As a Clinical Psychologist who works with both individuals and couples, I can tell you that YOU can actually improve your relationship without talking about it! Don't get me wrong, communication is super important and I highly encourage talking with your significant other a lot, but you can also do a few subtle (but really important!) things to make your relationship better, without ever discussing it with your partner.
While there are several actions you can take to improve your relationship, the one I want to highlight here is actually something comedienne Tiny Fey talks about in her book Bossypants. While reading this book for fun, not expecting it to enlighten my practice of psychology, something struck me. In the book she talks about, "The Rules of Improv." (In case your not familiar with Tina Fey, she started out doing improvisational theater in Chicago, then moved on to Saturday Night Live).
Back to the issue at hand... the FIRST RULE of improv is to AGREE with whatever your fellow actor presents. If you don't agree, there is no way to proceed with the scene. For example, if one actor starts a scene by sitting down and pretending to steer a car and says, “where ya headed today?” The other actor knows the scene of is taking place in a taxi cab. The other actor needs to AGREE with the setting, and go with it, in order for the scene to take place. Conversely, if the other actor says, “What? Where am I going? What are you talking about?” The scene stops. There’s nowhere to go and things get awkward.
Think of how agreeing vs. disagreeing can impact a conversation with your partner.
One way to practice agreeing with your partner is to think in terms of, “Yes, and…” That is, agree, and take the conversation/scene further by adding something.
When I read about this in Fey's book, it became immediately clear that this concept applies directly to relationships. Agreeableness in relationships is very important! (I cannot emphasize that enough!) In order to have a good relationship, it’s important to be agreeable.
Happy couples tend to be more agreeable. Research supports this assertion. This is not necessarily because happy couples share all the same opinions, it’s because they are choosing to agree more than they disagree. They are choosing to hear what they agree with and say "yes" rather than only pointing out things they don't agree with (likely leading to an argument).
When helping couples practice communicating, I often tell them to start their responses by reflecting back to their partner something with which they can agree. This is because, often people focus on the thing their partner said that they don’t agree with and that becomes all they hear and what they respond to. They “forget” to mention all of the other things that they actually do agree with. In relationships it’s important to pick out the things you agree with and start there. This does not mean you have to agree with everything your partner says; obviously that's not realistic. But it is important to agree more than you disagree. Try it out and see what happens. You will notice some positive changes in your relationship if you practice thinking and expressing, “Yes, and…” rather than, “No but…”
Want to learn more communication strategies to start using right away? Check out my self-paced video course: “Improving Communication in your Relationship.” Use offer code: JULY30 to get 30% off the course this month.
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