If you are in the rapture of a new love, reflect for a moment on the kinds of conversations you have with one another. If you’ve weathered new love and are in a long-term relationship, think back to the beginning and reflect on the conversations that brought you together. If you’re like most, those conversations will have a positive tone and direction. They most likely included lots of discovery about one another: Asking about one another’s thoughts, ideas, history, likes and dislikes. They may well have included visioning conversations: What do you want to do on Friday? Shall we plan a hike and a picnic for Saturday? What might your future hold?
Early in relationships we are interested, curious, and excited to learn about the other person. We listen and naturally ask more questions to deepen our understanding. We may see both the strengths and weaknesses of the person, but we focus on the strengths and forgive them their weaknesses. These kinds of conversations are magic. They bring out the best in each of us, help us feel connected, safe, and accepted. In those moments, we feel more vibrant, creative, whole, and alive.
If the relationship sustains over time, very often things change. And we will notice that change in the tone and direction of our conversations. Critical or destructive conversations will destroy a relationship if they dominate. John Gottman, a psychological researcher and clinician, found that healthy couples have a five- to-one ratio of positive conversations to negative. He was able to predict with 94% accuracy the divorce rate of 700 couples based on only 15 minutes of observed conversation. What’s the ratio between you and your loved ones?
Our Conversations either strengthen or weaken the bonds of our relationships. They are so vital, they can even be predictive of a life-long partnership or a failed marriage.
To rebuild or maintain your loving relationship, Gottman recommends: increasing respect for one another, showing affection and closeness, developing waysto break through and resolve conflict, generating greater understanding for one another, and keeping conflict discussions calm. Conversation is essential for most of these. Here are three key practices that will help you have conversations that strengthen relationships:
Before you react, take a breath and get curious: What’s behind what just happened? What’s going on for the other? What’s going on for you? What do you actually want to happen in this moment? What do you need? What might the other need/want?
2. Ask Generative Questions.
Let go of your assumptions and your need to be “right.” Instead, with genuine curiosity, care, and openness, ask questions that will generate understanding, connection, and possibilities. People grow and change over time. What don’t you know about your partner?
3. Create a Positive Frame.
Set a tone and direction for a conversation that focuses on a desired outcome. Talk about what you both want and how that might be possible, instead of what you don’t want and why your wants are mutually exclusive.
If you value your relationships, especially one with a significant other, then pay attention to the tone and direction of your conversations.
All relationships have ups and downs. Living with others naturally triggers us at times, especially when we are not feeling strong and capable. We may not have control over our immediate reactions, but we can be intentional about our conversations. We can aim for that five-to-one Gottman ratio by having conversations that reinforce mutual respect, care, and understanding. Turn off the TV, plan a romantic dinner and have a conversation worth having. Here are a few topics to get you started:
- What do we most admire and respect about one another?
- What is it that makes each of us come alive?
- How can we support each other in doing more of what brings us joy and energy each day?
- Share stories of when you both felt most connected and loving. Discover what made those times possible: What were you doing? Where were you? What conditions were necessary? Then, make plans to create those conditions on a regular basis (e.g., date night).
This Valentine’s Day (and every day) have conversations that help you fall in love all over again.