What makes relationships thrive?

Thursday, 09 June 2022

What is it that makes us close to someone? Harry Reiss (social psychologist) says there is another ingredient to successful relationships that’s every bit as important as love and that is the feeling of being understood - understanding is especially true in most intimate relationships. 

‘Two of the golden threads woven through the tapestry of Harry Reis’s science are a critical understanding that relationships serve as the context of human behaviour and the recognition that everyday experiences matter a great deal. 

Harry appreciated that it is not merely an interesting footnote that the root of the word social means companionship and home life; rather he noted that the vast majority of social life involves people who know each other reasonably well, exist in a network of acquaintances, have a history of interactions, and expect to interact again in the future’.   https://spsp.org/membership/awards/heritage-wall-of-fame/reis

Not understanding your work colleague, friend or partner invalidates their feelings. Love, trust and caring don’t work if there is no understanding. There are applications to this everywhere - children who say their parents just don’t get them; professional relationships that go awry through no understanding, students who feel their teachers don’t understand them and partners who argue through lack of understanding. When you feel understood, you don’t have to explain yourself continuously.  

Tammy Lenski suggests that we ask 3 questions.

  • Did you hear me?
  • Did you see me?
  • Did what I say mean anything to you?

These 3 threads are present in all relationships. The 3 offer a way to check in with yourself and with the other and can be used to assess how well one is attending and being understood. 

  • Do you hear me? - this is about listening. We are too familiar with knowing what it is like not being heard. Conversely, we know what it is like for someone to give us their full attention without distraction. Listening without interrupting and holding the space without filling it with one’s own views.
  • Did you see me? This thread is about being seen for who we truly are. Conflict makes us speak unkindly when we know we are kind. It makes us short-tempered when we know we are evenly keeled. People don’t have a problem with the conflict but have a problem when they feel they are being misunderstood - when someone does not understand who they truly are and what they stand for in their world. The main source of anguish is not being seen for who you are. This thread is critical - do we see them the way they see themselves? This is particularly true when we are close to people. 
  • Does what I say matter to you? This thread is about acknowledgement and validation. We get caught up in questions like - do you agree with me? Or how can I get you to agree with me? Feeling as though you can understand their point of view serves as a buffer for difficult conflict. At work we have the power of dealing with the worst aspects of conflict simply through acknowledgement. Demonstrate that what they are saying matters even if we don’t agree with their point of view. “I care about what you are saying” or “Your point of view matters to me”

It may seem impossible but we need to nurture these listening skills in kids at an early age. Listening carefully to each other is not something that comes naturally – certainly not so to the naturally ego-centered child but particularly so in a world of media self-indulgence. Of late, we are trying to get many children to express themselves better than they do – to go beyond the great Aussie troika of being “sad, glad or bad” and certainly beyond the word “boring”. 

Kids need to express themselves better but can only do so when they have the language – which can be found using many available emotion wheels. If you struggle getting kids to express themselves better, it may be worth using the emotion wheel to assist them in using language that allows them to express their emotions better. 

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