In our last few posts on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’ve explored the connections between trust, judgment, and vulnerability. Today, as promised, we’ll help you apply what you’ve learned!
Happy relationships are built on the basis of shared understanding, mutual affection, empathy, and support. They grow from a foundation of trust. As you may recall from our last post, the presence or absence of trust in your relationships may even determine your physical health. As Dr. Gottman explains in What Makes Love Last?, “For everybody, a stable, trusting relationship is linked to relatively high survival rates from cardiovascular disease, cancer, surgery, and other illnesses.” Low-trust couples literally have higher death rates!
Clearly, we need to cultivate trust. But trust requires vulnerability, and in a world that endlessly encourages us all to be our own harshest critics, vulnerability can be a real struggle. It’s even more difficult to open up when you’ve been hurt badly before. But according to Brene Brown’s famous TED Talk, vulnerability is, beyond a doubt, absolutely necessary for happiness.
So, how should we proceed?
First of all, it’s important to recognize that trusting our partners is not the same thing as giving up all control. We retain control over our choice of partner (at all times!) and can always decide to alter our own behavior throughout our relationships. We can choose to connect with – or disconnect from – reliable and unreliable people, and we can choose to learn – or avoid learning– strategies for self care. (These are rather useful in those times when others can’t provide support).
To reap the benefits of vulnerability and trusting others, we must first learn to trust our own judgments. As we all know, this is a lifelong process involving entirely too much trial-and-error. But there are steps we can take to set ourselves up for success! One of the most important steps is learning compassion.
As Brene Brown explains, we can’t treat others with compassion if we can’t be kind to ourselves first. And it is only when we commit to taking care of ourselves that we can count on ourselves to make safe choices.
So, with further ado, here are a few healthy choices you can start choosing today:
Make me-time. It won’t magically appear on its own! This might be easier if you create a daily routine, committing to a short break, perhaps at lunch-time on weekdays and on weekend mornings. Put this me-time on your list of non-negotiables. You’ll thank yourself for it.
Don’t waste your me-time! Go for a walk, a bike ride, meditate, practice yoga, or find a way that works for you to take yourself into a quieter head-space (we recommend at least 15 minutes per day). Use this time to clear your mind and you’ll be surprised at how a brief foray into tranquility can carry peace and clarity into all parts in your life. According to a study run by researchers at UC Santa Barbara, “mindfulness improves reading ability, working memory, and task-focus.” See the research here.
Do things that bring you pleasure. Catch up with friends and family. Play with your pet. Read a book, listen to music, or watch your favorite show. Relax and unwind. Think some interesting thoughts.
Devote time to your hobbies. Whether you write, knit, play board games, cook, drink coffee, dance, run, sing, bird-watch, star-gaze, or whittle tiny figurines for pleasure. Whether you seek serenity or release of energy, and whether you do this in your me-time or your we-time is up to you – both can make lasting, powerful changes in your relationship with yourself and with your partner.
Go into nature. Alone or together. It’s probably the most direct and effective way to take a break from the daily grind and reconnect deeply and profoundly with the living, breathing world, yourself, and your partner. Nature has even been demonstrated to have a regenerative effect on our ability to exercise our working memory and directed attention.
If you have limits in time or mobility, try a walk in the park, a trip to the beach, a jaunt into the woods! You don’t have to travel far from home to go on an adventure in the great outdoors. If you’re lucky and can get away for the weekend, consider making that happen! Chances are that you (and your partner, if this is a joint venture) will benefit enormously from the trip. Get out of town and explore somewhere beautiful. If you’d like, bring the kids! We highly recommend that you leave your laptop, smart-phone, and all of your other pocket-computers behind. If you take a break from the tiny virtual world that usually lives in your pocket, we promise that you will be able to more fully enjoy the world in all of its glory. Tromp around in a field, look at some old tree stumps, skip some rocks, and celebrate your ability to enjoy this beautiful planet.
Whatever you do, find some peace. Finding balance and developing your attunement to the world around you can increase self-confidence, improve your mood, and allow you to bring harmony into many areas in your life. Your mind, your body, and your partner will very likely thank you for it. Remember to build trust by creating a culture of mutual support – show your love by helping each other stay sane and healthy enough to pursue personal and mutual dreams both today and in the years to come!