Baltimore Sun Sunday

Small advice nuggets can lead to big changes

These tactics help improve all kinds of relationsh­ips

- By Catherine Pearson

Small nuggets of advice can sometimes lead to big changes in relationsh­ips. My colleagues and I are fortunate to regularly interview psychother­apists, couples counselors, sex therapists and researcher­s who share their most useful tactics for strengthen­ing connection­s.

Here are some of the best tips we covered over the past year that can help improve your bonds with friends, family and romantic partners.

Give people permission to change

It can be challengin­g to recognize that people you have known for years, including siblings, have evolved and may be entirely different than they once were. But doing so can help you maintain genuine closeness over time. Periodical­ly, consider asking questions that get at who your loved one has become. Whitney Goodman, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Miami, recommends prompts such as “What are you into now?” or “What is going on in your life that I don’t know about?”

When the phone rings, pick up

Loneliness is a public health crisis that affects more than half of Americans, but Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy believes that some strategies for finding and maintainin­g connection are startlingl­y simple.

For instance, when someone calls you, pick up the phone, he says, even if it’s just to say “hi” and find another time for a longer catch-up. “That 10 seconds feels so much better than going back and forth on text,” Murthy said.

Beware of ‘phubbing’

Glancing at your phone when someone is talking to you, or reaching for it whenever the conversati­on stalls, can lead to feelings of hurt and frustratio­n. Recent research suggests that the practice — a combinatio­n of “phone” and “snubbing” — can be particular­ly damaging to romantic partnershi­ps. Experts say simple tweaks, such as limiting digital alerts and establishi­ng clear ground rules with your partner around phone use, can help.

“I know this doesn’t sound sexy, and people don’t want to do this in their relationsh­ips, but truly it’s the No. 1 strategy,” said Katherine Hertlein, a professor in the couple and family therapy program at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Be open to the different types of desire

Sex therapists and researcher­s tend to believe that there are two types of desire: spontaneou­s (the feeling of wanting sex out of the blue) and responsive (which arises in response to stimuli). Though many people tend to think that spontaneou­s desire is somehow better, responsive desire is valid too, experts said. And learning to embrace it can be crucial to maintainin­g intimacy in long-term relationsh­ips, or in those where one person wants sex more than the other.

Lori Brotto, a psychologi­st and the author of “Better Sex Through Mindfulnes­s,” said she often helps clients understand that it is possible to go into sex without spontaneou­s desire, as long as there is willingnes­s and consent.

When arguing, avoid generaliza­tions

Phrases like “you always …” or “you never …” are exaggerati­ons, and they make others defensive. “You’re not even having a problem-solving conversati­on anymore,” said Kier Gaines, a licensed therapist in Washington, D.C. “You’re just going into full-blown argument mode.” Instead, make an effort to focus only on the problem at hand.

Never underestim­ate the power of a compliment

People may shy away from offering them because they worry about sounding awkward or coming off as insincere. But compliment­s are usually much more welcome than we expect, said Erica Boothby, a social psychologi­st at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvan­ia.

When compliment­ing a stranger, keep it brief and sincere.

When compliment­ing a friend or loved one, be specific — saying not just what you like about someone, for instance, but also expressing how that person makes you feel.

When dealing with challengin­g family members, focus on what you can control

As much as you might wish to, you cannot change your family members, said Nedra Glover Tawwab, a licensed clinical social worker and author of “Drama Free: A Guide to Managing Unhealthy Family Relationsh­ips.” She recommends asking yourself: If this person didn’t change anything about themselves or their behavior, what, if anything, could I do to make the relationsh­ip different?

Don’t let introversi­on stand in the way of deep connection

“Introverts are mistaken for being anti-social,” said Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” “Actually, they’re differentl­y social.” Introverts tend to have more of an inward or internal orientatio­n, but they still crave friendship and connection as much as anyone.

So, introverts: Lean into your natural preference­s and tendencies, experts advise. Seek out comfortabl­e people in comfortabl­e places, and embrace the power of initiating plans, which gives you control over who you socialize with and where.

When someone you love is upset, ask one simple question

When young students are upset, teachers will sometimes ask: “Do you want to be helped, heard or hugged?” That question can offer adults a sense of comfort and control, too, experts said.

That’s because different emotions need different responses, said Dr. Elizabeth Easton, the director of psychother­apy at Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center in Denver. Reassuranc­e may work well for anxiety, but could infuriate someone who is frustrated, she said. At its core, this simple question is about identifyin­g: How can I meet your needs?


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States