Want to be heard? Speak with your body

April 27th, 2016

I have been talking about the importance of nonverbal communication in relationships for a long time. Now there is more proof of how important this is if you want to hear and be heard correctly.

In a study that was recently published in Frontiers in Psychology; robot avatars who were programmed to talk with their hands were as easy to understand as humans delivering the same messages. Researchers Paul Bremner and Ulte Leonards combined classic hand gestures with speech (multi-modal) to see how well the robots could be understood. Then they compared the robot’s communication with that voiced by human subjects to see if there was any significant difference between the two, and found that there was not.

First the actors were recorded as they gestured and spoke their lines. Then the avatars used these recordings and mimicked the exact gestures and a comparison was made. Even though avatars don’t have the same exact shape or flexibility in their hands and arms, their gestures were still as effective.

What these researchers found is that when movement is combined with voice, communication is more effective, even if the speaker is a robot. Think about how this translates to dating and relationship communication. By learning to use gestures, pauses, eye and facial movements, and body posture to convey our messages; we can greatly increase our chances of being heard and delivering the intended message.

For anyone who struggles with feeling misunderstood, who has difficulty connecting with others, and/or who experiences a lot of frustration during first meetings and too often leaves the wrong impression—try turning your attention to everything you don’t say with words, but say with your body. This is what others are paying attention to—whether they or you are aware of it or not.

The problem with adult friendship

April 20th, 2016

Elizabeth Bernstein, Bonds columnist for the Wall Street Journal, just came out with a great piece on why making friends is harder for adults. Many readers will be able to relate as we have all lost some childhood friends, college friends, and single friends to time, graduation, moving, and/or marriage and children. Essentially, the shared life experiences that brought us together change, and too often, friendships fade away.

There are also the friendships that die when one person goes through a life crisis that a friend can’t or won’t deal with. There are the friends who become the toxic friends, due to many different circumstances—these are the ones you can agonize over saying good-bye to, but feel it is for the best. Then there are just those you lose touch with, slowly, over time.

The problem is that making new friends becomes harder as we age, due to the demands of work and family and less time and energy to connect to others and invest in growing relationships with them. Most “friendships” in our adult years happen because of proximity and shared needs and interests—think Mom cliques, co-workers, neighbors, spouse’s friends and their significant others, etc. We might not choose them in quite the same way as we chose friends in childhood, but proximity and repeated exposure were important factors even then.

Therefore for anyone who is having trouble meeting new friends (which is just about everyone) think proximity and convenience. Who lives/works/recreates where you do? What about your neighbors? Are there people who attend your place of worship that you find interesting and would like to get to know better? How often do you get to spend time with the parents of your kids’ friends? There must be some you would choose to spend time with sans kids.

If you are single, what about your passions and leisure pursuits? Where do you go for fun? Do you belong to any organizations or volunteer anywhere? What about co-workers and acquaintances who may also be single and looking for a friend to do things with?

The point that Elizabeth makes is that this is a challenge for everyone—not just you. Therefore there must be people you encounter regularly who would be open to having a new friend. Be open, approachable—and willing to approach someone else. A good friend is a wonderful thing to have.

Aisha Tyler on her divorce from Jeff Tietjens

April 19th, 2016

Aisha Tyler became tearful last week as she discussed (on-screen) the break-up of her 20 year marriage (25 year relationship). Sigh—is no Hollywood marriage immune to this? It seems that celebrity, the fast life, constant separations due to work, and all those temptations are just too much.

Aisha wasn’t specific about WHY the marriage is ending, however she did seem to be looking forward and saying all the right things about how much he had meant to her and how she only wants his happiness. Her remarks sounded like those of the “lever” not the “levee”.

Apparently they were very young when they got together and have been married almost half her life—yet, it seems they have discovered they don’t want the same things going forward. We will probably never know the whole story, and really, it is none of our business. But it would be nice to get more understanding of WHY celebrity seems to be the worst thing for a relationship. I also find myself wondering if it is a chicken and egg thing. Does it have more to do with having a large ego and a need for attention and a constant rush that leads someone into the showbiz life—or does celebrity change people so that a committed relationship and predictability turns them into folks who need constant attention and have a craving for new thrills. Either way, the end result is another divorce Hollywood style.

The universal “not face” expression

April 16th, 2016

If you have little experience with using body language to enhance your communications, here is a new study that reinforces its importance. Researchers at Ohio State University have identified a universal facial expression that expresses negative emotion. It is used in an identical way by speakers of English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and American Sign Language (ASL)—this last one being even more significant. The “Not Face” consists of a furrowed brow, pressed lips, and raised chin—and in the study it always accompanied negative verbalizations by its wearer.

The not face is expressed as though by instinct, and at the same frequency as the negative words that accompany it. For ASL speakers, the not face may be used even when the word not is left out—in other words, it conveys the meaning without the word.

The study suggests a link between language and facial expressions. So if you think the emphasis on nonverbal communication is just a silly fad, think again. The researchers suggest that it is a combination of three basic universal expressions that indicate anger, disgust, and contempt. The study also hypothesizes that the ability to communicate danger or aggression was important to survival long before language was developed. This helps to explain why the expression is a negative one.

The study was developed as part of ongoing research into the development of language, but can offer us useful information about how we use our body to express ourselves and that it is likely it was the only mode of expression long ago. Therefore it’s basically coded in our DNA, and exists mostly on an unconscious level. But think of what a powerful tool it can be when you use it consciously and consistently in your relationships with others.

Do you suspect he/she is swiping behind your back?

April 10th, 2016

In this easy hook-up culture, cheating abounds. Yes, it has always been there, it just seems that the temptations are greater and the opportunities are everywhere. But fear not, there’s an app for that too. In response to the popularity of Tinder and the fact that many people who aren’t exactly single are using it, a few ingenious developers invested SwipeBuster.

Though its inventors say that this app was designed to expose someone’s online behavior in general, which would come in handy if you wanted to check out a potential date—SwipeBuster is actually being heavily used by significant others who fear their honey may be swiping behind their back.

So for $5.00 you can know if someone you are involved with is cheating on you using Tinder. Sure beats the cost of a private eye. Of course, there are many other creative ways for folks to cheat if this is their goal. But it’s been Ashley Madison out, Tinder in for a while now. Guess these secret swipers are going to have to up their game and find something new.

Are you concerned your significant other could be swiping? $5.00 and a quick download will help you know for sure.

Tinder dating pool has some depth

April 4th, 2016

Tinder is known as a quick hook-up app—but is this all a user can expect? In 2015, Vanity Fair magazine published a piece that set off a firestorm of negative backlash. They quoted men who called their Tinder conquests, Tinderellas, ouch. Yes, this is the potentially dark side of using a mobile app, however there are folks who do use it and find true love.

If you are one of the small handful of people who aren’t familiar with Tinder, it is an app that you can swipe right on someone’s profile if you are interested, or left if they don’t appeal. It’s come down to a quick swipe, WOW. If the person you swiped right for feels a mutual interest, they can message you about connecting. Could not be easier, no long profiles or questionnaires to fill out—just a brief description and that all-important photo. So folks who meet this way have a physical attraction, but will have to get lucky on the other compatibilities necessary for lasting relationships.

It’s the most preferred way to connect now, and stories of finding true love are beginning to come out. A number of these have been featured on the Vows section of the New York Times. So if you have doubts, you can look these up.

So don’t be afraid to try Tinder, just use it with discretion and caution, the way you would when you meet someone on a dating site or in person. OK you may not want to tell folks how you met if you make a love connection—but if you don’t how will others know it could work for them?

It has become so easy to find love for a night, but real relationships still take time and the right mix of chemistry, values, goals and a shared vision. TInder may be a way to get there quicker as so many folks are using it. Dating is and will always be a number game , at least in part.

Ask the right questions before marriage

March 27th, 2016

Most of the relationship difficulties that couples encounter after saying “I do” are the result of moving forward into commitment with assumptions and expectations that were never explored and discussed beforehand. Simply put, people assume they want the same things and have the same life vision. Then they just expect that life together will be a certain way based on their unchecked assumptions. Too often they are in for a disappointing surprise and wake-up call down the road.

When couples come in for premarital counseling, they always ask me, “how can we be sure?” They fear they may be overlooking something or ignoring a difficult truth. I tell them honestly that there are no guarantees, but that by asking the hard questions and exploring the answers together, they will greatly increase their odds of success.

The NY Times is running a piece by Eleanor Stanford titled; “13 Questions to Ask Before getting Married.” Needless to say, it is in a #1 spot for most viewed. It touches on the role “romantic-comedy expectations” play in why we don’t look more realistically and practically at this most important life decision. Then the ignored premarital issues become real-life problems that have to be faced after saying I do. The questions they recommend are meant to open a couple up to frank discussions and reveal secrets that could come back to haunt them later on. Here’s the list they offer in brief:

1. Did your family throw plates, calmly discuss issues or silently shut down when disagreements arose?

This one speaks to how a partner will handle disagreements and deal with conflict.

2. Will we have children, and if we do, will you change diapers?

This is a sure deal breaker if someone wants kids and their partner doesn’t. Also how involved both will be can become a major issue down the road.

3. Will our experiences with our exes help or hinder us?

This one has to do with the danger of having had several serious (but not healthy) relationships and what we learned from them that we may have to unlearn. It’s also about how folks compare new loves with exes—which can be a no-winner. Lastly, jealousy and resentment over a partner’s ex can lead to relationship problems down the road if these feelings are not completely vetted before tying the knot.

4. How important is religion? How will we celebrate religious holidays, if at all?

This one can definitely become more of an issue with marriage, extended family, and especially, kids. People think thy are fine with something until the in-laws expect that the kids will be raised in their faith, and the spouse gives in to this based on feelings they might have really known they had. Total honesty and a plan is needed here.

5. Is my debt your debt? Would you be willing to bail me out?

Finances are the #1 issue that couples get in conflict over. Talk it through, decide how finances will be handled, fee up to debts you may have, talk about spending and how to handle large purchases—and discuss your feelings about where you want to live and if you want to rent or own.

6. What’s the most you would be willing to spend on a car, a couch, shoes?

This is a piece of the one before, and it speaks specifically to values, importance of responsibility, future planning, and financial security. It’s important.

7. Can you deal with my doing things without you?

Too often folks enter marriage with an expectation that their lifestyle will be a certain way. Part of this issue is how much individual time spent apart will be comfortable for the couple. Partners often have very different views on this one and though they may already be in conflict about it before marriage, too often one or both individuals think it will resolve itself once they are married. Won’t happen.

8. Do we like each other’s parents?

Too many people think their relationship with potential in-laws won’t really matter much after marriage—but in fact, it often plays a larger role. Holidays, family traditions, and grandchildren can all lead to a lot of conflict with in-laws you aren’t real keen on to begin with. You don’t just marry the person, you also marry their family to a large extent. You need to be honest and discuss how you two together will deal with future in-laws.

9. How important is sex to you?

Sex can get too much attention, but it is a mistake to not give it enough. Sex changes after marriage and children and couples need to keep their lines of communication open and strong in regards to this topic. Unfortunately for too many it feels uncomfortable and taboo, so they choose to ignore it, then are surprised when they have an unhappy or wandering spouse.

10. How far should we take flirting with other people? Is watching pornography O.K.?

If he/she is flirting in a way that makes you uncomfortable before marriage, tying the knot won’t change that. In fact, it often gets worse. Like sex itself, this is a topic couples tend to tiptoe around. Yet it needs to be talked about openly and frankly in order for intimacy to grow and remain strong.

11. Do you know all the ways I say “I love you”?

This one is about the 5 Love languages, a great book that you should read if you have not yet done so. People show love in different ways and understanding how your partner does will enhance communication and help you avoid misunderstandings, disappointment, resentment, and conflict.

12. What do you admire about me, and what are your pet peeves?

This discussion is intimacy at its best. Being who you are warts and all in front of each other only brings you closer. If not discussed, resentment and annoyance can flourish.

13. How do you see us 10 years from now?

This one is all about sharing a vision of the future, what it will look like, and what you both want and need. It also offers clues about someone being open to the idea that the marriage might not work out. If the other partner is in it no matter what, they need to know this.

If you are dating and talking about marriage—use these questions as a guide before the engagement ring and putting down a deposit. If you are newly married and hitting a few bumps, these questions can help you avoid more serious conflict and/or alienation down the road. If you are in a longer term marriage and struggling with issues that you have no idea where to begin addressing, these can help you as well. They will point to some specifics and offer you a place to focus and begin working together on resolution. It’s never too late while you are still together and both invested in making things better.

Turns out, opposites don’t attract

March 20th, 2016

You know the old saying that “opposites attract?” A new study has found that there is probably little if any truth to it. Researchers at Wellesley College and the University of Kansas found that people are drawn to others who are like-minded, not those who are different.

This study not only challenges some basic beliefs about attraction and relationship formation, it also points to something very important that all couples should be aware of before making a commitment. People can’t change each other over time—something that many couples find out the hard way.

The study findings, titled; Similarity in Relationships as Niche Construction: Choice, Stability, and Influence Within Dyads in a Free Choice Environment,” can be found in the current issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Apparently if like or love at first sight happens, it’s because we find something familiar in the other person, something we can relate to. If you think about it, most of us have always believed we choose friends this way—so how did the belief that opposites attract come into being? After all, seeing the world in a similar way and sharing experiences, goals, and world views is always a plus, right?

None of this says that we don’t influence one another, because we do. It also doesn’t mean that we don’t grow and change over time, especially in a committed relationship. What it does say is that we are fundamentally who we are and that if it is very different from a love interest, we are less likely to make a meaningful connection.

The study shows that people who are attracted to one another don’t seek similarity in a few areas—they are similar in many more ways than not, especially on things that matter the most to them. Just think about the current political climate—can you imagine a Trump supporter finding love with a Sanders person? You get the picture.

Of course, many people have close friends who are very different from them—however there must be something (or a few things) that they share and that connect them in meaningful ways. However they don’t and can’t change one another, they simply accept and respect their differences. Note to anyone out there who may be considering marriage and having thoughts of how great their partner could be/will be when they grow up, change their view on something, have a positive influence in their life, etc. You are kidding yourself—and this research highlights it. It’s easier to find someone who really gets you—and who shares your basic values, beliefs, and goals.

Us and Us on St. Patrick’s Day

March 17th, 2016

Today is the Feast of St. Patrick—and the day we all like to feel a little Irish. There may be a bit of smugness in those of us with truly Irish names, faces, and bloodlines—however it is pretty cool that everyone wants to be one of us, if just for the day.

As you move through your day, you will see many folks wearing something or everything green. Some will be talking about their Great-Grandmother who came here from the old sod. Still others will be making plans to skip out of work early and head to a local Irish establishment, where they can drink Harp and Black and Tans, and listen to an Irish band sing stories of the land from whence they came–a place of beauty wrapped in myths and legends, a place where things go bump in the night, reminding us we are never really alone.

I’m reminded today of a time in my very early adulthood when I lived for a brief while in Ireland. My then fiancé was first generation Irish-American and he had family, property and much history there. We moved among the people as one of them, not as tourists or visitors. We attended Kalies (Ceili in gaelic) in the large (dry) dance halls, moving in a thunderous rhythm for hours on end; we fished at night on a bay lit by starlight and moonlight, one time catching over 40 mackerel in less than an hour; we wandered the countryside, attended festivals and regattas, listened to old stories of “the troubles” by lamplight with family who had no electricity or indoor plumbing—and very quickly I felt like this was home, the place my people come from.

Those who came before me were named O’Leary, Daily, Haney, Sweeney, Cloughessy, and O’Neill—this last one belonging to a famous Irish-American playwright, my Grandmother’s cousin, Eugene. From my earliest beginnings I heard stories about the potato famine—one Great Grandfather was born just after his parents arrived here in the 1850’s in the hull of a ship. He grew to be a famous lawman and Commissioner of Police of Philadelphia. I distantly remember his much younger widow, my great-grandmother, who died when I was a child. Their legacy to me is my face, my red hair, my love of poetry and great stories, my passion for books—and my ability to put words on paper and create something there.

In a world that has become so divided by war, ethnic in-fighting, racism and bigotry, financial and other inequity, and right here at home, the Presidential Primaries—wouldn’t it be nice if we could all focus on our similarities, if even for just one day. How about we offer a toast to the well-being of all people, Irish or not? After all, if we can manage a bit of green today, think of what could be possible tomorrow? Erin go bragh!

Your partner might understand you, but do they actually care?

March 16th, 2016

If you are having a bad day, week or more—can you talk to your partner about it? By this I mean; do they listen, understand what you are saying, and care about how you are feeling? Or is it just one or two of these? The results of new research on this topic have just been released by psychologists at UC Santa Barbara. What they found is that it’s not enough that one’s partner hears and understands what they are saying, they also need to care about how it is affecting them for it to be truly helpful.

Maybe this is why some people go on and on to their partner about something they are upset about, or why they repeat something over and over again, hoping somehow it hits the mark. Their significant other could be sitting there listening and acknowledging that they hear them—yet somehow there is something missing, like empathy. Apparently we know when someone cares—by what they say and how they say it. It’s knowing that they actually care that helps us to feel better.

The findings of this study were published in the journal Psychological Science—and they are the first time that the importance of understanding and empathy occurring together has been studied. Understanding has always been held as important in and of itself, but without compassion and concern, it provides little help to the partner seeking support. In other words, if your partner doesn’t get that you are hurting and is not able to feel your pain—they simply won’t be as emotionally available to you or able to provide you with the kind of support that will help you really feel better.

Maybe what happens when someone feels empathy is that we know they really get how we feel, that they have been there, and that when we express our pain, they validate us and we feel less alone, which lightens the burden. Maybe this is what people with high emotional intelligence have—an ability to both understand and feel empathy, and then communicate this to the other person.

Apparently if someone can’t feel another’s pain, they aren’t able to show the support and caring that is necessary. Makes sense. Maybe this is a piece of the “problem with communication” that I hear so often from couples who come to me for relationship help. They describe an inability to convey their feelings and needs in a way that their partner hears them correctly. Maybe what is missing is the partner’s ability to feel empathy and compassion and the desire to help that often comes with these.

I often tell folks to “think” more with their hearts than their heads when in conversation—this research helps to explain why this is so important.