I was sitting at a coffee shop in warm and sunny Walnut Creek, California several weeks ago escaping the June Gloom of San Francisco, which was bleeding deep into July. As I was sipping my tropical tea, letting myself slowly arrive and adjust to working on some writing projects, I noticed a warm grandfatherly gentleman just outside the window in front of me sitting with what must have been his sweet, little blond-headed 4-year-old grandson.
He was gentle and nurturing with the boy and I thought about how special it must be for that little guy to be able to spend time with this warm, kind grandfather. Then I noticed a cheerful woman about the same age as the grandpa come over and sit down next to them. As she settled, the boy leaned in and nestled his head into her lap. It was such a warm, endearing scene. I basked in the effortless waves of care that rippled off that family as I peered out the rustic window frame.
I never met my paternal grandfather so perhaps it warmed my heart a little to see a young boy get to be with his grandfather. And in such a kind and affectionate way, somewhat uncharacteristic of an older generations emotional sophistication.
Difficult relationships create longing for better ones.
My grandparents and my own parents struggled with relationships as many of us imperfect, yet aspiring humans do. But somewhere along the line I decided to make it a point of my life to learn about relationships. I wanted to better understand these things called feelings and to create more rewarding experiences with the ones I love than the complicated exchanges I grew up seeing.
Have you seen relationships that inspire you?
Did you grow up seeing complicated relationships? Or did you see great relationships between your parents or grandparents? Maybe you had some good models outside of your family that you looked up to in some way. Maybe they taught you that there was a way to do relationships that was better than the ones you saw in your own family. Or maybe you never really learned it you just saw it, admired it and longed for something like that.
We ALL need help creating the loving relationships we long for.
I think many of us fall into the latter category, or perhaps somewhere in between. An in-between place that has left us with longings, but without enough skills or the ability to turn our wishes into our realities.
I have to admit, I think every single one of us could use some good relationship guidance and communication tools and strategies. Even those of us who know a lot about it, have gone to school and studied it, and practice it a lot need reminders and need help in our blind spots.
If you didn't grow up with great relationship role models and if you didn't go to therapy school, there are probably some ways in which you could enhance your relationships, maybe even make them more like those ideal relationships you grow up admiring, or like the grandparents I was touched to see outside the coffee shop window.
You can do big and small things to create a happier relationship.
Here are some of the most important things I find myself helping clients do every day and every week. I hope it will help you experience more warmth, kindness and gentleness in your relationships:
1. Be Curious - Come from a place of genuinely wanting to understand. You’ll probably have to check the HABIT to want to be understood first or to counter-argue.
2. Listen. Listening is the greatest gift (and sometimes takes the most work) you can give a loved one. It takes intention and effort. But the rewards are transformative.
3. See More – See the vulnerable, tender, human with needs and cares and hurts, just like you. Don’t just see what’s on the surface. There is so much more there. See the GOOD underneath, whether it’s presenting or not.
4. Reflect/Ask Questions - If you’re struggling to empathize or understand, ask questions to help you get there. If you think you’re getting it, check it out. Reflecting back what you‘re hearing is also a gift.
5. Regulate - your own feelings that may come up while you’re listening to the other person: Breathe, notice your body, ask for a moment to clear your head if it will help. Then return to listening to your partner.
These tips are little nuggets that can point you in the right direction. But if you find yourself getting stuck or unable to translate them into real change in your life, it may be helpful to get some professional guidance. Real long-lasting change and satisfying relationships shouldn’t skip your generation. You can create a great relationship even if you didn’t grow up with one.
I love hearing how couples are using these tips and strategies! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help with listening and getting listened to - feel free to call me at (415) 797-8297 for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I am San Francisco’s resident relationship therapist helping couples create the love and life that they want!