Welcome to Small Things Often,
a new podcast from The Gottman Institute
Successful long-term relationships are created through small words, small gestures, and small acts. Every Monday and Wednesday morning, we’ll talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in five minutes or less.
Small Things Often is an invitation to think small. It could make a big difference.
How to Become Aware of Your Emotions
Are you aware of your emotions? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll help you identify your feelings so you can help your loved ones when they experience difficult emotions.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about being aware of your own emotions.
What are you feeling right now? Right at this very second, what emotion are you experiencing? If you’re wondering why we’re asking… it’s because the more you can name your own emotions, the less likely you are to become overwhelmed by them. How does that translate to your relationship? Your awareness can help your loved ones when they experience difficult emotions.
It’ll help you relate! You know that feeling of disappointment that you felt when your friend left you high and dry? Completely ditched you for something or someone else. If you recognize and acknowledge that disappointment, you’ll have compassion for your partner when they experience that same feeling. You’ll be able to see where they’re coming from and can provide words of encouragement for how to work through it.
So when you’re feeling a certain emotion, name or identify it whenever possible! Say exactly what you’re feeling. Or maybe what it feels similar to. Where in your body do you feel it? What response is it causing? Can you examine the feeling without judging it? That’s important too. Don’t judge your emotions. No emotion is inherently negative, sometimes it’s just difficult or uncomfortable. Be easy on yourself and be curious about your emotions — not critical.
If you can’t pin down how you’re feeling, make up a name for it or assign it a color. It may sound a little strange, but hear us out! Talking yourself through it even when the emotion is unclear can help provide some clarity. You can say, “I’m feeling gray, which is when I feel some combination of dread, sadness, and guilt in the pit of my stomach. Gray makes me want to procrastinate or dull myself down. While it’s unpleasant, I have every right to feel gray and gray is not inherently bad.”
So here’s today’s small thing: Try to expand your emotional vocabulary! When you realize you’re feeling a certain way, identify and express that feeling.
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often for another quick tip from The Gottman Institute — helping you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships.
Why You Don’t Always Have to Agree
You don’t always have to agree with your loved one! On this episode of Small Things Often, how you can change the goal from agreement to understanding during disagreements.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about disagreements.
It can be hard to “agree to disagree” with your partner sometimes, right? Maybe you truly think that you have to agree on everything in order to have a good relationship. And when disagreements happen, you wonder if you have any shared values at all. But when you’re feeling this way, remember… this is your partner, not your clone. Wouldn’t it be a little strange… and maybe a little boring… if you agreed on everything?!
You’re both bound to see the world differently from time to time. And maybe you can learn from each other’s perspectives! What’s important here is that you’re able to separate your self from your views.
Here’s what we mean. Even if you don’t agree with their views… can you still see, value, understand, and accept your partner as a human being? What do you know about your partner that might inform these views?
Let’s say you’re cleaning up after dinner. You offer to do the dishes while your partner wipes down the counter. You start to load the bowls in the dishwasher when your partner says “wait…what are you doing with those?” and suddenly you find yourself in an intense debate about what does and does not belong in the top rack. Just because you believe bowls go up there and they think bottom rack or bust — doesn’t mean one of you is “wrong” or that you need to agree.
Take a step back and look for ways to understand their perspective and why it’s important to them. Maybe they wanted to move the bowls to the bottom rack so they can fit all the dishes in this load so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning.
You could say, “Oh, I see where you’re coming from. Thanks. I was worried about the bowls breaking so I usually put them in the top rack, but I get it.”
No matter how you end up loading the dishes, talking it through with the desire of understanding each other makes room for different perspectives in the relationship — which happens all the time! Since you are your own people with your own thoughts and styles!
So, change the goal from agreement to understanding!
Here’s today’s small thing: The next time you’re in a disagreement with a loved one, focus on understanding their point of view. You don’t have to agree with it, but try to see where they’re coming from and then express that understanding!
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often for another quick tip from The Gottman Institute — helping you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships.
Embracing Relationship Changes
In relationships, the only constant is change. On this episode of Small Things Often, how you can embrace the changes to evolve individually and together with your partner.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about embracing change in your relationship.
In relationships, the only constant is change. Don’t let it freak you out, but it is a fact that things won’t always stay the same. People evolve! We learn and grow from our experiences. Sometimes we change for the better… and sometimes we change for the worse. Or maybe it’s somewhere in between. But does your relationship have space to accommodate change? Be open to the ways that you’re both evolving — together and individually.
It doesn’t necessarily matter how long you’ve been in a relationship, from the time you started dating your partner up until today… whether it’s your feelings, your environment, the connection you have with your partner… things may have changed your relationship. Let’s say personally, you watched a family member’s destructive relationship unfold. Hearing them communicate makes you cringe because of their lack of respect for each other. It’s BRUTAL. It lit a fire in you, to never talk that way to your partner. And now you’re extra conscious of how hurtful words can be. It’s led to a big positive change in your relationship where respect for each other is of utmost importance.
Sometimes partners change together. Maybe when you first started dating, you loved the thrill of an exciting Saturday night out on the town. Dinner, drinks, dancing, neon bright lights, and a cab ride home. But now… years later? You both love and crave a relaxing night at home… talking and catching up… even before the pandemic. You’ve become homebodies and connect differently with each other. You’ve changed as a couple — and that’s totally okay!
You can embrace the change by being open about it. In what ways has your partner changed that you’re grateful for, beyond maybe a questionable hairstyle or two? Ask your partner how you’ve changed too! What changes have surprised you in your relationship? Talk about the ways that you’d like to change in the future! Make room in your relationship to evolve.
So here’s today’s small thing: Go back in time and talk to your partner about who you were 5 years ago. And even 10 years ago! How have you changed? How have they changed?
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often for another quick tip from The Gottman Institute — helping you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships.
What Are Love Maps?
You probably think you know your partner, but do you have an active and up-to-date understanding of their interior world? We’re digging deep on this episode of Small Things Often so you can learn the importance of building Love Maps with your partner.
Today’s tip is about building Love Maps.
You think you know your partner, but do you really? You probably know their basic likes and dislikes… what they want in a partner… what makes them happy… but do you know who your partner’s best friend was when they were 12? What about their first crush? How did your partner learn to ride a bike? Were they a natural or did they struggle with the whole “balance” part and have the battle scars to prove it?
Having these conversations and getting answers to these questions is a part of building Love Maps. Think of it this way. When you choose to spend your life with someone, you’re handing them a map to your inner world! Your inner world is, of course, complex. You have memories of your past, details of your present, and hopes for the future. It includes your deepest fears and your grandest dreams. All of these things are part of your Love Map. But remember, it’s a pencil sketch.
It’s your job to intentionally add details to it with your partner! The map needs scale, direction, landmarks, texture, color, and everything in between. A detailed Love Map brings perspective to the twists and turns that inevitably come up in a partnership.
A fun way to do this is to dig into your partner’s archives — to figure out who they were growing up and how it shaped them into the person they are today… and influenced what they want in the future! But don’t just stop there. It’s also equally important to keep your Love Maps active and up-to-date. Relationships and people evolve… and what you think you want, your likes and dislikes, your fears… may change!
Make adding new bits and pieces to your Love Maps a priority over the lifetime of your relationship. Rome wasn’t built in a day! But don’t be intimidated by this task. Have fun with it and remember that you can always get to know your partner better. Don’t ever stop asking questions — no matter how silly it may seem.
So here’s today’s small thing: Try picking an age and invite your partner to share a story about themselves at that age. For example, say, “Tell me a story from when you were 10,” or, “What were you like at 17?” Approach it like a journalist. Get details, ask follow up questions, and be curious! Take turns picking the age and telling stories. You might be surprised by what you learn about your partner.
Are You Taking Responsibility in Your Relationship?
It’s easy to get defensive instead of taking responsibility in times of conflict, but what is that doing to your relationship? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re sharing the importance of taking ownership of our actions and how they affect our loved ones.
Today’s tip is about taking responsibility instead of becoming defensive.
When you’re dealing with a conflict in your relationship, it’s easy to get defensive — it’s easy to say things like, I’m acting this way because of what you’ve done. But what is that doing to your relationship?
The antidote to defensiveness is taking responsibility. Let’s say you’ve had a bad day. And maybe your partner just said something that made you nearly implode. They didn’t even say anything that would normally upset you, but today, it really rubbed you the wrong way. You’ve had a hard day at home with the kids, while trying to work remotely, and your partner walks in and says, “what’s for dinner?” It feels like they are totally disregarding the fact that you have a crying kid in your arms while ALSO trying to video chat with your boss. Your partner didn’t necessarily mean anything by the question of what’s for dinner, but that question basically made your eyeballs pop out of your head. All you can say is, “Are you kidding me right now?” followed by the nastiest look that you can muster.
So what happens when your partner confronts you later? They think that you blew up out of nowhere. It may be hard in this moment, but take a deep breath and choose to see where they’re coming from. Try to shake off the need to defend yourself at all costs and focus on the full situation! When you take a minute to consider the full picture you could avoid saying, “I responded that way because you were oblivious to the situation” — and instead say, “I’m sorry for how I reacted. I was feeling overwhelmed in that moment.”
When we take responsibility for words or actions that have caused distress, we’re opening the door to changes we need to make in order to have a healthy relationship. Defensiveness can keep the door slammed shut. So it’s important to acknowledge the pain that you may have caused! Remember that you love your partner and channel that love to form your response.
Taking responsibility can be a difficult skill to master, but the conversation that follows will be your reward.
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you’re in a conflict with a loved one and you start to feel defensive, recognize it and call it out! Say to them, “I’m feeling defensive.” It’s a great place to start to take responsibility for your words or actions.
Why Being Neutral Can Be Invalidating to Your Partner
Do you walk the road of “neutrality” when your partner comes to you with an emotional issue? If so, your relationship may be suffering because of it. On this episode of Small Things Often, learn why validation is so important — and how it can make or break a relationship.
Today’s tip is about how being neutral can be invalidating to your partner.
What does that mean? Here’s an example…
Say your partner comes home from work, so upset, they can barely speak. You ask what’s wrong, and they tell you: Their boss took the credit for their legal brief. And all day long, their boss has been getting accolades for your partner’s 6 weeks of hard work! Your partner is inconsolable. So you say “Ah, don’t worry, you’re still getting a paycheck every week” or “They’re your boss. That’s what happens in business!” — or maybe even, “Why does this bother you so much? Just forget it. You’re overreacting! Let’s have dinner.”
And then, when your partner asks you why you’re not being supportive, and always taking the other person’s side, you say, “I’m not siding with anyone! I’m just neutral!”
Well, we’re here to tell you that “being neutral” to your partner at a time when they are hurting and desperately need you to hear them can be incredibly destructive. Your “neutrality” can cause them to feel invalidated — unheard, not respected, and not valued. And over time, that can cause a deep wound that can irrevocably erode the trust and relationship between the two of you. But a word of caution: Validation doesn’t necessarily mean you have to agree with your partner or their stance! It simply means that you recognize their feelings as real and valid for them.
If you’re consistently staying “neutral” when your partner comes to you with an emotional issue, it’s important to look inside yourself and figure out why you react that way. Are you uncomfortable when your partner expresses strong emotions? Do you feel you’re actually helping by making the event smaller than it is — or are trying to “fix” things by telling them they shouldn’t feel “that way”? Finding out why you respond the way you do can be the start of a powerful change.
But take heart! If this has been a pattern between you and your partner, there are steps to healing.
First, atone: Really take an action to right your past wrongs. And don’t just do it once. Stop the harmful behavior and continually work to repair it.
Then attune: Go to your partner and really listen to them — maybe for the very first time. Hear their story and their perspective — and help them heal.
And finally, attach: Commit to your partner that this is now the “new normal”. You will be there consistently, on an on-going basis, to really hear them, validate their feelings — and, hopefully, trust will follow.
And these steps don’t just apply to personal relationships. On a broader level, the events of the past few months in our country and the world have weighed heavily on all our minds. What we’ve learned is that our own thoughts and actions do matter — because stepping back and becoming “neutral” in today’s environment is, in fact, a form of invalidation. So take these steps and use them in your personal life — as well as in the community at large.
Today’s small thing: The next time your partner expresses strong feelings, stop, listen — and remember that your focus and validation and understanding will go a long way to repairing and strengthening your relationship.
Building Relationships Brick by Brick
Relationships aren’t magically unveiled in a single romantic moment. On this episode of Small Things Often, how you can build a relationship brick by brick and create a deeper emotional connection with your partner.
Today’s tip is about building relationships brick by brick.
Relationships aren’t magically unveiled in a single romantic moment. Would you really want it to be? Building something can be the satisfying part!
Think of it this way. Imagine buying an awesome, but intense Lego set for a 7-year-old. And as a grand gesture, you give them the Lego set fully assembled. You spend hours building it. You’re so excited to show them! And then when it’s time for the big reveal, you see a disappointed 7-year-old who is not excited. By creating this one-time grand gesture, you deprived them of the little moments that make Legos fun — building it brick by brick and making memories! This concept applies to your relationship.
Small, intentional moments hold more weight than isolated, extravagant gestures when it comes to building emotional longevity in your relationship. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your partner out for a hot date or surprise them with a romantic weekend getaway. The big things matter too. But it’s important to appreciate the little things. The little things you do every day to connect with your partner. It’s the whole idea around Small Things Often!
You can help build your relationship… brick by brick… by creating moments of connection with emotional bids. A bid can be as simple as asking, “How are you doing today?” Or be more vulnerable by asking things like, “How can I make you feel loved today?” Check-in with each other on a daily basis and have these conversations. Bids are the building blocks of relationships — so remember to pay attention to your partner’s bids too! Accepting bids builds connection. Missing bids results in disconnection.
So here’s today’s small thing: Create a daily ritual of connection in whatever way works for you and your partner — just make a habit out of taking a little time every day to be present for each other. It could be a kiss before leaving the house, talking about your day over a glass of wine, or taking a walk together!
There’s No Such Thing as All Good or All Bad
No one is all good or all bad. If you’ve fallen into that kind of thinking, tune into this episode of Small Things Often, and learn how to rethink your reactions — and improve your relationship.
Today’s tip is about good and evil.
Think we’re going to review an Avengers or Star Wars movie? Not a chance. Relationships aren’t like the movies where the hero battles against the villain. Movie characters like these are one dimensional and depicted as totally good or totally evil. In real life people have nuance — no one is “all good” or “all bad.” Here’s a news flash that we all have to keep in mind: The “perfect” person doesn’t exist.
So take a look at your own relationship. Have you been casting your partner in the role of hero or villain? Either way, you’re doing your relationship a great disservice. Take this example…
Say you’ve texted your partner in the middle of the day with some great news you want to share. You’ve sent the text and waited one minute….five minutes….ten minutes….and have gotten no response. Your anxiety starts to soar, and you begin to create stories in your head about why they’re not responding. You think, “Are they ignoring me?” or “Are they mad at me?” or maybe “Did they turn their phone off JUST so I couldn’t get through?” And then, your mind begins to race to all kinds of scenarios, and you become angry, fearful, and defensive, drawing all kinds of conclusions as to why your text wasn’t answered. And then, when they finally do respond, you’re so angry, you can barely speak. And they have absolutely no idea why. They are completely baffled and bewildered by your anger. And here comes the argument.
If you relate, this may be due to something called NSO — or Negative Sentiment Override. What does that mean? Very simply, it means that over time, for some reason, trust has been broken, and you find it very difficult to give your partner the benefit of the doubt — which leads to perceiving every action, even the neutral ones, as negative —which can drive the two of you apart. What’s the antidote? Embrace ambiguity! That’s right! Be open to another interpretation of your partner’s actions! Keep your eyes open to the grey areas! Otherwise, you may be labeling your partner’s actions and intentions before you get the full story.
Remember that seeing each other as good or evil, hero or villain, is not realistic. Because nobody in the universe is just one thing. So work to be open to seeing your partner in a positive light — and try to assume the best rather than the worst. Because really, when you think about it, we’re all flawed — but we are all, every single one of us, still worthy of love.
Today’s small thing: When interacting with your partner, be aware of your thoughts. Don’t let them take root and swirl into rigid black and white thinking! Catch them as soon as they enter your mind! Rethink your interpretation of your partner’s actions — and think about the grey area.
Having Difficult Conversations with Loved Ones
It’s no secret that difficult conversations with loved ones aren’t easy. So how can you make sure it goes as well as possible? We’ll share the questions that you need to ask yourself before the conversation begins, on this episode of Small Things Often.
Today’s tip is about preparing yourself for difficult conversations with your loved ones.
That doesn’t sound fun, does it? Difficult conversations aren’t fun to have with anyone, let alone someone that you love. But sometimes it’s necessary to have those conversations that begin with a pit in your stomach and sweaty palms. Preparation is the best way to make sure it goes as well as possible.
Why do you need to prepare? If it’s a difficult conversation, that means the conversation could carry some big and strong feelings for you, your loved one, or for both of you. Your words — and theirs — could come with some serious weight. You need to be mentally and physically prepared to talk about it and for the outcome — this could go good, bad, or somewhere in between. There are some questions that you can ask yourself… to make sure you’re ready… before the conversation begins.
Flat out ask yourself, “Am I ready to have this conversation?” You need to be able to talk about the specific conflict or incident without getting mired in the emotionality of it again.
Also ask yourself, “Am I calm enough to have this conversation?” Are you able to differentiate between your own emotions and the events that occurred? You might not be there yet! And that’s okay, but it’s important to recognize that before the difficult conversation begins because you might not be ready to talk about it.
Are you willing to seek to understand the experiences of this event outside of your own? You’ll need to be able to consider the other person’s viewpoint so if you’re still solely engrossed in your own, you may want to rethink the timing of this conversation.
Are you willing to speak from your experience without trying to persuade? Are you willing to attune to the feelings of others and what the event that you’re upset about meant to them? And are you in a position where you can be fully present for this conversation? Make sure you aren’t distracted and that your loved one has your full, undivided attention.
A majority of the time, the way a discussion starts determines the way it will end. Remember that as you mindfully begin the conversation once you’re ready. Set the tone! Be intentional with your words and be prepared for how both you and your loved one might feel during and after the conversation.
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you want to have a difficult conversation with a loved one, take a few minutes and pause. Run through some questions to make sure you’re prepared and in the right frame of mind to clearly communicate with understanding and compassion.
Acknowledge Subjective Realities
The existence of two different viewpoints doesn’t necessarily mean one person is wrong and one person is right. On this episode of Small Things Often, we explore how you can acknowledge subjective realities by sharing your feelings in a way that doesn’t make your partner feel defensive.
Today’s tip is about subjective realities.
Some things are just that — subjective. And when you’re in a conflict, it’s possible that two different viewpoints are both valid, even if it feels like “the right side” is obvious. We do want to be clear though that there are certain situations where this may not apply. The civil unrest that’s been happening in our country is an example. The existence of two different viewpoints doesn’t give anyone permission to be racist or violent.
But there are times when there’s two valid sides to a conflict. That means no one is necessarily right or wrong — because we all see things a little differently sometimes. It’s important to acknowledge both sides in these situations so you don’t deny your partner’s experience.
It’s also important to separate facts from feelings. Because feelings aren’t facts, but they do matter.
Let’s say both you and your partner are working from home right now. And today, your partner woke up on the wrong side of the bed. And you already have it in your head that they clearly have some major ‘tude as they go to close the door to your shared office. In fact, the sound of the door closing makes you jump. To you, that sound was loud and totally unexpected.
It might be natural to just blurt out, “Why did you slam the door?!” But instead of going back and forth with your partner about whether or not they really slammed the door, try acknowledging your feelings. Try saying, “I felt afraid when the door closed — it was so loud it made me jump.” Instead of, “You scared me when you slammed the door.” Do you hear the difference?
When you use an “I” statement about your feelings instead of a “you” statement, it’s more likely to make your partner feel less defensive and give them an opportunity to address your feelings. Maybe they don’t think that they slammed the door, but you think they did. No one is necessarily wrong. What’s important is that feelings on both sides exist, so they need to be heard and acknowledged.
Your partner has a right to feel however they do, even if it’s different from how you feel. And that goes both ways!
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you find yourself in a conflict, ask yourself, “Is the reality of this situation subjective?” Instead of arguing over perceived facts, acknowledge your feelings and be open to theirs.
How to Be a Better Listener
How are your listening skills? If your partner is in pain, the most loving thing you can do is to listen with empathy and understanding. On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to improve your ability to listen with compassion.
Today’s tip is about listening to your partner.
Are you a good listener? I mean, have you ever really thought about it? You should. Because it’s an incredibly important skill, especially these days when anxiety and stress are at an all-time high. Being able to really listen to your partner with a caring heart, no matter what’s on their mind, can have a huge impact on the health of your relationship.
So here’s the thing: Whether your partner needs to vent or explain or just talk — your job is to listen to their pain. And that doesn’t mean just “hearing it.” It means being totally focused on what your partner is saying, and listening with empathy and understanding. It means not being defensive or interrupting, even when your buttons are pushed. It means listening to your partner until they’re finished before you respond, or try to fix the issue, or give advice. We know. It’s not easy. It takes practice. Here’s an example.
Say your partner says they need to talk. You immediately tense up, knowing it will probably be about the small argument you had last night that escalated into a larger argument about finances. You’re already feeling defensive or hurt or angry before they even start speaking, but you can see they’re in a great amount of pain. So how do you handle it? Here’s some skills that will help you through.
First, self-soothe. While your partner is speaking to you, be sure to keep in the back of your mind how much you love and respect them. Think about the joy they bring you, the love you’ve both shared — and know that working through this issue will bring you even closer.
If you feel defensive, or the need to immediately respond, breathe deeply and relax your body. Postpone your reaction — just focus on your partner’s pain. A bit of ambiguity or discomfort on your part is to be expected. Allow for it.
Stay interested. Listen closely to the details of what your partner is saying and respond to their thoughts and feelings. Ask short, specific questions to probe deeper and show them that you’ve really heard what they’ve said. Nod and say “yes” to their thoughts to let them know that you understand. Or maybe paraphrase what they’re saying, so they know you’re listening closely.
Remember: Your listening ear is what your partner needs when hurting or struggling. Your support, your empathy, your presence will be healing. Listen fully. And then, let them know that you hear their pain — and then talk about ways to help alleviate it.
Today’s small thing: The next time your partner expresses the need to talk about their pain, listen with empathy, kindness, and understanding.
How to Take Care of Each Other By Taking Care of Ourselves
How’s your relationship going? Not the one with your partner…the one with yourself. On this episode of Small Things Often, find out why creating time and space for yourself can keep the relationship with your partner strong and healthy.
Today’s tip is about taking care of each other by taking care of ourselves.
Does this sound like you?
You love sharing your life with your partner. You’ve dreamed about a relationship like this your whole life, and feel like it’s going really well! But, lately, you’ve realized that you’ve totally forgotten about one of the most important relationships of all — the one with yourself! Creating space and time for yourself is vital to having a strong, solid relationship with your partner. In fact, the healthiest relationships involve both of you keeping your own individuality alive and well!
Because here’s the thing: Spending too much time together, being “fused at the hip” can be unhealthy, and sometimes happens when one partner feels uncomfortable about expressing their own uniqueness, and so they try to merge with their partner in everything they do. At the other extreme are couples who keep each other at arm’s length, fearing that they’ll lose their sense of self in the relationship. The key, as is with everything in life — is balance.
The happiest couples we know allow each other to have a sense of autonomy — to explore and experience the things in life that are important to them, even if it means “doing their own thing.” They encourage each other to follow their dreams. They strive not to be independent or dependent — but, rather, interdependent!
So reclaim your individual identity and recharge your batteries! And encourage your partner to do the same! If your partner says, “I’m feeling stressed. It’s a beautiful day. I think I’ll go down to the driving range and hit a few balls.” Say, “Sure! I’ll watch the kids!” Or maybe your partner excitedly tells you, “There’s auditions for the community choir tomorrow. I’d like to audition for it.” Say, “Go ahead! You have a beautiful voice.”
For yourself, choose an activity that might help you grow personally. Take a French class, join a book club, or art class. You’ll find it will help you grow personally — and make you appreciate your relationship even more. And when you come back together, you’ll be stronger for it! Think of the amazing conversations you can have sharing the wonderful personal experiences you’ve had with your partner over dinner!
Bottom line? No matter how compatible you are, no one can provide their partner with everything they need. You each sometimes need to go outside the relationship to find it. So trust each other, support each other, and celebrate the time each of you take to feed your soul.
Today’s small thing: The next time your partner expresses the desire to do something for themselves outside of the relationship, encourage them, support them, and be a cheerleader for their success.
Connecting in Crisis
While in crisis mode, it can be easy to turn away from your loved ones. On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how you can stay connected and support each other in times of uncertainty.
Today’s tip is about connecting in the midst of uncertainty.
Everyone has gone through a crisis at some point in their life. Maybe you’re even going through one right now. Everything feels untethered in a crisis. You’re overwhelmed with swells of fear, panic, anxiety, sadness, anger, or even numbness.
And that uncertainty that comes from a crisis can also test your relationship. Maybe you and your partner are spending way more time at home right now because of COVID-19, alongside your kids, all while trying to work from home. It can be a lot… so the pre-existing conflicts can be magnified.
On top of that, some couples might also be navigating a difference in emotional needs. Maybe your level of worry and anxiety isn’t matching your partner’s. Or maybe one of you needs more space and the other needs more togetherness. So you don’t drift apart, both partners need to be conscious about the decisions and choices they make in their daily interactions — and the key is understanding.
Here’s how you can find that understanding in the midst of the chaos. Have some open and honest conversations to connect with your partner. You could start with, “How are you feeling today?” But you also don’t necessarily have to start with a question. Lay your feelings out there first! You can say, “I feel this way about this thing. What about you? How do you feel about it?” If you’ve already picked up on an emotion that your partner may be feeling — let them know in a loving way! Say, “I’ve noticed you’re feeling a little this way lately. What’s going on?” Another good question to ask your partner — no matter how they’re feeling — is, “How can I make you feel loved today?”
So here’s today’s small thing: When faced with a crisis or uncertainty, lean into your relationships with your loved ones. Make an effort to connect by asking questions about how they’re feeling. Remember to share your feelings too!
Practicing Positive Needs
How are you expressing those difficult emotions that creep up from time to time? On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to transform criticisms into “positive needs” that will help you avoid conflict and arguments — and, ultimately, bring you even closer to your partner.
Today’s tip is about practicing positive needs.
Picture this: You just finished a very exhausting day at work. On the way home, there was an accident that backed up the interstate for over an hour. Then you had to pick up clothes from the cleaners, milk from the grocery, and Bitsy the Bulldog from the groomer. And, finally, you’re home! You walk through the door, and find more chaos. Your partner is going through the finances, and has questions about the cable bill, your daughter wants you to help with her complicated math homework, and your son is banging on the piano, begging to show you what he learned in music class. You try to hold back your emotions, but instead, they explode all over the room, as you shout: “Please! I need everyone to stop bothering me for JUST ONE MINUTE!! Let me breathe!” Suddenly, everyone in the room goes silent. Your partner looks stunned and your kids look hurt. And now, your day has become much worse. You feel awful.
We know, we get it, you were totally overwhelmed — and your response came out of a moment of total frustration. But was there a better way to express your desire for some down time? You betcha. By expressing your “positive need.” What does that mean? Simply this: A “positive need” is something you would like to happen — as opposed to a “negative need” which is what you would like to stop.
So what could you have said differently after walking into your house? Instead of negatively saying “I need everyone to stop bothering me.” You could have said positively, “I would like some quiet time to myself.” Hear the difference? We can pretty much guarantee that your partner would have understood and, hopefully, given you the space you needed.
Another great thing about expressing positive needs is that it informs your partner exactly how they can shine for you! Here’s another example…
Your partner has been distracted with work issues for the last couple of days, and even though you know why they’re a bit distant, you’re feeling insecure and lonely. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation, when their attention seemed to drift, you blurt out, “Stop ignoring me!” Not only have you negatively stated this as something you want to stop — but it could also be the start of an argument if your partner gets defensive or perceives it as criticism. So instead, dig deep down and figure out what it is you really want to happen. Is it reassurance and affection? If so, say “I want a hug.” Then get your hug. And feel better.
But remember! Just because you express a need or want doesn’t necessarily mean that you should expect to receive it. The point is to get more comfortable and acquainted with what you want — and to feel safe expressing it.
But if telling your partner what you want is a challenge to you, practice expressing positive needs or wants on your own — like “I want a glass of water” or “I want to wear pajamas all day.” Say them out loud to yourself. Pretty soon, it will become second nature — and you’ll be more easily able to express your feelings positively when they come up.
Today’s small thing: Next time you feel as if you’re about to burst, stop, think, and then transform your negative thought into a “positive need.” Your positivity will help build a relationship of love and trust — and get your needs met, to boot!
Good Enough Relationship
What is a “good enough” relationship? It’s likely not what you think. In this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain how a good enough relationship can help you set healthy expectations.
Today’s tip is about building a “good enough” relationship.
When you picture the perfect relationship in your head, you probably think it’s just that. Perfect. But, that’s not realistic. That’s not life! Every couple has problems. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows.
That’s why we encourage couples to strive for the “good enough” relationship. Before we go any further, we need to clarify. It might sound like that’s another way of saying “settle for less than what you deserve”, or “take what you can get,” but that’s not it AT ALL. It doesn’t mean you should settle for being treated without respect. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to continually grow in your relationship.
So what does it mean to be in a good enough relationship? It’s a healthy and respectful relationship, not a perfect one — since those don’t really exist. So don’t expect perfection, but you and your partner should have high expectations for how you’re treated. You both expect to be treated with kindness, love, affection, and respect. You don’t and should not tolerate emotional or physical abuse. You expect each other to be loyal.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t argue with your partner. Even happily married couples argue. Conflict is healthy because it leads to greater understanding.
Couples in good enough relationships aren’t afraid of conflict and they can manage it constructively. They know things can and will get tough. They have the tools to not only handle it, but even grow from it. That means arriving at a mutual understanding and getting to compromises that work. And they can repair effectively when they hurt one another. They’re also good friends. They have a satisfying sex life. They trust one another and are fully committed to one another.
They honor each other’s dreams, even if they’re different. They create a shared meaning system with shared values and ethics, beliefs, rituals, and goals. They can compromise about fundamental symbols like what a home is, what love is, and how to raise their children.
You should expect all of this because you deserve it! Know that it’s not unreasonable and that a good enough relationship is achievable.
So here’s today’s small thing: Don’t strive for perfection in your relationship! Look for ways to build a good enough relationship and set healthy expectations.
How much fun have you had with your partner today? Yesterday? Last month? If playful moments are lacking in your relationship, listen to this episode of Small Things Often, and hear why moments of joy are so important — and learn how to consciously create some in your life!
Today’s tip is about finding joy.
So, congratulations! You and your partner have both been working hard on your relationship! You’ve managed most conflicts that have come up, expressed empathy when needed, and dealt with difficult emotions. You’ve realized the best relationships require you to be intentional, mindful, thoughtful and respectful. But here’s another important ingredient every good relationship needs. JOY. Hmmm. How’s that going?
Think about it. When was the last time you and your partner had fun with each other? Were playful? Silly? Lovingly teased each other, or laughed so hard, you could hardly breathe? If you’ve had one of these moments lately, you know that having fun together is a wonderful way to connect, and give a bit of relief from life’s more serious issues — especially these days. But if you’re finding that these moments don’t come easily or often, it’s time to consciously create some yourself. How?
Start by thinking with a child’s mind! Find excitement and fun in everyday moments. Is it a beautiful evening? Get a blanket, go in the backyard, lie on your backs, and gaze at the stars. Or on a hot afternoon, spray each other with a garden hose until you’re both soaking wet. Or have a two-person dance party in your living room. Or maybe have breakfast in bed — and then stay there for the rest of the day, watching movies, or just enjoying each other’s company.
And while you’re at it, create some activities outside of the house to enjoy together, too. Maybe go on a long meandering road trip on small country roads, have lunch at a local café, and strike up conversations with total strangers. Or take turns surprising each other with special date nights, leaving clues during the week to create some excitement and suspense. Or maybe even learn something new from YouTube! Cooking? Pottery? Sign Language? Use your imagination. The possibilities are endless.
The point is, if you embrace playfulness and fun, you’ll be creating memories and positive experiences that will bind you even more closely together — and will last a lifetime.
Today’s small thing: Ask your partner “what brought you joy today?” If they have to think about it, it’s time to create some joyful moments together.
Redefining Individuality and Togetherness
Are you and your partner spending so much time together that you’re beginning to think you’re losing your individuality and sense of self? On this episode of Small Things Often learn how to balance your relationship between togetherness and separateness.
Today’s tip is about grieving your old routines.
Ah, remember the good old days…just a few short months ago? COVID-19 has certainly turned our world upside down. Where once you were spending much of your day out in the world as an “individual,” now, you are part of a 24/7 “couple”. And wasn’t it sort of comforting at first —working in your sweats at home, always having your partner right there in the next room if you had a question, something funny to share, or just needed to chat? But, if you’re like most couples, after a while, the novelty began to wear off, and all that togetherness suddenly became overwhelming. And you realize that 24/7 was not only putting a strain on your relationship, but that you began to lose your individuality as well — missing your old routines — and your former self.
But here’s the thing: There doesn’t need to be a pandemic to feel these feelings or have these issues. Couples in long-term committed relationships face similar challenges. So how do you navigate your desires for individuality versus togetherness? How do you deal with longings of security and family, while also yearning for individuality? Well, grab a pencil and jot this down, because we’re going to give you some strategies to help you do just that!
Our first suggestion: Talk to your partner and set specific boundaries around time spent with one another. If you’re both working at home, you may prefer to be alone all day during working hours, while your partner likes to check in every hour or so. So discuss what you each need, and then create compromises. Perhaps take a break together during the day, and share a list of items you want to talk about.
Also: Have a stress-reducing conversation! Give your partner 15 minutes to complain about their day, then switch! But you need to follow the rules: The stresses must be about issues outside your relationship. Also, don’t judge your partner’s issues. When listening, validate and empathize — but do not try to problem solve. You’re there to listen. Want more detailed info about the stress-reducing conversation? Listen to our last episode of Small Things Often, which is all about this subject!
Another strategy: Strengthen your relationship with yourself. Find time to meditate and ask yourself important questions like: Who am I as an individual? Who do I want to be? What are my personal dreams? Then listen to your heart. Because the answers to those questions will guide you to projects or interests that will make you happy and fulfilled as an individual — and feed your soul.
Next: Use your imagination to create some fun at home: Dress up each morning to go to work, even if you’re going to your computer down the hall. Plan a candlelight dinner for two, cooking your partner’s favorite meal. Or maybe write a love letter to your partner telling them all the reasons you fell in love with them. Be creative! The possibilities are endless.
And finally: Carve out some time with your partner to discuss both your individual and shared goals and dreams —and then support one another in making each of those a reality. Ask each other “big” life questions, and spend some time discussing how you want to grow as individuals AND as a couple.
Today’s small thing: Ask your partner how they’re feeling about the time you spend together versus apart. Then figure out a plan to balance your relationship between togetherness and separateness. Be part of a loving couple, but keep your individuality, too!
Are you really listening to your partner? On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to engage in a stress-reducing conversation that can positively impact your relationship by strengthening your mutual love and trust.
Today’s tip is about stress-reducing conversations.
“How was your day, hon?” I’m sure you’ve said that to your partner, or they’ve said it to you a million times as you’ve walked through the door at the end of the day. But, do you really mean it? Do you really want to know? And when your partner responds, do you really hear them? Or is their voice just white noise in the background as you scroll through the messages on your phone, or start to make dinner, or scan your kid’s homework assignment?
If this is you, take heart. It’s the typical scenario in lots of homes. But you can connect at the end of a long day with what we call a stress-reducing conversation — where you “actively listen” to your partner about their day by giving them your absolute undivided attention. And this means not just “hearing,” them, but truly listening with empathy and non-judgment. But remember, this conversation is only about stress outside of your relationship. It’s not the time to talk about any lingering conflict between the two of you. The goal is to show support for each other in other areas of your lives, so the stress doesn’t spill over into your personal relationship. Here are some quick tips:
Take turns complaining, with one of you as the “speaker” and the other one as the “listener.” Give your partner 15 minutes to complain about anything that happened during their day —as long as it’s not about your relationship or each other — and then switch. But do NOT give advice. Understanding must come first. Advice can follow later.
Stay focused! Don’t let your eyes wander over to the kids, or your mind drift to that crossword puzzle clue you still can’t get. Stay laser-focused on your partner — and show genuine interest.
Be supportive and understanding even if you think their perspective on something that happened during the day might be a bit unreasonable or not what you would have done in the same situation. Always be on their side and empathize with what they’re saying. Reinforce that you are in this together, and are a united team!
Also, don’t forget to express physical affection by putting your hand on their arm, giving them a hug, or saying “I love you.”
And finally, and very importantly — validate their emotions. Tell them, in no uncertain terms, that their feelings make sense to you.
And here’s a bonus! By having a stress-reducing conversation, not only will your emotional attraction become stronger — but it will impact your physical attraction as well.
Today’s small thing: Take the time tonight to ask your partner how their day went and really pay attention to what they have to say. Listen, respect, and validate your partner’s perspective.
Small Repairs That Have Big Impact
Every couple argues. But the ones who survive and thrive have learned how to repair quickly and often. What does that mean? Tune into this episode of Small Things Often and find out why it’s so important to repair conflicts as they occur.
Today’s tip is about small repairs.
Have you ever gotten a little paper cut? At first, you think it’s so minor, so you ignore it. Yes, it’s a little bit of an annoyance but not big enough of a deal to do anything special. But then, after a few days, it gets worse and worse, and it becomes so painful that it’s interfering in your everyday life and it’s all you can think about — so you finally treat it — and it actually heals.
It’s the very same with relationships. Small disagreements and minor arguments left unaddressed can linger with you or your partner for days, weeks, months – maybe even years. And just like that tiny cut on your hand, unless you resolve it and get the wound treated, it will fester and grow, and negatively impact your relationship. So how do you heal it? How can you calm and dissipate hurt feelings? The answer? Through repair.
Research shows that the happiest couples repair unresolved conflicts as they occur — and make a point of doing it early and often. They never let arguments — whether large or small — go too long without sitting down, listening to each other’s point of view — and repairing any emotional injuries. Because no matter how wonderful your relationship is, you will at one time or another have arguments where you get critical and defensive, say mean things to each other, or stonewall, by storming out of the room and becoming withdrawn or silent.
Say your partner has a habit of always leaving the towel on the floor after they shower. It’s a little thing, you realize, but it bugs the hell out of you. You’ve tried mentioning it, but they still do it over and over — and now every time you see their towel on the floor, you become so exasperated, you can barely speak to them. And by the time you do say something, it sounds so silly, angrily complaining about a towel… that your partner becomes irritated and defensive and lashes right back at you.
So how do you begin to repair and heal this disagreement that’s blown totally out of proportion? First, talk about it as soon as you can. You need to be calm before you repair. Then, admit responsibility for your part in the conflict. Don’t make excuses or explanations for your behavior, but instead reassure your partner of your love for them and that you understand their feelings. Open up. Be vulnerable. Express yourself, discuss what you’re feeling, and listen to your partner’s response and point of view. The whole goal is to openly talk and listen to each other — and then, together, try to understand what led to the argument in the first place.
And here’s the good news: Every single conflict, no matter how large or small, offers an opportunity for a deeper understanding of each other. It’s not easy. It requires a commitment from both partners. But if you repair often, the rewards are huge.
Today’s small thing: The next time you have a misunderstanding or argument with your partner, don’t let it slide until it becomes a painful memory that negatively impacts your relationship. Instead, stop and repair. Do this early and often and watch your relationship deepen and flourish.
You Don’t Need to Cheer Up Your Partner
When your partner feels down, is your first instinct to cheer them up? If so, take a step back, because there’s a better choice. On this episode of Small Things Often, we offer advice on the best ways to respond to your partner when they’re dealing with negative emotions.
Today’s tip is about NOT cheering your partner up.
Yes, you heard us correctly. We know that if your partner is upset for any reason, your first impulse is to fix, to care for, to make it better — To get rid of any negative emotions they may be feeling. BUT before you do…STOP. Because sometimes that’s not what they need at all. Really? Yes. Here’s an example.
Say your partner just told you that the promotion that they were positive they were going to receive went to someone else. They’re filled with emotions: from anger to hurt to disappointment to sadness. They begin telling you everything about it, and immediately you chime in to say “Don’t be sad, they’re a bunch of idiots!” It’s a natural response, we know, to try to neutralize or fix your partner’s feelings when you see them in such emotional pain. But it’s probably not what they need from you at this moment. What they do need is empathy. And that’s tricky. Because empathy isn’t about lifting your partner’s spirits or “fixing” their problem, it’s about validating their emotions.
So how do you do this? First: LISTEN to them. REALLY listen. Offer words of understanding and support instead of offering advice. Don’t try to cheer them up or problem-solve. It’s not your responsibility to alleviate their pain, even though sometimes it may feel like it. Instead, allow them to feel what they need to feel and validate those emotions. For instance, if they say they are incredibly angry, you might reply, “I understand. I would be so angry, too!” Or if your partner expresses hurt over losing the promotion, you might say, “I can totally see why you’re feeling that way.” Then, ask questions, like, “Is there more to this?” If there’s more emotion buried underneath the surface, this question may open up more feelings and thoughts they need to express. And remember, there isn’t a law against eventually giving advice or helping to problem-solve, but wait until you’ve allowed your partner to fully express themselves and process their feelings before you do. And only offer advice if it’s solicited! It’s even okay to ask your partner “are you looking for advice on this?”
Today’s small thing: The next time your partner is feeling a strong emotion such as sadness, anger or fear, don’t try to cheer them up. Instead, listen to them, care for them, validate their feelings, and love them.
Do your feelings get hurt easily in your relationship — even in small, trivial matters? On this episode of Small Things Often, find out why this happens — and how to manage and repair these hurtful moments with your partner.
Today’s tip is about hurt feelings.
Here’s what you need to know: They happen to everyone — but for totally different reasons. And here’s another revelation: Hurt feelings do not mean you OR your partner did something wrong. No one needs to be “blamed” because it’s not anyone’s fault. What a relief, right? See if you relate to this scenario….
It’s the middle of the afternoon, and you realize you’re hungry. You start rummaging through the kitchen for something that will satisfy you. Ice cream, nope. Fruit, nope. Ah, but there’s some cheese and tortillas, and a quesadilla sounds perfect! You take them out, and suddenly your partner comes in and says, “Hey, what are you doing? Please don’t eat that! I need those for dinner!” You suddenly feel hurt, put the stuff back in the fridge, and say angrily to your partner, “Sorry!” then leave the room. Was there anything wrong with your partner’s request? Of course not. Is there anything wrong with your reaction? Nope. The reason you reacted this way might be that it triggered a sensitivity you have. A feeling from the past that sticks with you. A memory of a feeling— perhaps being scolded by your strict parents as a small child, and feeling embarrassment and shame — as if you’ve done something terribly wrong.
But here’s the thing. We ALL have triggers. Think of them as vulnerabilities from your past that seep into your present. It’s normal to have them. But when they occur, and you get hurt and lash out, your partner, who has no idea why you’re upset, may get hurt also.
So what do you do to get back on track? REPAIR. Sit down with your partner and have a recovery conversation. Open up and tell them about your trigger — that you got embarrassed by their offhanded remark, and suddenly felt you had done something horribly wrong by wanting to eat the quesadilla. Hopefully, your partner will respond positively and understand why you reacted the way you did and why you were hurt. And most importantly, they will remember your triggers, respect them, and be sensitive to them in the future.
Some of your triggers may seem trivial. But they’re not. Your feelings matter. And it’s the way couples manage their individual feelings together that makes all the difference.
Today’s small thing: Think of moments in your own relationship with your partner that have spurred hurt feelings. Recognize where they come from — and commit to sharing those feelings with your partner when conflict occurs.
Attunement Through Awareness
One of our deepest needs is for our partner to “know” us — to be truly attuned to us. On this episode of Small Things Often, discover how awareness will help you open up during a conflict —let your partner know what is going on inside — and become more emotionally connected.
Today’s tip is about attunement through awareness.
Remember when you were a little kid and played “Hide and Seek”? Hiding in the closet or under the bed was fun, right? But the best part of the game was being FOUND. Now that you’re an adult, has that changed? Think about it. Because the thing is, one of our deepest needs is for our partners to “find” us — to understand us — to “know” us— to be truly attuned to us and be responsive and aware of who we are and what we are feeling. But sometimes it’s not so easy. Because to get to that place, you need to gather up the courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable — to open up and let your partner know what’s going on inside. And this all begins by speaking with awareness. Here’s an example:
Say you’re in the middle of an argument, when suddenly, your partner shuts down, and leaves the room. And there you are, standing alone in the bedroom, angry and scared and about to burst. Your first impulse is to blame, attack and scream, “You are so mean! I can’t believe you walked out on me!” But there is another way. And it involves revealing yourself and your true authentic feelings in the moment of conflict. So instead of attacking, you take a deep breath, open yourself up, and gently say, “I feel afraid when you turn your back on me in the middle of an argument. My fear is that you’ll leave me. How can I bring up a conflict so we can work it out together?”
Mhhhm, see? That personal revelation now opens the door for attunement— and hopefully you both begin to feel more emotionally connected. You’ve chosen your words carefully — and not attacked or blamed your partner. And when your partner senses that, they’re not only more willing to understand your feelings and needs, but they may be encouraged to open up about their own.
Speaking with awareness is a skill you can develop to help you attune during conflict. Here’s 3 things to keep in mind:
First, when speaking to your partner, use “I” statements. This will convey how YOU feel, as in, “I feel sad.” “I feel fearful”. “I feel lonely.” Using the word “you” may come off as an attack to your partner such as, “You always do this!” or “You never put me first.” Using the softer “I” approach will allow your partner to listen instead of reacting defensively.
Also, during an argument or discussion, only focus on ONE issue. If you bring in all your relationship problems at the same time, you’ll probably solve none of them.
And finally, know your partner’s triggers, and protect them. Your partner has “raw spots” or baggage from their past, just like you do. So be careful. During a conflict, use compassion, and work around them. Build your relationship on trust.
Today’s small thing: The next time you are in an argument with your partner, don’t attack, but instead open up, show your vulnerability — and attune with the skill of awareness.
What Is a Bid for Connection?
Knowing when your loved one is trying to connect with you isn’t always intuitive. On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain why you need to know your bids for connection and take you through the different types of bids so you can create healthy interactions in your relationship.
Today’s tip is about knowing what bids for connection look like.
A bid is an attempt that a person makes to connect with someone. Bids may be feelings, observations, opinions, or invitations. It could be verbal or nonverbal, physical, sexual, intellectual, humorous, serious… or in the form of a question or statement. These ALL qualify as a “bid” for connection. But some bids aren’t obvious… so it’s important to know your bids. If you’re able to recognize them, you’ll be able to respond to your partner’s bids in healthy ways and create a healthy pattern of interactions in your relationship!
So let’s go through the different kinds of bids. Some verbal bids might be a little more recognizable. It could sound like, “Hey! Do you want to go get drinks sometime this week?” Or something like, “Could you ask your friends if they know a good auto-mechanic?” It could even be a statement like, “That dog is cute.”
Now these next bids can also be subtle — because they’re nonverbal. It could be affectionate touching — even a high five counts… or something a little more intimate, like a hug or a kiss! Sure, these things are kind and sweet. But it could mean more than that. It could be an attempt to connect! Another nonverbal bid could be a facial expression like a smile or blowing a kiss… or more playful like sticking out your tongue. There’s also playful touching such as tickling or dancing — and affiliating gestures like opening a door, offering a place to sit, or handing over a utensil. Yep. Even passing a fork. And then there’s vocalizing bids… without actually being verbal… that means laughing, sighing, or a well-timed “mmhmm”— in a way that invites interaction or interest.
No matter what the bid looks like, it’s important to recognize that an attempt to connect is being made. It may not be glaringly obvious — so be tuned into the ways in which your partner or loved one may be bidding for connection.
So here’s today’s small thing: Lean into the interactions with your loved ones. Is a hug, just a hug? Or is your partner really trying to connect? Be open to receiving their bid for connection.
You’re smart — of course — but are you emotionally intelligent? In this episode of Small Things Often, how you can use emotion coaching in your relationship to connect with your partner by becoming more emotionally intelligent.
Today’s tip is about emotion coaching.
Emotion coaching probably isn’t what you’re envisioning in your head though. Do you picture someone on the sidelines telling you how to feel? That’s not it! It’s about understanding and regulating emotions. Emotion coaching is typically for parents to do with their kids, but the concepts explored in emotion coaching are really beneficial to adults as well.
By being mindful of each other’s feelings, you can use emotion coaching in your relationship to become more emotionally intelligent. What does that mean? Emotional intelligence is emotional self-control and mindfulness of others. Which may mean that, if you have a higher degree of emotional intelligence, you’ll be more able to keep your temper under control if you’re faced with a frustrating or angering situation.
So where do you begin? There are 5 essential steps of emotion coaching. Let’s start with the first. Be aware of your partner’s emotion. Recognize that they’re feeling a certain way — whether it’s good or bad.
Then, recognize your partner’s expression of emotion as a perfect moment for intimacy. Lean into it. Did you just notice that your partner is really mad? Don’t back out of the driveway and run away from it. Look at it as an opportunity to connect.
This next step is big! Listen with empathy and validate your partner’s feelings. When your partner is upset, whether at you or at someone else, empathizing with them and validating what they say will help you successfully navigate conflict. But, it’s easier said than done — we know!
Now… if you notice that your partner is struggling with how they’re feeling, help them label their emotions with words. Ask, “What are you feeling?” Let them express their emotions — and be present in that moment! Sometimes all you need to do is just listen.
And for the final step, set limits when you are helping your partner solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately. Consider setting a time limit on these conversations, which could sometimes last for hours. A time limit could keep you both engaged — and keep either of you from becoming preoccupied over when the conversation will end.
Taking these steps can help you become aware of your partner’s feelings — and of your own — and help unpack those sometimes difficult emotions.
So here’s today’s small thing: Show your loved one respect and understanding in moments when they feel misunderstood, upset, or frustrated. Talk through their feelings with them and try to understand their source.
Under Stress, We All Regress
Do you communicate differently when you’re stressed? You’re not alone! In this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll show you why under stress, we all regress, and what you can do to keep your relationship strong.
Today’s tip is about keeping your relationship strong while dealing with stress.
Life can be stressful. We ALL can feel a little on edge sometimes and that can have an effect on your relationships!
Let’s say you’ve been working through some issues with your partner. You’ve both made a big effort to repair past issues, to be more self-aware, to connect with each other, and to communicate. You’re seeing big, positive changes! But then in life, things start hitting the fan — things that don’t have anything to do with your relationship… until they do. Why? Because under stress, we all regress. Stressful conditions can activate trauma triggers — sometimes causing us to fall back into our old coping mechanisms.
All that time you spent, working on not snapping at your partner might seem like it was just flushed down the toilet. And suddenly, your sharp tongue is back and you’re quickly triggered… over things that you’ve learned to talk calmly about, but when you’re stressed out “calm” can be difficult. Or maybe you don’t use harsh words, but once again you started giving your partner the silent treatment instead of letting them in. Maybe you’ve battled years of curling up into your shell as a way to cope — and when you find yourself in a really stressful situation, curling up once again can be an automatic reaction. Because maybe it’s what you learned to do… until you learned a healthier way to cope.
So how do you get back to that healthy place — for both you and your relationship? First of all, don’t feel like your hard work was wasted. It’s not! Setbacks don’t mean failure! Once you’re able to attune to yourself and self-soothe, your stronger, wiser self will likely return. And when you get back to a good place, intentionally turn toward your partner with warm kindness, instead of anxiety and contempt.
Life can feel uncertain. At some point, we’ll all be triggered in some ways — shutting down, fleeing, getting angry and reactive. But remember to also lean into the opportunities for growth individually and together.
Today’s small thing: When you notice that your partner is stressed, check-in with them to see how you can help. Try asking, “What do you feel?” Or, “What do you need?” Let them know that you’re there for support — even if that means just giving them some space.
Understanding Your Feelings
Difficult emotions can be difficult to truly understand! On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re putting those emotions through the Feeling Wheel — and you can too by printing your own here.
Today’s tip is about understanding difficult emotions.
We’ve all experienced hardships. Things that make us angry, confused, fearful, lonely, or sad. Most of us can’t just snap our fingers and snap out of it — even though at times we may want to run away from these feelings and “fix it” instead of understanding it. Sometimes these emotions feel so big and overwhelming and blunt. I’m sad. Period. I am sad. But there’s so many layers to your feelings!
You can deal with these feelings by practicing mindfulness. What’s the benefit? It enables you to calm down and soothe yourself. When you’re calm, you have space to reflect and thoughtfully respond, rather than react.
In Season 1 of Small Things Often, we talked you through the 6 steps that can help you understand and deal with your difficult emotions in a mindful way. So today, we’re taking it a step further because the more you lean into these emotions, the more you understand what is fueling them and how to address them.
That brings us to the Feeling Wheel. It’s a tool developed by Gloria Wilcox that can help investigate feelings related to what you’re feeling — and maybe you’ll connect with a different emotion that could be the root cause.
The Feeling Wheel has different rings. So say you’re feeling sad. Some of the emotions on the outer rings of “sad” are guilty, ashamed, depressed, lonely, and bored. Are any of those resonating with you when you’re feeling sad?
This tool is also a great visual so you can see the opposite of what you’re feeling — to see how you could turn it around! Across from “sad” on the Feeling Wheel, is “joyful” — and maybe for you, that means being playful, energetic, or excited! How can you transform your feelings of sadness to become joyful?
The Feeling Wheel can help increase your emotional intelligence and awareness. You can actually download and print out your own Feeling Wheel! Just go to gottman.com/blog/printable-feeling-wheel.
So here’s today’s small thing: When you find yourself feeling a difficult emotion, turn to the Feeling Wheel! Practice identifying and acknowledging the emotion to mindfully work through it in a healthy way.
Mindfulness and Awareness
How can mindfulness transform your relationship? On this episode of Small Things Often” learn why staying in the present moment — being aware of your thoughts and emotions, without going on auto-pilot — can increase your sense of happiness, love, and trust.
Today’s tip is about strengthening relationships through mindfulness.
“Wait a minute” you’re probably thinking “Isn’t the practice of mindfulness mainly for MY benefit? How does it impact my relationship?” The answer? Enormously. And here’s why: Mindfulness is about compassion, and non-judgmental awareness — all qualities that are essential in an intimate, loving partnership. Not only will mindfulness improve your relationship in times of happiness, but also when times are tough. Because by being aware of what you’re feeling in highly emotional times, you can break habitual negative thoughts and behaviors you might have hanging around. Here’s an example…
Say you’re in the middle of an argument with your partner. Emotions are running high. Words are exchanged, the tension escalates, and suddenly you find yourself on auto-pilot, blurting out things that are so hurtful, or maybe things that you don’t even mean. This is where mindfulness comes in. Instead of reacting and arguing and blurting….STOP! Take a few deep breaths — and bring yourself back to the present moment. Ahhhh. Then turn towards your partner instead of away. What’s the difference? Turning away involves anger, criticism or defensiveness — while turning towards can create increased levels of positivity and warmth between the two of you. Now that you’ve shifted your awareness, you can express yourself in a new and loving way. This doesn’t mean you deny your feelings — you just express them in a softer way — and then open a thoughtful discussion of what is REALLY going on in the present moment.
Another way of practicing mindfulness during a tense situation is to create space between yourself and your strong emotion. This means removing the “I” word from your thoughts such as “I am furious” and simply realizing, instead, that you’re experiencing “anger.” If your partner is the one who is feeling anger, don’t react negatively. Instead, encourage them to come back to the present moment with you, become aware of what they’re feeling, and express what is there.
If both you and your partner practice mindfulness and present moment awareness, it can transform your relationship. Not only will it increase your sense of appreciation for each other, but it will lower stress levels as well. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to break old habits. So be compassionate and supportive of each other as you navigate your way to a whole new way of thinking. You won’t regret it.
Today’s small thing: Aim to be mindful in all your interactions with your partner. If emotions run high, take yourself off auto-pilot, and back to the present moment.
Flooding and Overwhelm
Have you had an argument with your partner lately, where you totally lost it because you were overwhelmed with feelings of anger, fear, or hurt? If so, this episode of Small Things Often is for you! Discover why this happens — and how to calm yourself when these feelings arise.
Today’s tip is about flooding and feeling overwhelmed.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re in the middle of a discussion with your partner. Things become a bit heated, but still calm. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, they say something that triggers you — and suddenly you’re having an out-of-body experience. Your breath gets short, and you start to tremble. Or maybe your heart feels like it’s pounding out of your chest, and tears start rolling down your cheeks. You try to focus, but oh, my God, how can you? Your mind is overwhelmed with rage or hurt or panic or fear —and now you’re saying things to your partner that are hurtful and maybe even have nothing to do with the subject you were discussing! You’re wildly lashing out — defending yourself and attacking them — and you don’t know why — or how to stop it.
What’s happening to you? Well, actually it’s a response that’s as old as existence itself. When human beings face conflict or danger, an alarm goes off in the body called the “fight-or-flight or freeze” response, and a physiological reaction takes place. Adrenaline levels begin to soar and flood the body until it’s in a heightened state — enabling you to quickly react to life-threatening situations. In primitive times, this action could have occurred because a bear was chasing you. In today’s world, it could be because your partner criticized your house-cleaning abilities. But whatever the reason, your body still responds to stressors as though that bear is chasing you!
By this time you may have stormed out of the room, shut down the conversation, and started giving your partner the silent treatment. Or maybe you’re still standing in the middle of the kitchen, lashing out. Either way, this is not productive, and only prolongs the conflict. So how do you get back on track? Here are a few suggestions…
Make a commitment to yourself that the next time you feel flooded or overwhelmed, you’ll try to self-soothe on the spot. Calm your body by focusing on your breath, relaxing tense muscles, or imagining a place that makes you feel calm and safe. Any one of these can help stop you from spiraling out of control.
Or maybe picture your partner in a moment of love, kindness, and generosity. This will help you remember the good part of your relationship — and you’ll be less likely to blindly react to the situation.
You can also hit the “pause” button! Let the storm pass! Reassure yourself that you will be fine if you wait for the adrenaline levels and flooding to decrease.
Another suggestion? Use imagery — like a spinning wheel becoming slower and slower, till it finally comes to a stop. As your thoughts slow, your nervous system will, too.
And if you’ve been in this situation with your partner before, make a plan that if either of you become flooded during a conflict again, that you’ll take a time out — at least 20 minutes. Then use the time to self-soothe. When you’re both calm, continue the conversation. If “I’m sorry” is appropriate, say it! But don’t wait too long to solve the conflict! 24 hours tops!
Today’s small thing: Now that you know the cause of the physiological sensations of flooding and overwhelm, take the time to plan how you’ll deal with these feelings the next time they arise. Awareness is the first step! You can do it!
Say What You Need
Cut the criticism and say what you need! This episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute shares tips about how to communicate positive needs in your relationship instead of playing the blame game.
Today’s tip is about saying what you need.
Sounds simple, right? But communicating what you need to a loved one, doesn’t always come out the way you intended it to. Let’s say you just got into a heated argument with your partner. They accused you of working too much and not making them enough of a priority. And as they’re talking, all you can think about is everything that they’re doing wrong in this situation. Maybe their approach was horrible and the timing is awful, and their whole way about it made you just feel bad. But this is where you need to shift perspectives. Instead of saying what your partner is doing wrong, talk about what you need — to make things better.
That means avoiding criticism and blame. You can do that by talking about your feelings using “I” statements. Like, “I feel this emotion.” And express a positive need, by saying “I need this from you.”
By using that language, you’re expressing what you need — and not what you don’t need. It’s saying “I need you to support me” instead of “I don’t need you to tell me what to do.” Hear the difference? The latter is much more negative.
Here’s the silver lining! Within every negative feeling, there’s a longing, a wish, or a need. So communicate what that is! It’s your recipe for success so your loved ones can fulfill your needs in the relationship. We’re willing to bet, you’ll want to return the favor.
It’s a small thing that you can do often to make a big difference. Small Things Often isn’t just the name of this series. It’s our mantra! Always make time to do Small Things Often to deepen and enhance your relationships. Not just with your partner, but with anyone you love! Tools like the ones we’ve given you in this series can help navigate a course of action that can encourage healthy, positive communication.
We’re leaving you with today’s small thing: What is one thing that you need right now in one of your relationships? Express it to them in a positive way!
Thanks for listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute — helping you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships. Please let us know what you think of this series in reviews on Spotify and iTunes. Tell us what resonated with you, what topics you’d like for us to cover, and what you want more of!
What Does Compatibility Really Mean?
Do you think in order to be compatible with your partner you have to share certain interests, values or goals? Think again. On this Episode of Small Things Often, we explore what it truly means to be compatible.
Today’s tip is about compatibility.
Oh, my God. You are over the moon! You think you’ve found the love of your life. You met them through a dating site that asked you a million questions about your likes and dislikes, your interests, values, and goals —and after a bunch of horrible first dates, you’ve finally found your perfect match! They take hot yoga three times a week – just like you do – they love long meandering road trips to nowhere – just like you do – and they’re even into extreme couponing! I mean, come on! How many people are into that? I mean, you’re so compatible?! Right?
Okay, whoa whoa…
Sure! It’s important to get a sense of common interests, values, and goals in relationships…but it’s not the only thing that determines if you click with someone. Research shows that the true indicators of compatibility are related to emotional intelligence —our ability to control and express our emotions, as well as to handle our relationships with empathy.
So rather than finding someone who is “just like you,” look for someone with “relationship aptitude.” Someone who shows respect for you both in the way they communicate – and in their actions. And at the same time, they’re able to let you know what their own needs are – but they deeply care about yours, too. And, very importantly, they’re able to sustain intimacy and trust.
So enjoy your long rides, your hot yoga classes, and extreme couponing together. But don’t forget to treat each other with respect, validation, and kindness. That’s what leads to true compatibility.
Today’s small thing: Take a look at your own life and find ways you can improve your relationship aptitude — and really appreciate the good things you share in your relationship.
The Grass is Greener Where You Water it
We’re getting the negativity out of your relationship! In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’re shifting perspectives to prove the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Today’s tip is about perspective.
You know that saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side”? Well, spoiler alert. It’s not true. At. All. At least, when it comes to your relationships.
When your relationship is in a bad place, it can be easy to dream or fantasize about what life would be like… being in another relationship with someone else…and how different your life could be with this new partner. Maybe their parents would like spending time with you… Or maybe you would be able to travel more… It’s easy to get carried away with how things could be better or different or perfect with a new person because we realize real relationships aren’t perfect.
But instead of wondering what could be better, take a deep breath, and do the opposite! View your relationship with rose-colored glasses. Pour as much positivity into your relationship as you can. It helps to form what we call, the positive perspective. Does your spouse make you laugh until your face hurts? Does your friend give the best advice? Remember these moments! Cherish your loved one and what you both have together. When you have that mindset, it’s much easier to deal with any negativity in your relationship.
With that said, just because you have rose-colored glasses on… it doesn’t mean that everything is going to be roses, rainbows, and butterflies, or whatever. Obviously, there will still be bumps in the road. But if you remind yourself about the good things in your relationship, you won’t be as hung up on the tough stuff.
Remember, the grass isn’t greener somewhere else. The grass is greener where you water it.
Here’s today’s small thing: Make a list of the positive things — all of the things that you love — about your relationship with a loved one. And then share it with them!
Change the Metric
How do you measure success in your relationship? If your goal is perfection, you’re setting yourself up for heartache. In this episode of Small Things Often, find out how the happiest relationships measure their success.
Today’s tip is about changing your relationship’s success metric. What does that mean?
Simply this: How do you measure success in your relationship? Are you and your partner the type of people that expect perfection – no arguments, no conflict, no problems, no mistakes, just living a perfectly serene life, stress-free day after stress-free day? Well, then you might as well be a robot. No, I take that back. Even Siri and Alexa make mistakes sometimes. I mean, ever punch in a location on your smartphone for that new French restaurant you’ve been dying to try— and ended up at a weird karaoke bar on the other side of town? It happens. But I digress.
Point is – if you expect perfection of your partner and your relationship, you’re bound to be disappointed. Because nobody – and no relationship — can live up to that ideal. Not to say that you shouldn’t maintain high expectations for how you’re treated — but, otherwise, you may want to change the metric for your relationship’s success. How? Instead of striving for it to be perfect and conflict-free – measure your success by asking yourself these questions:
Was I kind to my partner today?
Did we treat each other with respect?
Can we trust each other?
Are we friends?
Were we able to repair any conflict that arose?
Answering “yes” to these simple, but really, really important questions are the best indicators of your relationship’s success. So every day, be mindful to show your partner kindness, love, affection and respect – and let go of the perfection thing. Leave that goal to the robots.
Today’s small thing: Take a good look at how you measure the success of your relationship—and let go of impossible goals of perfection. Remember that conflict is healthy because it leads to greater understanding.
Facts Over Myths
There are some “facts” about relationships, that maybe you’ve always believed, that just aren’t true. On this episode of Small Things Often, we use decades of research to bust 5 of the most common relationship myths.
Today’s tip is about some common relationship myths.
Because, hey, I bet you’ve gotten a bunch of advice about relationships your whole life – words of wisdom or clichés that maybe were passed down to you from your parents —or given to you from well-meaning friends when you were going through a relationship crisis. I mean, they were just trying to be helpful, right? Well, after decades of researching couples, the Gottman Institute put some of these so-called relationship “facts” under the microscope — and here’s what we found: a bunch of them are myths. And here’s five of them – busted!
Let’s start with the first myth: Common interests keep you together. Sorry but nope. Not true. I mean, almost every dating site matches couples based on shared activities. And, okay, it’s a start, for sure. But the important thing is not what you do together – but how you interact while doing it! If you both love horseback riding, but one of you constantly criticizes or belittles the other on how they sit in the saddle, well, that’s a clue that your relationship might be in trouble.
Oh, and I’m sure you’ve heard the advice “Never go to bed angry.” We disagree. This advice pushes couples to solve their problems right away, no matter how they’re feeling. If you’re flooded with emotion during a discussion with your partner — then it’s a good idea to sleep on it – and then talk about it in the morning.
What about this one? Couples Therapy is for fixing a broken relationship. Again, not true. Of course, therapy can help resolve certain serious issues that come up – but couples therapy is more effective as a preventative measure— giving you the tools you need to maintain a close, loving relationship.
Another relationship myth thrown around is Affairs are the main cause of divorce. This is absolutely false. While it’s true that an affair can destroy the trust between two people, the cause of the divorce is not the affair – but what occurred before the affair even happened. And that’s probably because you grew apart. In fact, a study found that 80% of divorced men and women said that growing apart was the main reason their relationship ended in divorce.
And finally, our last myth: “Relationships need to be fair.” Ah, no. Keeping score of what each of you do or don’t do can lead to resentment, criticism, and contempt. Instead, act in kind loving ways, and appreciate each other. Deal making and contracts have no place in strong, loving relationships.
Today’s small thing: Question all the advice you’ve ever received regarding relationships. Be a myth-buster! Learn the facts—and transform your relationships for the better.
Intimacy through Self-Disclosure
Do you keep a lot about yourself to yourself? Self-disclosure to your partner — revealing your most authentic self about how you think and how you feel — can have an enormously positive impact on your relationship. On today’s Small Things Often, we tell you why.
Today’s tip is about self-disclosure.
It’s really important to open up to your partner and reveal your most authentic self. But there are some things that are just really difficult to talk about, aren’t there? Deep things. Private things. Things you may have kept held tightly inside your whole life — about what you think, how you feel or, maybe even, who you are. Maybe it involves something from your childhood that you have never told anyone but is now impacting your life as an adult and your relationship with your partner. Or perhaps, it’s something you passionately like or dislike that you’ve never thought to share with them — but if you do, that might help your partner have a better understanding about your reactions to certain situations.
The point is that self-disclosure — really opening up about yourself to the person you love — creates intimacy. In fact, self-disclosure of emotions, rather than just facts or information, is a pretty important predictor of the best kind of intimacy in relationships. Because the more you know about how your partner feels emotionally, the more connected you may feel, and the more capable you are of being there for them — no matter what the circumstances.
So open up. Encourage your partner to do the same. Reveal your hopes, your fears, your dreams, your feelings. Show them the wonderful, unique, weird, complicated person you are, and watch trust flourish and your relationship deepen. Sure, you may be a little nervous, but you won’t be sorry.
Today’s small thing: Carve out some quiet time to talk to your partner and intentionally self-disclose. Ask questions that encourage you both to open up – and reveal feelings and thoughts you’ve never talked about.
We all have things that trigger us emotionally, but what can you do about it? And how do emotional triggers affect your relationships? We’ll share what to be mindful of, in this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute.
Today’s tip is about triggers.
Emotional triggers that can instantly make you feel a certain way and sometimes take you to a dark place, mentally. We’ve all had experiences that can make us sensitive to certain places, events, people, sounds, words — you name it. It can be any sort of physical or psychological stimuli that “triggers” us. Some situations are unavoidable, but it’s important to understand and be mindful of what triggers you and what triggers your loved ones.
Triggers can come from your childhood, traumatic experiences, or previous relationships. A common one in relationships is cheating. If you’ve been cheated on before, it usually takes serious work to move past it. And in the aftermath, maybe you’re always on the lookout for shadiness. Are they really texting their mom? If you sense that your partner is being sketchy, it could bring back all of those old feelings. Or how about feeling abandoned by a friend? Did your friend disappear, when you needed them the most? It could take you back to when someone in your family abandoned you as a child. And now if you feel it in your relationships, it instantly takes you back to your childhood and those feelings of abandonment.
When you get triggered, maybe you get angry or upset. You could sometimes even experience anxiety attacks or the fight-or-flight response, depending on how intense the trigger is.
So what can you do about it? Talk about your emotional triggers and really be open about it with your loved ones. By doing that, you’re protecting yourself and them — and it forms a deeper, emotional understanding between you both. Because if you’re aware of each other’s triggers, you have better odds of avoiding them.
Here’s today’s small thing: Ask a loved one about their emotional triggers. What are the deep-rooted experiences that affect them today? Be mindful of their answer. And of course, share your triggers too!
We’re calling a time out! In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’re practicing self-soothing skills so you can take care of yourself and talk to your loved one with less tension.
Today’s tip is about self-soothing.
We touched on this a little bit in our last episode because it can be a way to calm down when you need to pause and take a step back from a heated conversation that leads to stonewalling.
But what does it mean to self soothe? It’s all about taking care of yourself. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your partner! You know how flight attendants say in the event of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help someone else? It’s a metaphor you’ve heard a million times, you know why? Because it’s so true. If you’re not okay, then how can you help someone else? And in this case, how can your relationship be okay if you’re not okay? The first step to being okay might be some “me” time to take care of yourself. When emotions are flooding during a tense conversation, this might be a time to signal to your partner that you need to hit pause so you can walk away and practice some self-soothing skills. A good time to practice these skills is when you’re calm and less distressed — so how about now?
It’s easy! Just take a deep breath and listen. Focus on the air going in and out.
Do a body scan. Pay attention to where you feel tense in your body and breathe into those places to relax them. Start with your brow, jaw, and shoulders. You’re feeling relaxed already, right?
Okay, great, so let’s keep going. Imagine your favorite place, your happy place, wherever you feel at ease. Yep. Jamaica — floating in the ocean with an ice cold whatever. Float far, far away from your troubles. Or maybe stay local. Maybe your home is your sanctuary. If that’s you, listen to music or watch tv in your favorite spot. Or go for a walk and get some fresh air.
There are two things that we don’t want you to do. Don’t go down the rabbit hole of thinking about what led to you being overwhelmed in the first place while you’re self-soothing and don’t rush the process. Give yourself some time to relax. There’s a scientific reason for this! It’s been proven that, physically, it takes a full 20 minutes for your body to calm down. So if your partner, friend, boss, or whoever is really anxious to continue a super tense conversation right this minute, we give you full permission to tell them that you need 20 minutes.
And it’ll be worth it because when you can talk to your partner with less tension and stress weighing you down, you can have better and more productive conversations.
For today’s small thing: The next time you feel overwhelmed in a conversation, ask for some time to yourself to self-soothe — and practice your new skills!
Two Sides of Stonewalling
The walls are coming down in this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute. We’re sharing the two sides of stonewalling and a solution for either side.
Today’s tip is about breaking down walls in your relationships. A stone wall, to be exact.
Have you heard of stonewalling? It’s when you get into an argument and get so overwhelmed that you shut down completely and withdraw from the interaction. Sound familiar? There’s a good chance you’ve been in this situation. And when this happens, there are two sides that you need to consider.
Let’s say you and your partner got into a really heated, emotional argument. It started small — your partner complained that you spent way too much money at the grocery store. Did you really have to buy organic? It led to a whole conversation about money and how you can’t agree on how to spend it or save it for the things that matter. And now the argument isn’t so small and your emotions are flooding. You can’t even get the words out. You panic, close up like a hermit, and shut down. Your wall is up. Maybe this is your way of protecting yourself.
On the other hand, your partner may not see it that way. They could take it as you ignoring them. On purpose. These are the two sides to stonewalling. And if you’re in this situation often, it can be easy to get engrossed in these feelings, no matter what side you’re on.
So how do you break down that wall? Ask for a break. It’s easier said than done, we know. It can be hard to come up with the right words to ask for a break when you’re flooded with emotions in the middle of an argument.
We have a solution. You and your partner should agree — ahead of time, when you’re calm, cool, and collected — on how to take a break when one of you gets overwhelmed in an argument. Like a “timeout” signal, but that could be anything. Some kind of signal, word, or phrase that both of you can use. That way, in a heated moment, you and your partner will be able to respect the need for a break. Once you take a break, take 20-30 minutes alone to calm down and self-soothe. And actually, we’ll be diving deeper into self-soothing in our next episode so stay tuned. It’s helpful because when you feel calm, you’ll be able to resume the discussion from a rational state of mind.
So this is today’s small thing: Talk to your partner about a “timeout” signal that both of you can use to pause the conversation, step away, and regroup.
How do you deal with emotions like anger, confusion, fear, or sadness? In this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to practice mindfulness to find calm and peace when difficult emotions arise.
Today’s tip is about dealing with difficult emotions.
Okay, say you’ve had a horrible day. This morning, your partner was so distant, so of course, you were silently panicking and trying to figure out if it was because of something you did or said. Then, this afternoon, your boss questioned a work-related decision you made, and you were so angry, you thought you might explode. And then later that night, you found out your dad was very ill, and you’re so scared that you might lose him.
So how do you deal with these difficult emotions like fear, anger, confusion, and sadness—as they swirl around and around in your mind and your body till they almost consume you? How do you get your peace back?
The answer is mindfulness. Maybe you’ve heard the term before—and you get the idea of it, but don’t really know how to apply it to your life, or know the signs that it’s working. Well, when you practice mindfulness in tough situations, it will not only help you calm down and soothe yourself, but it will also give you the space to reflect—and then calmly respond to the people or events around you—rather than react.
So how do you get there? Try these six steps to deal with your emotions in a mindful way:
First: Become aware of the emotion— and identify where you sense it in your body. Is your neck tense? Is your stomach churning?
The second step is: Name the emotion. Say to yourself “This is anger” or “This is fear.”
Step 3: Accept the emotion. Don’t try to push it away — don’t deny it.
The fourth step: Realize that this emotion won’t last forever. Even if it feels overwhelming, remember that it will pass.
Step 5: Be a detective and figure out what triggered you to feel this way. Was it your boss’s comment? Your partner’s distance? Your dad’s illness?
And finally, step six: Totally let go of the need to control the emotion. Instead, be open to the outcome and what unfolds. If it’s an issue with your partner that triggered you, now that you’ve stepped outside of yourself, you can really talk to them, listen to their feelings, and what they have to say from a place of calmness.
Mindfulness is not easy. It takes time. So, be patient with yourself. You won’t get there overnight. But if you practice these steps, you’ll be on your way to finding peace when difficult emotions arise.
Today’s small thing: Next time you feel overwhelmed, take a breath — and deal with your difficult emotions in a mindful way.
We’ve got some relationship magic for you — it’s called the 5 to 1 ratio. It’s based on extensive research and it can transform the bond between you and your partner. Find out what it is and how it works in today’s episode of Small Things Often.
Today’s tip is about the magic relationship ratio. Okay it’s not like magic magic. It’s what we discovered in a few decades of research with thousands of real couples. There’s a very specific ratio that makes relationships last – and flourish. Like magic. And that ratio is 5 to 1.
So here’s the magic: Lasting relationships have a ratio of 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction during a conflict conversation. So basically, during a fight with your partner there are at least 5 nice things for every 1 not-so-nice. And how you handle this ratio can mean whether you are in what we call a “master” or “disaster” relationship. Disasters fall below 5 to 1 – but masters keep the ratio 5 to 1 or greater. Fascinating, right? This is how it works…
Say you’re having a conversation with your partner about your neighbor who always parks way, way too close to your driveway. It annoys the hell out of your partner– but for whatever reason, it doesn’t bother you at all. And they’re telling you all about it, for the hundredth time, how much this angers them, how inconsiderate it is, and you reply that you don’t know what the big deal is. And they respond that it IS a big deal to them — and you roll your eyes. It’s such a tiny, subtle reaction, but it comes with a huge emotional punch.
So that eye roll is the 1 negative interaction. So now what? What’s the antidote to the eye roll? Do 5 positive things during the conversation that make your partner feel appreciated. It can be as small as making eye contact and saying “uh-huh” to show you’re really listening. Or maybe it’s a nod, a gentle reassuring touch, or perhaps even finding some moments of gentle teasing, or silliness, so you can laugh together and ease the tension. There are a million small ways to show you care, even in conflict. Pick 5. Or better yet – pick more. Go nuts.
And this magic ratio doesn’t just apply to your partner – it can be during a conflict with a co-worker, a friend, your mom, your child – anyone who’s important in your life.
So walk through your days — and nights — with the 5 to 1 ratio in your pocket. Use it generously and often—infuse your conflicts with positivity— and watch all your relationships thrive.
Today’s small thing is: Be aware of your interactions today, and note if you’re hitting the 5 to 1 ratio. If not, think of ways to inject moments of appreciation and love into those conversations.
Celebrate Your Partner
When was the last time you celebrated one of your partner’s successes? On this episode of Small Things Often, find out why small moments of celebration contribute to the happiness of your relationship.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based techniques to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about celebrating your partner’s successes.
Picture this. You’re sitting in your favorite comfy chair, cup of tea by your side, reading a fantastic new spy thriller on your Kindle. You’ve just gotten to a huge plot twist in the story where the real killer might be revealed, and your heart is thumping out of your chest, and you can’t scroll through the pages fast enough. Suddenly, the front door opens and your partner bursts in, looking really excited. They just had their 6-month evaluation from their supervisor at work – and got a glowing review!
You’re happy for them – give them a quick smile and say, “That’s really great, hon!” Then turn back to your Kindle.
Sorry to say this, but you just blew a huge opportunity.
I mean, what you said wasn’t unkind or hurtful – but this news was obviously a really big deal for your partner – and your response didn’t come close to what they needed in this moment to validate their feelings on their success. Because the truth is that when one partner succeeds at something that’s important to them – a happy couple will take the time to really celebrate that success together.
So put down your Kindle. Get out of your chair. Give them a big kiss and a warm hug. Be enthusiastic! Get into it! Ask questions! Be a cheerleader! Show them that their big victory is your big victory – and that their happiness is your happiness. That you believe in them and support them. You don’t have to wait for a difficult or challenging time in your partner’s life to be there for them and show that you’re supportive. Be there for the victories, too. Show that you care.
Today’s small thing is: The next time your partner succeeds at anything large or small—they got to work on time, they made a great dinner, they saw a cute dog –celebrate the good news. It will bring you closer and strengthen your bond.
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute for another small way to help you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships every day.
Complaints vs Criticism
Does your partner sometimes do things that annoy or upset you? Do you tell them? On this episode of Small Things Often, find out the difference between complaining and criticizing and how each could impact your relationship in a big way.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based techniques to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about the difference between complaints and criticism. Bet you thought they were the same thing. Well, we’re here to tell you, they’re totally not. And knowing the difference can make or break a relationship.
I mean, face it, no matter how much you love and adore someone, they’re going to upset or annoy you sometimes. But how you express those feelings to your partner makes all the difference in the world. And here’s the key: Complain. Don’t criticize. Complaints are about specific issues that can lead to understanding. Criticism attacks your partner’s entire character – and leads to resentments and defensiveness. Hard concept to wrap your head around?
Say that tonight you were so looking forward to having a quiet dinner with your partner, just the two of you. But for the third night this week, they walked through the door with the phone attached to their ear – and kept taking calls during dinner, all the way through to your delicious dessert of lemon meringue pie and freshly brewed pumpkin spice coffee —which you basically ate and drank alone. And you felt the tension in your body building and building and building inside you, until you suddenly jumped out of your chair and blurted out, “You’re always on the phone! You never care about anyone but yourself!”
That, folks, is criticism. Not only did you blame your partner – but you judged them. And here’s a red flag warning: If you’re using the words “you always” or “you never,” you can bet that you’re criticizing. Criticism usually leads to an argument that you don’t even need to have.
The positive way to handle it? Focus on one specific issue and Complain without blame. Start with what we call a “soft startup” –where you first tell your partner exactly what emotion you were feeling during dinner. Hurt and anger, am I right? Then describe the situation that caused that feeling: that your partner was on the phone through your entire delicious dinner. And then, ask for what you need to help resolve the issue. Hopefully, they’ll understand where you’re coming from, and agree to turn off the phone at dinner time. But whatever happens, you’ve opened a conversation. And that can only be good and healthy for you both.
So today’s small thing is: The next time your partner annoys you – take a breath – step back – and remember the difference between criticism and complaining. It could help save your relationship.
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute for another small way to help you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships every day.
Intentional Choices to Connect with Your Family
Is the current coronavirus pandemic causing you to feel out-of-control, anxious, and a bit removed from family life? On this episode of Small Things Often, we show you ways to reconnect with your family in times of great stress — by being intentional in your choices and making the best out of the “new normal.”
Today’s tip is about making intentional choices in times of stress.
Face it. We’re living in a time of great anxiety and great uncertainty. The coronavirus pandemic has created changes in the way we live, the way we work — and in the way we connect with each other. But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. We can make the best out of this “new normal” — that feels nothing like normal — by making intentional choices to connect with our loved ones. Right now, we have to choose to stay indoors to do our part by hunkering down until the crisis is over —both for the protection of ourselves and others. So it’s important to choose to do the things we are able to still do, and want to do, with intention – like spending quality time with our partners, roommates, kids – and those we love.
So where do you start? First, really think about the ways you and your loved ones will move through your days — rather than just trying to barrel through them unconsciously. Actually sit down and have a conversation about it. Maybe your partner hasn’t usually been home in time to help with dinner, but now they are! Is it their turn to cook? Or maybe, if boiling water is a struggle, their time is best spent helping the kids with their new home-school studies.
But being intentional isn’t just about tasks. Talk to your loved ones about what would bring you both joy today! Or maybe it’s time to make a new tradition. Maybe make breakfast an event! Let the kids help and embrace the mess. Do they want to dance and sing while they whisk the eggs? Bring it on. Plan the coming day together! Take a family walk after dinner every evening. Or schedule a weekly family meeting where everyone can safely voice their thoughts or concerns. Be creative! Find ways to connect, understand, and appreciate each other.
Because, of all times, now is the time to lean on each other. You don’t have to pretend like staying in your house, basically 24/7, with your family is normal. But that doesn’t mean life has to stop. It just means, you may have to modify some things. Okay, so your kid can’t go to the park right now. Bring the park to them! Bust out all of the pillows, blankets, whatever, for the ultimate fort! Use this time to really be in the moment and spend some quality time together that you might not normally get.
We know that focusing on the fun things might be hard right now while you’re concerned about what’s happening in the world, but that’s why it’s also important to take care of yourself and remember that your needs are important, too. I mean, really, how can you be there for your family if your anxiety is making you feel like a hot mess? So maybe take an hour a day to shut yourself into your bedroom, and take that online Zumba or meditation class that you’ve heard so much about. Or perhaps there’s a special podcast that you’ve been dying to listen to. Hopefully it’s this one! Whatever it is — carve out time that is just for you — and bask in the glow of doing something you love. Put it on your calendar. Make it a routine. That quiet, focused time will help you tune into yourself, relax, and gain perspective.
Here’s today’s small thing: Ask a loved one, “How are you coping? How are you doing?” Right now, a question that simple might go a long way. Maybe you’ll discover a need that you can meet! Be intentional with your time and watch your family become stronger than ever.
Are you around your loved ones a lot more than you’re used to right now? As the world deals with a health emergency, Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute is here to make adjusting to all this a little easier! We’ll guide you through the conversation that you can have to redefine your daily rituals.
Today’s tip is about redefining rituals.
Is your world a little upside down? We can relate. It’s safe to say everyone can right now. There’s a good chance that you’re homebound… quarantined… waiting for this worldwide health emergency to pass… all while practicing social distancing.
Before this all started, maybe the idea of being stuck in your house with your partner, family, roommates, or whoever — 24/7 — sounded fun! And maybe it still is — you know, between trying to find toilet paper and holding onto hand sanitizer like it’s a pot of gold. Or maybe if you’re one of the lucky ones who’s able to work from home, that excitement came to an end, when your child threw an overstuffed peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the floor, screamed “No more sandwiches!!!”, and stomped on it, a foot away from you while you were on an important video conference with your boss.
No matter where you stand, and no matter how much you love your loved ones, being around them ALL. THE. TIME. — and being in the same confined area, can be a little rough. But you know what can help? Taking a good hard look at the rituals of your day-to-day life and being intentional about what everyone in your house, including you, needs right now.
Have a conversation with them about it! It can help to establish some boundaries so that you can all happily coexist and get whatever you need, done. Here are some questions that you can ask each other:
What can we expect from our day? How should we begin and end our workday? How can we let each other know if we’re ready to talk — or need to be alone? How can we rely on each other to connect? What does it look like to get your needs for space and privacy met? What does our time together look like? When do you plan on throwing sandwiches? Do you always stomp on them post throw? You know, questions like that to get the dialogue going around how best to be mindful of each other’s needs.
Having these conversations proactively means you won’t need to have them reactively after an unknown boundary was violated. And remember, just because we’re all practicing social distancing, that doesn’t mean you have to be isolated! Use this time to connect with your loved ones — whether they’re under your roof or not. Just, you know, keep your distance.
Here’s today’s small thing: Ask your loved ones about their needs and express your own while you figure out your new daily rituals in close quarters. What are some things you can do to make each other’s lives easier?
Staying Connected Through Times of Great Stress
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis? Tune in to this episode of Small Things Often to learn ways to stay connected to your partner during these times of great stress and uncertainty.
Today’s tip is about staying connected, even in times of great stress.
Feeling a lot of anxiety lately? Yea, [sigh], you are not alone. The fact that life has become complicated and stressful in the last few weeks is a huge understatement. With the coronavirus crisis now in our midst, our lives have changed drastically — and quickly —impacting each of us in different ways. Maybe you’re feeling stir-crazy from self-isolating and working from home. Maybe you’ve taken on the task of home-schooling your kids – a responsibility that you feel is totally out of your wheel-house. Or perhaps you’re beside yourself worried about the health of your family, your elderly relatives — and yourself. We understand. The stress and anxiety caused by this new reality is overwhelming.
So how do you navigate through it all? How do you stay connected to your partner when your mind is so preoccupied with uncertainty? The key is this: Be intentional about meeting each other’s needs —and create space for affection and intimacy. Here are a few tips that will help you get there.
First, schedule “couple time”: A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic has totally disrupted our lives and daily routines. To counter this, schedule some time together with your partner. Even if you’re spending every minute of the day together in quarantine, it’s important to make space for intentional time together. It can be anything that helps you relax and connect. Make a “date” to watch your favorite movie, cook your favorite dinner together, or find a time to make love. Even mundane chores — like doing the dishes, cleaning the house, or making the bed together every morning —can be opportunities to connect.
Next: Take turns giving and receiving love. Sometimes it feels difficult to stay present for the other person because you’re both going through so much stress at the same time. So it’s really important that you make an effort to really stop and listen when your partner wants to share their thoughts and emotions— and vice versa.
Another thing you can do is create some rituals for your “new normal” to help you feel connected. Maybe give each other a kiss every morning as a quick dose of intimacy. Or leave sweet or funny notes of encouragement for each other during the day. Whatever it is, find a ritual you love that helps you stay connected.
And finally: Be willing to forgive quickly. In stressful times, many of us are on edge – more irritable than usual, maybe snapping at our partners for no particular reason. If this happens, use the “rewind rule” — allow your partner to apologize and take back something that was said out of anger, frustration or fatigue. Forgive quickly and avoid the small, petty conflicts that might fester over time — and cause distance between you both. You won’t regret it.
Today’s small thing: During this unprecedented time, intentionally find small ways to meet your partner’s needs —and create the space for loving connections. Remember! Small things often can reap huge rewards!
It’s time to get in sync! On this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’re putting attunement into action to help create harmony in your relationships.
Today’s tip is about attunement.
Okay, what does that even mean? So attunement means becoming receptive, aware, or accustomed to something. But it also means “to make harmonious.” Harmony is the operative word here. That’s exactly what we’re aiming for to improve your relationships — sweet, sweet harmony.
You know there’s been a time in one of your relationships, where you feel totally disconnected. It could feel like something’s off. Maybe you’re in a rut with your partner and you don’t feel at all like a team. Neither of you is trying to engage or talk about what’s going on and how you’re feeling. Or maybe you’re upset with a friend who’s been AWOL, but you’re not reaching out either.
Getting on the same page and finding harmony could be what’s missing. Hello, attunement! It can help build trust in a relationship, but it’s not always intuitive. So that’s where we step in. We’ve created an acronym out of the word “attune” to help guide you through the steps it takes to attune to your loved one’s emotions. Ready? This will help you remember!
The “A” in attune stands for awareness of the situation at hand. How is your partner feeling and how are you feeling?
The “T” stands for tolerance of two different viewpoints. Even if it’s different from your experience, what your partner is going through is very real for them.
The second “T” is for turning toward. You might ask them “hey, what’s going on for you?”.
The “U” is for understanding your partner. Don’t assume you get it right away, this may require asking clarifying questions.
The “N” is for non-defensive listening. This is hard to do but is crucial to having a constructive conversation.
And finally, “E.” Respond with empathy! Get it? Attune!
So let’s put that into practice with today’s small thing: Make an effort to attune to your loved one! Something as simple as validating different perspectives can help create emotional harmony.
Destress with your Partner
Do you need to de-stress after a long day? In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’ll tell you the do’s and don’ts of a stress-reducing conversation that you need to have daily with your loved one!
Today’s tip is about de-stressing.
Say your partner had a horrible day and now that they’re home, all their stress about how they couldn’t fix anything that went wrong today is making them want to talk about your relationship and any problem they noticed in the past 24 hours. But as luck would have it, you also had a horrible day and unlike your partner, diving deep into your relationship is the last thing you feel like doing. Before you run for the hills or your partner reads their very specific, bulleted list of everything they want to fix in your relationship — you both need to de-stress. And you can do it together! It’s an important conversation to have with your loved one.
Why? Because you know when you’re so stressed that you take your frustrations out on other people — who have nothing to do with the reason why you’re stressed? Talking about your day can help!
We call it a stress-reducing conversation — a form of dialogue where you listen to each other’s venting with empathy and — this is a big one — without judgment or advice. So when we say listening, we really mean it — so keep your advice or “maybe you could try this!” to yourself because when you actually feel heard, venting can be just what you need! Yeah — your boss can be a jerk. And that arrogant coworker? The WORST. How many times can they talk about their gaudy new house in one day? Sometimes it feels good to just say it aloud to someone who really hears you. Say how ugly that house is! The point is, this conversation helps you and your loved one manage your external stress — not caused by your relationship — so that you’re not taking it out on each other or feeling like you need to fix each other’s problems.
So make this a ritual! When you reunite at the end of the day, open up about what happened! Support each other emotionally about other areas of your lives.
There’s a big asterisk on this conversation though. You ready? This is not the time to tell your partner, friend, family member, or whoever, about the issues you have within the relationship. You know why? If you’re still in stress-mode, that’s probably going to affect how you respond. Even though it’s always good to regularly open up about what you need and how you feel within your relationship, when you are both trying to de-stress and connect, this is NOT the right time to tell your spouse that you think their mom doesn’t like you. It’s time for you to listen about how this person cut them off in traffic and turned back to smile — who does that?
But you know what? If you want to talk about your relationship in this moment because you want to strengthen it — just listening, empathizing, and validating your loved one’s feelings at the end of the day can do wonders. Think of it this way — instead of saying you love them, show it by giving them the time and space to be heard.
So here’s today’s small thing: Practice listening to your loved one when you can tell they need to vent! Help them feel supported and heard — and watch the stress start to melt.
Disconnect to connect
It’s time to unplug! In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we explain why disconnecting — and putting down your phone — could help form a stronger connection with your partner.
We’re willing to bet that right now, you’re listening to this on your phone. And if it’s in your hand, please put it down and just listen — because today’s tip is about disconnecting. Sometimes you need to disconnect to connect with your partner.
It’s easier than ever to stay connected through email, texting, and social media. It’s the world we live in — and it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s great that you can keep up with friends and family. But it also can become a time-suck. You might not even realize how long you’ve been scrolling through selfies of friends you probably haven’t talked to in decades, pictures of plates of food, and Baby Yoda memes. That’s the danger here! Some people are checking their devices so often that they’re missing their partner’s attempts to connect.
For a lot of us, it’s a habit. You plop down on the couch with your phone. Open up Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or whatever and start scrolling. Your partner starts talking. You hear the words, but you’re not really hearing them. It’s going in one ear and out the other. Because did you see Kelly just posted that she’s pregnant? Again! With twins!
While your social media feed could have important information, your relationship is much more important. If your partner is complaining that you seem more focused on your screen than your relationship, that’s something you need to take seriously — even if you disagree! Here’s an idea. You turn off your phone during a movie or at church, right? Extend that same respect and courtesy to your partner.
And even better — establish rules for technology usage in your relationship. At the very least, this could mean a “no phone policy” at the dinner table or in bed. While your fans may be disappointed that you didn’t live stream how you cooked your carrots, they’ll live.
So here’s today’s small thing: Discuss a “no phone policy” with your partner. What time spent together do you want to make “device-free”? What parts of the house are no-phone zones?
Listen to understand
Before you interrupt your partner’s story, listen up! In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’ll explain how fully listening before responding can strengthen your relationship.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based techniques to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about listening.
And yes, we know our last episode was about listening, but guess what? There are different ways to listen so it’s really all quite nuanced. Last episode, we talked about listening to understand your partner and how they are feeling before immediately giving advice. So today we are focusing on how hard it can be to REALLY just listen to them.
Let’s start with what happens in conversations all the time. Your partner is telling you a story. They’re still talking, but you totally check out because you already formed a response in your mind. They’re telling you all about the new restaurant down the street. They won’t stop talking about the queso. BUT, they have no idea that you’ve already been there. And guess what? That “great” queso? There was a hair in yours. Not so great. They need to know… they need to know NOW, but they won’t. Stop. Talking. They are on to the texture and consistency of the queso. You’re nodding your head. Smiling when appropriate. But you can’t wait for them to take a 1 second breath so you can unleash queso-gate because you’ve been holding onto this information for what feels like an eternity. Oh sorry! Did you just interrupt their story?
Conversations like this — where you so badly want to jump in — can happen in any situation with co-workers, friends, and family. We’re all guilty of it so why is it problematic? Because you aren’t fully attentive and mindful of what they’re saying if you’re forming your response mid-conversation. You might have missed an important detail about your loved one’s thoughts or feelings.
So don’t listen to reply. Listen to understand.
That brings us to today’s small thing: Slow down and really listen. Wait to think about your response until your partner has finished talking. Not only will you have better conversations, but you’ll also understand your partner, or anyone else, a lot more.
Understanding must precede advice
There’s a battle that you don’t necessarily have to fight. Why understanding your partner before you even think about spewing advice could be just what your loved one needs!
Today’s tip is about listening.
When we say listening you probably think, “I know how to listen. It’s not that hard.” But we’re talking about listening and really understanding your partner before you even think about giving advice. And we mean, really listening. Not that “I’m only half listening because I’m dying to respond” kind of listening.
Let’s say your partner just came home from work, filled with RAGE. They are making that weird face that they make when — They. Are. Ticked. Off. Furrowed brow? Check! Pacing the hallway? Oh yeah. Talking under their breath? Absolutely. Not good. Their boss was a total jerk today and they are so upset. Your first reaction? To fix it! It almost feels like you’re running out of time because there is a completely made up deadline to fix everything that’s making them upset. It hurts to see your partner hurting. But take a deep breath and — zip it.
When someone you love is upset, it’s natural to want to fix it. But usually, your partner isn’t asking for you to come up with a solution — especially not immediately. So don’t just tell them to storm into their boss’ office — or at least not right away because there’s a good chance that they just want you to be there and listen!
Unsolicited advice is common among couples and honestly, all relationships. But unless your partner or friend has specifically asked for help — resist! Don’t try to fix the problem, change how they feel, or rescue them. Offering unsolicited advice gives your partner the impression that you think they haven’t thought of that solution yet, which they almost certainly have. The mindset to remember is understanding must precede advice.
We’re not saying that it’s never appropriate to problem-solve when your partner is upset. You just have to first let them know that you fully understand and empathize with them. That way they will be receptive to suggestions and you can problem-solve together. To communicate that you understand, try saying things like “I can see why you feel that way.” “No wonder you’re upset.” “That sounds frustrating.” Or, “I would have been disappointed, too.”
Here’s today’s small thing: Think about what your partner and friends need from you when they’re upset? Do you need the same things? If you don’t know, ask.
You don’t have to solve your problems
There are some issues between you and your partner that are unsolvable. But that doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. Find out how to deal with “perpetual problems” on this episode of Small Things Often.
Today’s tip is about problems.
Everyone’s got them. And there are some you just won’t be able to solve. Some issues between you and your partner are just going to stick around, no matter how many years you’re together.
For example, maybe you’re an extrovert who’s the center of attention at every social gathering, and loves meeting new people—as opposed to your partner who hates parties, avoids them at all costs—and is drained of every ounce of energy in their body when they finally walk out the door? Or maybe you would just absolutely love to have sex twice a week—and your partner would just absolutely love to have sex twice a month. Or, perhaps, you’re neat as a pin, very orderly, and, just for fun, you love to arrange your books in alphabetical order by author while your partner throws their clothes on the floor every night, forgets to open the mail for weeks at a time, and never puts away the milk. And so maybe you start to think, can this relationship even survive?
Well, in a word. Yes—it can. Because the fact is: research shows that almost two-thirds of marital issues are unsolvable! Two-thirds, can you believe it?! We call these “perpetual problems.” But it’s okay, because the great news is—despite what many therapists—or friends who like to play therapist—might tell you, you don’t have to solve these “perpetual problems” in order for your relationship to thrive.
But you can’t just let the problems do their thing, and just be “whatever” about them being in your relationship. Here’s the key: You’ve got to talk about these issues, a lot—and use these conversations to better understand each other. You’ll never change your partner, nor should you try to. But a good healthy dialogue, sprinkled with a little affection, some acceptance, and a bit of humor, will allow for the space that each of you needs to come to an understanding of who you are as individuals—while being together. Because without this understanding, your conflict will become gridlocked. And gridlock leads to resentment. And resentment leads to emotional disconnect. And that’s bad news for any relationship.
So give it a try. Talk about your differences, as well as your similarities—and maybe even grow old together—even if one of you still loathes going to parties.
So today’s small thing is: Take a moment, and think of one perpetual problem in your relationship. How have you handled it? How might you change that going forward? How can you accept that this is just a way you’re basically different, without it reflecting negatively on the relationship overall?
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute for another small way to help you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships every day.
Trust is built in very small moments
Trust doesn’t happen overnight. It’s built over time. Learn how paying attention to small everyday moments can add up to a deeply trusting relationship.
Today’s tip is about trust.
Are you under the impression that since you’ve fallen madly in love, that trust will automatically follow? Ah, wouldn’t that be so incredibly easy and perfect and wonderful… yeah it would be — if it were true. But the fact is, trust just doesn’t happen.
Trust doesn’t just appear all at once in one big swoop, as in “I love you so much, so, of course, I trust you so much.” Nope. Trust builds over time. And it happens in small moments. Everyday moments. Some so tiny and “blah” or “whatever”, you might just miss them if you’re not paying attention. We call them “sliding door” moments. And every day, you have a chance to seize the moment to connect – or not.
So okay, I know this whole “sliding door” idea might be hard to understand at first, so basically, picture this:
It’s Friday night. And you’ve made it to the end of an incredibly long, frustrating, and exhausting week at work. And all day long, you’ve been waiting to get home and go on a run. And, ahhhh, you’re finally there. You’re lacing up your shoes, picking your playlist, doing a little bit of stretching to hype yourself up before you go and you’re about to leave and you see your partner sitting lost in thought, looking a bit sad.
“Oh,noo nooo noo,” you think. “I don’t really want to deal with this now! I just want to run and not think about anything!” Ding, ding, ding, ding!! You’ve just arrived at a “sliding door” moment! You now have a choice. Put your plans aside, and ask your partner what’s wrong? Or pretend you didn’t see it, and sneak out the door and run…After a moment, you take out your earbuds, sit down next to your partner and say, “You seem sad. What’s going on? Can I help?”
Congratulations. With that one small choice, in that one tiny moment, you’ve begun to build trust. You paid attention, noticed there was something up, and made the choice to connect instead of focusing on yourself. Keep it up. Those small moments add up. And soon, a deep trusting relationship will follow.
So today’s small thing is: Pay attention to all your interactions today, and watch for “sliding door” moments. This can be with your partner, your child, a friend — or anyone you love.
Move from me to we
Are you and your partner on a unified front? If you feel like you have been out of sync maybe you need to start adding in more “We” and less “Me.”
Today’s tip is about unity.
When you ask a happy couple about their relationship, they usually tell you about it with a sense of WE-ness… you know, we, you and me…ness…We-ness. Even the words they use to talk about their relationship often show similar beliefs, values, and goals — like they’re in this together! So, what does that say? That it’s important to move from “me” to “we” in your relationships.
One of the many reasons we-ness is important is because it can play a big role in the conflicts that pop up in any relationship. We’ve all been there. All relationships have conflicts that are tough to navigate. A common source of friction is money. Or how you label the relationship. Or maybe your conflicts aren’t that deep. Thermostat wars are real. Basically, we can get stuck when the focus is always on me, not we — so maybe bring your A/C up from below freezing and warm up to the idea of compromising.
Here’s something that can help. Start throwing “we” into the mix when you find yourself focusing on your own desires: Think, “What do we need? What do we want? What do we like?” It helps you get into the headspace to consider both you and your partner’s wants and needs.
That brings us to today’s small thing: It’s time to ask yourself, “How are you building we-ness in your relationships?”
Self-care isn’t selfish
Think self-care is selfish? Think again. It could save your relationship. Listen to this important science-based tip on Small Things Often from the Gottman Institute—and discover why you need to carve out some me-time.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in five minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about taking care of someone you know pretty well. Someone who’s very important in your life and your relationships. YOU. That’s right we said it, YOU, yourself!
There are times in your life where you may feel like you lose yourself a little. Maybe you’ve just been promoted—but your job is so demanding, you feel like you’ve lost all concept of time and space. Or maybe your dad is really sick, and you’re on call 24/7. Or perhaps you just became a parent to a beautiful baby girl, and although you are over the moon with her arrival, she has colic and you haven’t slept in what feels like a hundred years.
It happens. There are always going to be moments that require us to make sacrifices of our time and energy. It’s admirable—and in many cases essential. But if you’re feeling any kind of resentment creeping into your psyche, or any emotional distance, or a loss of intimacy in your relationship because of it, then whoa, listen up, because this tip is for you. And it all revolves around self-care.
First off, what do you feel when you hear that word? Does it make you feel incredibly selfish? Guilty? Self-indulgent? Cringey? You’re not alone. So many people feel the same way.
But the simple fact is: Self-care isn’t selfish at all. Taking the time for yourself—to do something just for you—is actually one of the best things you can do for your health and your relationships. Maybe belt out your favorite Adele song at the top of your lungs. Or go plant some flowers, and feel the fresh dirt between your fingers. Or maybe take a couple of hours to play a round of golf with your friends, an activity you love so much, but haven’t done since your life turned upside down. The point is that anything that brings you joy—not only benefits YOU–but all of your relationships.
So here’s today’s small thing: Go nurture yourself. Pick one activity today that you love—and carve out a time to do it. Because bottom line—the best thing you can do for your relationships is take care of yourself!
Catch your partner doing something right
Can small moments of appreciation transform your relationship in a big way? You bet they can. In today’s episode of Small Things Often by The Gottman Institute, find out why it’s important to catch your partner doing something “right!”
Today’s tip is about appreciation.
Okay. So before we do anything else… you have to admit it. Admit that recently your partner might have done something that drove you absolutely up a wall. It could have been something super small, like maybe they were having the loudest conversation in the world with their mom about the guestlist for your 2-year-old daughter’s birthday party, as you were finally sitting down to watch The Great British Bake Off and just relax for once. Or maybe they forgot to walk the dog (AGAIN), even though they promised they would (TWICE), and of course, almost like he planned it, the dog saved his biggest accident in the history of his tiny, furry life for your bathroom floor.
The fact is that many people will catch themselves focusing on their partner’s shortcomings, which makes it much easier to take all the good parts for granted. But here’s the thing: The happiest couples — and, yes, real people with real flaws are in happy couples, too — are aware of things their partners do that they are not so fond of — but they realize that this person they chose to be with is still worthy of honor and respect. And they show it. How?
By catching them doing something right – and saying thank you.
So take a moment to close your eyes and think about your partner. Did they make the coffee early this morning so it would be ready when you got out of bed? Did they remember your dad’s birthday? Maybe they offered to pick up the kids without being asked. Or maybe they cleaned up that mess on the bathroom floor… Whatever it was that they did “right”, notice it. Appreciate it. And say thank you.
The truth is that fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in creating a rewarding and long-lasting romance. So always be on the lookout for things you can appreciate about each other. We promise it won’t be that hard. You’ll even find that the tough moments that come up in your relationship will be less difficult – because you’ve built a partnership based on respect and appreciation.
So here’s today’s small thing: Search for small, everyday moments, and catch your partner doing something right. Say thank you. Rinse. Repeat.
What can you do in five minutes?
Got five minutes? That could be all you need to make a meaningful connection with your partner. Find out how in Episode 2 of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute – and watch your relationship flourish.
Today’s tip is about time.
So time is relative. For example, you’re being rushed out the door, and you yell to your partner “5 more minutes!” — but it’s not really going to be just five minutes…and you both know that it’s never going to be just five minutes because five minutes is nothing, what can you even do in five minutes? Well, actually… five minutes is plenty of time in relationships.
In fact, five minutes is the perfect amount of time for you and your partner to connect on a daily basis, and in a number of ways: You can express physical affection, like kissing, hugging, holding hands, or cuddling — or you can share specific things you appreciate about each other! Or tell your partner one thing you admire about them, and why! You can even just take the time to say thanks for the little things you’ve done that day to support each other….also just so you know listening to this tip absolutely qualifies as taking time for your relationship!! The point is, whatever you end up doing, we know you have busy lives with hectic schedules, but those tiny bits of free time, five minutes here or there, are huge opportunities to connect with your partner, even if it’s in small ways.
We’ll leave you with today’s small thing: Tell your partner one thing you admire about them (maybe even a few more if you have more than 5 minutes!)
Who are we? What are we going to do?
Sometimes it feels like we should just know how to be a good partner even when things get tough and overwhelming. But we’re here to tell you a good relationship comes from the small things—the day-to-day moments that can make a big difference over time.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, a new podcast where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in five minutes or less.
So, there’s a common misconception about relationships that often makes us feel bad. It’s this whole idea that relationships should be….easy. Because we are told it’s so easy to fall in love. But no one opens up about what it takes to stay there. Because there’s this idea that since we’re wired for connection, it should be easy for us to just naturally know how to love each other in the best ways. And it can feel really overwhelming and big to “figure out” your relationship.
But what really makes a relationship great is the small things. The everyday moments we sometimes don’t even notice. When your partner asked about your day and really listened. Or when they sent you a funny meme. It’s these small, meaningful things that make a big difference. They make you feel connected. And understood. Whether it’s your partner, co-worker, relative, or friend—they all benefit from small things often.
It can be hard to wrap your mind around how relationships really work. Since everyone seems to have their own advice on how it should be. So we want to give you a place where you know you can find trusted and proven ways to improve your relationships. We’ll talk you through how to express your needs assertively, but in a way where it doesn’t come out sounding like criticism or blame. And how to manage conflict in a productive, healthy, and non-hurtful way. And how those things lead to greater understanding. And how to really listen to your partner.
So twice a week we are going to share tips that are based on the methods and approaches from extensive scientific research. Small Things Often is only 5 minutes of your day to learn a little more about how to make your relationships positive, healthy, and long-lasting. And we mean all of your relationships. Honestly, that’s not bad at all for five minutes. Trust us, everyone should have simple ways to invest in their relationships. Because taking time to work on yourself and how you connect will benefit you and the people you love.
So tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often for a quick tip from The Gottman Institute—helping you have better relationships.