Nobody likes to argue with their spouse. It can hurt your feelings and put you in a bad mood. But did you know that those verbal spats can also cause physical pain? And I’m not talking about violent confrontations here, just regular day-to-day bickering.
Researchers at Penn State have found that people with chronic conditions, such as arthritis and diabetes, experience worse symptoms on days when they feel the most tension with their spouse. Ouch! In this 2018 study in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, people with arthritis said that those increases in pain led to even more tension with their significant other the following day. It sounds like a vicious cycle.
This is yet another reason why Brain Warriors need to focus on the relationships in your life. They can either help or hurt your mental health and physical wellbeing. If you want to boost your relationship skills, use the following 8 clinically proven brain-based RELATING habits.
Responsibility: Taking responsibility in relationships means continually asking yourself what you can do to make the relationship better. I think of the word responsibility as the ability to respond. It doesn’t mean taking blame, but rather being empowered to make necessary changes regardless of fault.
Empathy: Empathy is the human ability to feel what others feel. When negative behavior comes your way, ask yourself three questions:
- Did I do anything to cause it?
- What is going on with the other person?
- What small thing could I do to make things better now?
Listening: Poor communication is at the core of many relationship problems. Use active listening to check if the message you received is the one they intended to convey. Ask:
- “I’m not sure I understand what you said. Did you say…?”
- “Did I understand you correctly? Are you saying that…?”
Assertiveness: Being assertive means you express your thoughts and feelings in a firm yet reasonable and respectful way, not allowing others to emotionally run over you, and not saying yes when you mean no. In karate we spend a lot of time focusing on being assertive rather than aggressive. Being assertive can actually help you avoid fights if you’re thoughtful. Anger generally involves a lack of respect and fuels the fire.
Time: Relationships require actual, physical time and you need to be present when you are spending time with your spouse. Sitting at the same table but being glued to your phone does not qualify as spending quality time together.
Inquiring: When you’re suffering in a relationship, it’s very important to inquire into the thoughts that make you suffer. If you’re fighting with your husband, for example, and you think, “He never listens to me,” write that down. Then ask yourself if it is true. Also ask yourself if the turnaround question is as true or truer… “I never listen to my spouse.” You may discover that you are just as guilty of what you are accusing your partner of doing.
Noticing what you like more than what you don’t: This is one of the secrets to having great relationships. Noticing what you like encourages more of the behavior you like to happen. Focus on the behaviors that you like more than the behaviors you don’t. My husband has a sweet habit of asking me if he has told me how much he loves me…every day! I could respond in frustration sometimes and say, “No! Actually you’ve been really busy.” Instead, I respond sincerely by saying, “You make my Cappucino just the way I love it every morning. That is an act of love.” This automatically puts both of us in a loving mood.
Grace and forgiveness: Holding on to grudges and hurts, even if they are small, increases stress hormones that negatively impact our moods, immunity, and overall health. Giving grace and forgiveness can be hard, but when done properly, such actions can be powerfully healing. My favorite question to ask myself when I’m frustrated is, “Does this have eternal value?” If not, I let it go and focus on something more important.
To learn more about how I apply the RELATING skills in my marriage, check out this two-part podcast (Part 1: Do You Struggle with Relationships? This Could Be Why and Part 2: How Do You Nurture Relationships With Ones closest to You?) on relationships.