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Falling in love is biologically natural; sustaining love is biologically unnatural.
Falling in Love fills the reservoir of love with appreciations. Soon, though, the reservoir is depleted by the three depleters of love:
- Complaints (e.g., about the food at the restaurant your partner chose)
- Being taken for granted (“You don’t give me flowers anymore.”)
The best way to refill the reservoir of love is by appreciating our partner. Finding appreciations is like finding gold. Taking our partner for granted is like walking over the gold without noticing it. Taking our partner for granted is the path to relationship poverty.
Relationship wealth is like panning for gold: the ones who come away rich are the ones who ignore the crap and keep looking for the gold.
Appreciating requires both an art and discipline.
The Art of Appreciating
The art of appreciating includes expressing your appreciation creatively. For example, if your partner drove, you might tuck a faux ticket under the windshield wiper. Relieved it’s not a ticket, your partner reads,
“Thank you for making the drive safe, so I could absorb the beauty of our trip.”
Being creative can also allow an appreciation to be coupled with an apology and humor. For example, if you had been telling your partner “be careful of the sharp curve”, the faux ticket might read, “We’re a great team: you drive me to the couples’ workshop; I drive you crazy.” A little self-deprecating humor is to a couple what oil is to a car.
Other examples: to appreciate a dinner, place a post-it in the fridge on your favorite leftover; to appreciate your partner earning money by working late, write a simple poem and leave it as a voicemail, or text it. And, of course, leave a card on the pillow to appreciate…, well, …., you know (I’m shy!).
The #1 Secret Sauce of Appreciations: Being Specific. Appreciations that are general, like, “I appreciate all you do,” wear thin with repetition.
Appreciations: Examples of Levels of Specificity
Level 1: Thank you for bringing me flowers.
Level 2: Thank you for bringing me flowers when it wasn’t a special occasion; it made me feel like I am your special occasion.
Level 3: Thank you for bringing begonias—remembering it is my favorite flower.
Level 4: Tuberous begonias, remembering that we have morning sun.
Level 5: Potted, knowing I love gardening.
Level 6: Apricot, my favorite color begonia.
The #2 Secret Sauce of Appreciations: Combining Specificity with Curiosity and Genuine Interest
Level 1: You’re a good cook
Level 2: I liked the way you cooked the turkey.
Level 3: How did you get the skin so crisp?
Level 4: How did you make the dressing so moist?
Level 5: I loved the cranberries, grapes, nuts, spices and herbs.
Level 6: Were the herbs parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano?
Level 7: Do you have the recipe?
The Discipline of Appreciating includes, for example, doing three appreciations each, two nights a week—that is, creating a routine with frequency. And it includes establishing specific times: e.g., on Monday and Thursday nights at dinner. Similarly, you might make appreciations a routine part of your family’s auto trip.
Conflict-Free Zone (166 hours): vs. “Caring and Sharing” Time (2 hours): Divide your week into two parts: a Conflict-free Zone of 166 hours; a “Caring and Sharing” Time of two hours.
Conflict-Free Zone: Six Tools to Maintain
Philosophy: The Harry Truman method of examining emergencies once per week. For criticisms that arise in the Conflict-free Zone, use six tools:
- Visualize arguing now=lose-lose vs. visualize “caring and sharing” time=win-win.
- Journaling—Four Stages
- Self-righteous stage: Why I am 100% right;
- Crack-in-self-righteous Stage: One thing I could have done differently;
- Introspection stage: Everything I could have done differently;
- Empathy stage: My partner’s perspective.
- Pray, and/or meditate
- Post-its throughout house for positive and negative feelings
- “Fake it ‘till you make it” with positive note to partner, to switch energy; buying flowers; cooking your partner’s favorite for dinner; repairing something that your partner wants repaired…
- Music: playing your and your partner’s favorite mood-altering music
“Caring and Sharing” Time. The two-hour “Caring and Sharing” time is the backbone of my art and discipline of love.
As an art, create a setting that is aesthetic, nourishing—even “sacred.”
As a discipline, schedule Caring and Sharing times once per week, and be certain to schedule the next meeting proactively as you complete each session—that is, always have a “Caring and Sharing” time on the calendar. (Johns Hopkins effect.)
Caring and Sharing Sandwich: The partner who is about to share a concern first shares two appreciations. After both of you have completed the entire process, each share two more appreciations. Then schedule your next Caring and Sharing session.
What’s different about this workshop?
Until now, the most advanced work in communication was active listening. But studies show active listening is almost never done without the therapist.
Why? Active listening is good for the criticizer, who hears, “What I heard you say…” but when the person being criticized says, “What I heard you say…” she or he experiences a double jeopardy: the shame or guilt from having done something wrong; plus the hardening of that shame and/or guilt from repeating the criticism.
In this workshop, the person being criticized—instead of feeling attacked and having to defend—learns how to experience the words of the criticizer as an opportunity to feel more loved, therefore eliminating the need for defensiveness to begin with.
How? By temporarily creating an altered state of receptivity prior to hearing our partner’s criticisms or concerns.
The altered state is a meditation which contains the “Six Mindsets” of receptivity.
The “Six Mindsets” of Receptivity
- Read each mindset out loud to your partner as it is written.
- Share your understanding of it in your own words. (This increases your partner’s feeling of safety by knowing you’ve internalized the mindset.)
- Read original again to see if you missed anything.
- If so, incorporate what you missed, but in your own words (see “Die For” mindset below for example).
The Six Mindsets of Receptivity are
DIE FOR. If I will die so you will live, I can listen to give you life.
[After read, check: “miss anything?” (e.g., if your understanding was “If I’m willing to die for you, the least I can do is listen,” what you’re missing is, the image of you giving your partner life (by listening).
LOVE: Love Guarantee. The more I provide a safe space for all of your feelings, the more you will feel loved by me; therefore, the more you will love me.
C: Cinema. If I feel myself get upset, I’ll tell myself, “It’s only a movie.” I’ll remind myself that at a movie I don’t argue with the actors’ stories—I immerse myself in the actors’ stories. I don’t leave early; I stay to the end. I will immerse myself in your story to the end.
A: Attach/Detach. I cannot attach to your story until I detach from my defenses. Defenses like “I have a response to that…”. If I can’t stop my “self-listening” to defenses, I will say, “HOLD.” I will only ask you to re-continue when I can support you to blossom again.
S: Stream. If I feel you are distorting or angry, I will visualize those as pollution in a stream. I will imagine my listening as being a filter–filtering out those impurities. I will remind myself that pollution is the vulnerability of a stream, just like anger is the mask of your vulnerability. I will look forward to the pure stream you will become when the filter of my listening restores your beauty and power.
E: Eye contact. Now my supportive eye contact can be genuine because I know how to hear your hurt and anger in such a way that our love will be deepened.
The person listening need not say a word. Supportive eye contact is the facilitator.
The goal of these six mindsets is to feel safe because you know how to transform criticism to love, rather than feeling defensive because you fear escalation and a loss of love.
If you don’t feel safe, your partner won’t feel safe. The six mindsets keep both of you safe.
However, one word, Hold, is also pivotal in keeping both of you safe…
“HOLD.” When you find yourself feeling defensive in any way, say “Hold.” Feeling defensive includes just contemplating a response that you will give when your partner is finished. “Hold” signals that you need to re-center yourself to focus 100% on your partner’s story. After you use “hold,” tell your partner when you are centered again, and continue.
A mnemonic for the Six Mindsets is “A CASE of dying for love.”
Caring and Sharing: Four Responses
When your partner says she or he is finished, you say
1. WHAT I HEARD YOU SAY WAS…
(Share best intent of what you heard), then
2. Did I DISTORT anything?
3. Did I MISS anything? (Do not ask this until your partner says nothing is distorted.)
4. Is there anything new you’d like to ADD? (This is optional; only if there is time and energy. You can always bring the same topic up another week.)
Mnemonic: Say like a cheerleader: “I say, you say, D M A!”
When your partner says she or he feels completely heard, then she or he prepares to hear your response.
Caring and Sharing Sandwich: Two specific appreciations; one concern; two specific appreciations.
- Criticizer: Share two appreciations; try to get to specificity level 3 or more.
Listener: Soak it up.
- Criticizer: Choose one of your three concerns/criticisms. Then listen to “Listener” review mindsets so that you feel safe because your partner feels safe.
Listener: Meditate while your partner is choosing a concern/criticism. Then review the 6 mindsets (1. read to partner; 2. own words; 3. ask self: “miss anything?” 4. add what you missed). Make sure you’re centered before you tell your partner, “OK, I’m ready.”
- Criticizer: Share your concern/criticism. Be specific. Share how it makes you feel; elaborate, but stay with feelings that emanate directly from that concern/criticism (e.g., “When you buy a new car without asking me, it makes me feel like I’m not a partner,” can be followed by, “and it brings back the trauma of my first marriage.” But the following should be saved for the next C&S: “I also don’t like it when you seem to be stricter with my child from my first marriage than yours from your first marriage.)
Listener: 100% listening. If you catch yourself thinking of a flaw in your partner’s perspective, remember, “This is the story of the one I love; to listen is to give my partner life.” If that doesn’t re-center you, say “HOLD.” Re-center yourself with your most-centering mindset(s). Do not take notes to recall what your partner says. At Step 6, you’ll be asking, “Did I miss anything.” Your partner will be happy to repeat what you missed. J Your partner is given life by your focus and supportive eye contact, nothing else.
- Criticizer: Thank your partner for listening.
Listener: Say “What I heard you say was…”. Then ask, “Is there anything you feel I distorted?”
- Criticizer: Share what you feel was distorted, and what you were trying to say.
Listener: Do not say, “Now I understand.” Whether or not you feel you did in fact distort, keep working at it until your partner says she or he feels understood. Then ask, “Did I miss anything?”
- Criticizer: Share what you feel was missed.
Listener: Again, do not say, “Now I understand.” Whether or not you feel you did in fact miss that point, keep working at it until your partner says she or he feels understood.
LISTENER GIVES RESPONSE TO CRITICISM. Listener does NOT share her or his separate concern until you have first responded to your partner’s concern by first giving your perspective on her or his concern.
To do this, go through steps 2–6 (save 1, appreciations, for before you share your separate concern) by reversing roles, but the listener now becomes the responder, and the criticizer is now the listener.
Next, after the original listener responds, she or he shares again, this time sharing her or his Criticism or Concern. (If your main concern is the same as your partner’s, and you’ve already covered that in your response, then choose your second concern to share.)
Do steps # 1 (Appreciations) through six with you and your partner switching the Criticizer/Listener roles.
Finally, the listener responds, doing steps # 2 through six. You’ll reverse roles again, now as responder/listener.
Finish: Two specific appreciations from each partner.
Caveat: If you engage in any of “The Four Lazinesses” you may have one of your worst fights…
The “The Four Lazinesses”
- Violating the “Conflict Free Zone”either by criticizing, or by responding to a criticism rather than requesting a “hold” to Caring and Sharing time;
- Failing to do the “Caring and Sharing” once-per-week.
- Giving short shrift to the six mindsets: e.g., announcing, “I’m ready to listen” without first creating an altered state via both reading the Six Mindsets, and then saying them in your own words;
- Neglecting to say “Hold” when defensive responses are creeping through the cracks in your caring.
Why one of your worst fights?
Taken together, the “Art and Discipline of Love” deepens your trust and love.
Love is Removing our Armor;
Love is Vulnerability;
Anger is Vulnerability’s Mask.
The “Caring and Sharing” and appreciations combine to make you feel more trusting, and therefore more vulnerable. So you begin to feel you don’t need all that Six Mindsets-type stuff (“I know it; I’ve got it, just go ahead…”). So you skip it or abbreviate it.
Then one day you offer a suggestion; your partner hears it as a criticism, and your partner, in a normal state—not the altered state created by the Six Mindsets—responds defensively. You both escalate, but without your old armor, you both feel more wounded than ever. Trust has been ripped out from under you. Hope fizzles. And anger—vulnerability’s mask—shows its ugly face. You have the worst fight ever.
Your false conclusion: “We’ve tried everything and we’re worse than ever; we’re not meant for each other.”
A more love-enhancing conclusion: The process worked. It deepened our love. And therefore our vulnerability.
The solution: Return to the art and the discipline of love. Avoid “The Four Lazinesses.”
Meantime, remember: Falling in love is biologically natural; sustaining love is biologically unnatural. Sustaining love is both an art, and a discipline.