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How to Improve Your Relationship Using Science

How to Improve Your Relationship Using Science

If you are in a long-term relationship, have you ever wondered about what really makes it work? Is there actual scientific evidence showing that honesty, commitment, and romantic feelings all contribute in a positive way to a relationship? The answer is that there is a lot of psychological research which backs all this up. Here are 9 scientific finding that can help improve your relationships. Science to the rescue again!

1. How committed are you?

How many times have you heard your friends say there was no commitment from the other partner? This is a very common explanation as to why relationships end.

What does commitment mean in real terms? It means that you and your partner will be able to weather any storm,  are in it for the long haul, and will support each other, come what may. It is the true mark of a great team where the health of the relationship is put first and the individual partner in second place.

There is a very interesting article in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin which backs this up. The researchers, Arriaga and Agnew, found that the idea of being in it for the long term was an essential element to a stable and lasting relationship.

2. Is a kiss just a kiss?

Research on our nearest animal relatives, the chimpanzees, shows that kissing is a much more powerful bonding element than we may have thought. There are powerful physical changes which take place. For example, a passionate kiss can set off a whole chain of chemical reactions which involve hormones and neurotransmitters which start rushing through us. Dopamine is one of the most powerful neurotransmitters set off by a kiss and can put you on a very natural high. Adrenaline and serotonin are also triggered into action.

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Studies have shown that there is a definite correlation between the frequency of kissing and the quality of the relationship. The more the merrier.

3. Viewing your partner as an attachment figure

The supreme example of an attachment figure for a child is a loving parent. That is the figure to whom s/he turns to seek validation and support. Siblings and friends can also be important attachment figures. A similar process happens when you form a romantic relationship with someone. It is made stronger by physical intimacy and bonding. These figures fill the spaces in our lives and they are the first we seek out to celebrate our successes and console us in our failures. The stronger the attachment, the better the chances are of the relationship being a stable and a happy one.

4. Do you have positive illusions about your partner?

 “Love is not blind-It sees more and not less, but because it sees more it is willing to see less.” – Will Moss

Most people would say that if you have any illusions about your partner this might prove to be negative in the long run. But science has shown that the opposite may be true. Romantic love is full of positive illusions which makes you see an idealized version of your partner. But is this healthy and wise?

A positive image is typical at the beginning of a relationship but time will reveal your partner’s defects, bad habits, and other negative features. Studies show that the more you know, the less you are likely to stay in love. Certainly, this is true for divorcees who shudder when they think how on earth they could have fallen head over heels in love with him or her.

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Research is now favoring the view that certain positive illusions can help the relationship to last the longest. Studies show that these couples argue less and are happier.

“Happiness is good health and a bad memory.” – Ingrid Bergman

5. How independent are you?

Most relationships seem to function better when there is a certain amount of autonomy in the relationship and the couple feel they do not have to act in tandem all the time. There is no feeling of coercion in making choices. You may want time and space to pursue a hobby or interest or even meet with friends.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want makes it very clear in her book how autonomy can lead to less stress and greater happiness.

“To find yourself, think for yourself.”- Socrates

6. Have you told any lies today?

Normally, lying is considered toxic for any relationship, as it can erode any trust you may have built up. Psychologists, however, draw a distinction between two types of lying.

The first is anti-social lying and here you can lie to manipulate a situation in your favor or simply to deceive your partner. This is always regarded as a betrayal of trust and can destroy a relationship

The second type is called pro-social lying and this is where you lie to avoid breaking bad news at the wrong time or simply to avert a nasty situation or not to hurt your partner’s feelings. This is regarded with tolerance and is often known as a ‘white lie.’ Sometimes these lies can help to protect a relationship from breaking up. This was the conclusion reached by researchers led by Robin Dunbar at Oxford University.

7. Never underestimate the power of physical affection

Did you know that a calming hormone called oxytocin is released when we kiss, hold hands, or simply hug each other, and also when orgasm is reached during sex? The physical benefits can only enhance feelings of well-being and will be an important element in helping to build a happy and more stable relationship. It is also important in reinforcing a sense of trust which is crucial for any long-term liaison. Physical contact is a boon. Studies show that there is a very strong link between high-quality relationships and frequent physical contact.

8. A great investment for your health

Experts are now telling us that it is well worth your while to dedicate time and effort in building a stable and long-lasting relationship such as marriage or other type of civil partnership. Why? The physical and mental health benefits are so great that they will positively affect your quality of life and help you live longer

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Researchers at Cardiff University say that women benefit from better mental health while men seem to be physically healthier. They regard it as a sound investment and well worth the effort.

9. Learn how to grow the relationship

Probably the biggest threat to any stable relationship is the risk of getting into a rut. Following the same old routine in going out, in lovemaking, and in eating guarantees that boredom will set in. Boredom is like a virus and often takes a hold resulting in dissatisfaction and conflict.

The statistics do not lie on this one. Relationships are more relaxed and happier when new things are explored together. Simple things like having a regular date night may appeal to some couples or taking up a new hobby together can set the tone for discovering new and wonderful things in your life.

Let us know in the comments how you manage to improve your relationships.

Featured photo credit: couple in love in autumn via shutterstock.com

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More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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