The inestimable Hedy and Yumi Scheifer give a little summary here of some of their work as renowned relationship therapists (once you get past their slightly hysterical interviewers). They talk about recent research which suggests that we should offer our partners not ten, not fifteen, not sixty, but one hundred caring behaviours per day. Now that may seem like a lot, but apparently this effort to think about what might make your other half happy is going on in the healthiest relationships that the researchers observed. I sometimes suggest to couples that they seem to have lost some generosity towards one another, and though this can be difficult to hear, it often strikes a chord. It may have disappeared gradually over time, lost in the mists of sleepless nights after children are born, financial pressures, and health concerns. It may have vanished the moment an affair was discovered, or during an explosive argument. We can explore in some depth how the generosity faded, and acknowledge the painful feelings that both halves of the couple are likely to have experienced, and we can then take some time to explore how they might rebuild some generosity of spirit. On this theme Hedy and Yumi state that the balance of positive interactions versus negative interactions should be 5:1 - so if we speak harshly to our partner or upset them in some way, if we can notice our behaviour we can then try to make amends by focussing on doing five things to make them happy.
The languages of love
Hedy and Yumi reference John Gottman, another highly experienced relationship therapist, and his languages of love. I often discuss this with couples that I see. John's research over many years has concluded that there are five languages of love: touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and gifts. He has also observed, as have I in my clinical practice, that couples generally don't speak the same language. So while the cockles of A's heart are warmed when B makes his/her sandwiches for the lunchbox in the morning, B feels totally loved-up when A suggests cuddling on the sofa in front of a film. A's language is 'acts of service', while B's is 'touch'. It would be understandable for A to busy about cleaning B's shoes, and for B to keep trying to hug A, but this probably won't have the desired effect - much better to understand what our partner's language is, and try our best to offer them love in the way that really means something to them.
Hedy and Yumi stress the importance of four transition times in our daily life: waking up, leaving the house, coming home and going to sleep. They believe our relationships will be improved if we pay close attention to our partners at these times, looking them in the eye and nurturing our connection.
Stepping up to the plate
When you really think about it, there's nothing too complicated here. All of us can take responsibility to try this stuff out, to make the effort to offer our partners some generosity, to put ourselves in their shoes and try to give them pleasure. We might be resentful, we might wish they would make the effort, we might like to punish them for past hurts, but despite this we could choose a different approach, and by making our partners happy, we might just find that we start to get more of what we like as well.