is the take-away.  Be Present.  Give your wonderful partner your full emotional attention and your physical presence.  Let her see her own beauty in and though your eyes.  Let her find her own voice through your listening ears.  Help her discover her own greatness, strength and grace in your presence. Show that you care by just being there. 

The fifth way to connect is through Accountability. Accountability seems like a word that belongs in a business article and not a relationship article, right? Wrong. Accountability is an approach to relationships that means that both partners are solution-oriented rather than blame-oriented. When I am counseling a couple, it is easy to spot a connection based on mutual accountability because the the first question each partner asks is   “How am I contributing to this problem” or “what can I do to make this situation better?”  The couples don’t blame or point fingers. They don’t assign a larger portion of the issue to the other either. They acknowledge, assess and act to find resolution even if it requires some apologizing, soul-searching, compromising or relationship re-structuring.

The concept of accountability in love relationships is difficult to grasp because it is the very opposite of what we see every day. We see people ducking responsibility instead of admitting their mistakes. We see people using their emotional baggage to justify bad behavior. We see people finding fault and flaws in others without honestly reflecting on their own issues or dissecting their own motives. 
Accountability in love is critical because everything you say and do can have an impact on your partner. For example, if you don’t pay a bill, it can affect both of your credit histories. If you don’t listen to each other, you can duplicate efforts. If you don’t consult with each other, it can affect both of your schedules.  Trust me - if you are in partnership with someone, your choices and behavior not only affect you, but your choices also affect her. You are a team!! That is why it is important to be patient before you commit to a relationship because some people do not want or don’t know how to be accountable to themselves, let alone you.
Accountability is a relationship prerequisite because accountability promotes trust. Trust promotes vulnerability. Vulnerability promotes intimacy, N-2-Me-C. And Intimacy strengthens your connection. 
Accountability is the glue that keeps healthy organizations together.  It may not sound romantic to think of your relationship as an organization, but it is. It is an organization of two without children. Add a few kids, both the organization and the need for accountability increase.

Here some advice. If want your partner to love you and trust you, be accountable. If you want your partner to believe what you say, be accountable. If you want to demonstrate your commitment to her and the relationship, be accountable. It will strengthen your connection and deepen your bond.
The last way to connect with your partner is through Appreciation. Sometimes we overlook the value of it, but how do you feel when people say “thank you”? When people let me know that there are grateful and thankful for something that I have done it touches my heart. I feel seen, acknowledged and cherished.   

I believe that gratitude is important. It is not only important for us to feel it, it is important for us to express it, especially to people we love. Many times we take the people closest to us for granted or we assume they know that we appreciate what they do for us. But our partners are not mind readers so take time to give a sincere “thank you”.  Say for example, “I really appreciate you running errands today. You really made my day easier. Thank you.” Or, “Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this issue. It really helped ease my mind.” Or. “Thank you for going out of your way to help me with my project. I know that you already have a lot on your plate. Thanks”. Don’t wait for a special day or occasion. If you appreciate their love, say thank you. 

Showing appreciation is one of the ways that you nurture your relationship. It is something that we easily neglect as we deal with all of the responsibilities and challenges we face in life. But it is also one of those little things that when/if we do well will reap tremendous benefits in the long run. As my grandma used to say “nobody has to be nice to you, so when they are, say thank you”. 

Acceptance, Affirmation, Availability, Affection, Accountability and Appreciation - 6 important ways to connect with your partner and 6 ways for her to connect with you.  Good luck connecting. Send me a message and let me know how the tips are working for you. Also, remember to send me and Imani your questions for “Ask Love”. We look forward to connecting and hearing from you as you CREATE LOVE .

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