Our basic premise is: Your body is amazing. You get a do-over; it doesn’t take that long, and isn’t that hard if you know what to do.
In these columns, we give you a short course in what to do so it becomes easy for you, and then you can teach others. We want you to know how much control you have over your quality and length of life.
To go along with the theme for this issue of SUCCESS— Family and Relationships—we want to offer some tips on one area of communication that can make the difference between unhealthy, unhappy relationships and happy, healthy ones that help you stay younger.
If you look into your personality stew pot, you (and your family and friends) will be able to pick out the main ingredients—the stock that forms your core value system, the chunks that form your personal characteristics and all the subtle aromas that make you the only one of your kind.
One of the amazing things about people is that we all have different goals. Some of us want to be rock stars and some of us want to study stars; some of us want to cook fish and some of us want to catch them. While our interests, goals and careers are as different as our facial features, the biggest drive of all is applicable to nearly everyone: finding that special somebody to call honey, to snuggle with in bed and to argue with about the best American Idol contestant.
That feeling—of love, bliss, emotional connection, physical fireworks—lies at the heart of how happy we are. We need other people, love other people, crave other people. Without that singular bond on a romantic level (and multiple ones at the family and friend level), it’s very hard for most of us to be happy. That said, we should also be clear that our feelings of happiness in relationships extend beyond the romantic sort.
Strong social networks with friends, family and our pets are strong contributors to our happiness. The converse is also true: Bad relationships can be a trigger for stress and bad health. While the health benefits of a safe, monogamous, sexual relationship are extremely important, research also indicates that strong social ties, such as having a best buddy, are pretty good substitutes for most of the health benefits of a spousal relationship. And they are much better than having an unsatisfied or unhappy spousal arrangement.
Something important in spousal and non-spousal relationships is knowing how to give and receive feedback. We live in a world that gives us feedback. Our bodies give us feedback when we eat something we don’t like. Our computers give us feedback when we boot up. And our audio system gives us feedback if we point the microphone in the wrong direction. Funny thing, though: A lot of us have trouble giving each other really good, genuine feedback—especially in our romantic relationships. Our feedback comes off as criticism, snarky remarks and attacks on character. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, use these strategies for better feedback results.
When giving feedback, make sure it is:
?? Specific: Feedback must be based on observable behavior, not one’s feelings or the conclusions drawn from the behavior. For example, “Thanks for helping the kids build a Lego volcano.” Specific compliments help.
?? Timely: Do it now. Don’t let criticisms fester.
?? Actionable: Make sure it’s based on something over which a person has control. “The color of your eyes scares me!” isn’t helpful.
?? Positive: Give both positive and critical feedback, but tip the balance in the positive direction.
When receiving feedback, make sure you:
?? Listen without comment. When he or she has finished speaking, don’t make any statements, but do ask questions if you want clarification. Don’t accept, don’t deny and don’t rationalize. Because we are rarely taught to give feedback well, you will often get feedback when the giver is angry about something in the moment. Listening should be as active a pursuit as speaking.
?? Recognize the courage it took to give you the feedback, and consider it a sincere gift intended to help you grow. Thank the giver for the feedback. Make it short but something you can say sincerely, such as, “You’ve really given me something to think about, thanks.” It’s hard to feel real appreciation when you hear negative messages about your appearance or behavior, so it’s important to have simple words of gratitude prepared ahead of time.
?? Know that feedback can be tough to receive, even if we solicit it and are grateful for it. Although it’s simply another person’s perception, feedback can shake up your feelings about yourself. When you know you’ll be facing tough criticism, plan to do something that bolsters self-esteem, such as having dinner with friends or engaging in an activity at which you are particularly good.
Which brings us back to a feedback tip from a previous issue: Think of someone who has had an effect on your life—big or small— and write that person a note of gratitude (not via e-mail either; be personal). Gratitude is one of the gifts you can give others that also has some selfish benefits. Some research shows that 15 minutes of daily gratitude can dramatically decrease stress hormones in your body. So tell someone who gave you feedback how you appreciate that input. It’s tough to give and tough to receive, but very important to the health of relationships. So say thank you. It will mean a lot to both of you.