Category Archives: Relationship Skills

How to Give a Great Compliment

“The Sound of Purple Rain” Mimi Stuart ©

While it’s nice to say, “You’re terrific” or “You’re so smart,” there are much better, more meaningful ways to compliment a person.

A great compliment is both specific and personal. The compliment praises the individual for a particular characteristic, act or behavior, and it highlights the effect it has on oneself or others.

For example, “When I see you walk into the room, my heart lights up and I feel lucky to know you.”

“The way you handle hardship with tenacity, courage and a good attitude has inspired me to try to do the same during these difficult times.”

“Your way with words makes even the most ordinary conversation interesting and enjoyable.”

“Your beaming smile is contagious and makes me feel happy.”

“I admire how you see the bigger picture and understand nuanced and multiple viewpoints in a world where people are often too one-sided.”

“Your painting brings to life the joy and beauty in the melancholy of rain.”

Another example of a great compliment is from the movie “As good as it gets,” where Melvyn, played by Jack Nicholson, concludes his oblique compliment by saying, “You make me want to be a better man.”

Compliments that are specific and personal can’t help but make someone feel good.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Six Words to Express Yourself while Keeping the Peace

“Imagination”—Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

Two people with different opinions can have an effective discussion if they listen to each other and speak in a way that will make them likely to be listened to. Here is an effective way to transition to your own point of view:

“Yes, though I see it differently.”

“Yes”

“Yes” shows that you have heard what the other person said. Of course it’s important to actually listen to the other person. “Yes” can be expanded to express what you understand the other person’s viewpoint to be.

For example, “Yes, I see that you think I criticized you.”

“Yes, I understand that you are really angry.”

“Yes, I recognize that she yelled at you.”

Tone

Tone of voice is key. A tone of condescension will cause the other person to bristle. A tone of hostility will cause the other to become defensive. A tone of weakness or victimhood will trigger the bully in the other person. So your tone should express self confidence as well as respect for the other.

“Though I see it differently”

Stating that you see things differently is quite different from saying one of the following:

“You’re wrong.”

“That’s stupid.”

“No, you don’t understand.”

It’s hard for the other person to argue against you simply because you “see things differently.” By approaching a difficult conversation in this way, you can politely and calmly introduce other considerations.

Your viewpoint

When you express your opinion, use terms such as “I believe,” “I think,” “My experience is,” “I have noticed,” “I want,” or “I need.”

For example, “I believe her anger comes from fear and not knowing how to communicate effectively. So I want to give her a chance.”

“To me, time alone is re-energizing; it’s not about being away from you. I simply need to recharge.”

“I really value compromise. I want to figure out a way to satisfy both of us as best as possible.”

Most discussions involve viewpoints rather than facts. So it’s best to avoid assuming a false dichotomy where only one person is right and the other is wrong. Others are more likely to really listen to you when you use words and body language that show respect and understanding for different points of view.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


How to Increase Interest and Desire in your Relationship

“Perfect Swing” — Paula Creamer by Mimi Stuart ©


In a good long-term relationship, curiosity, interest, fun and desire thrive because there is adequate independence in the relationship. Here are some suggestions on how to avoid too much emotional fusion and codependence, which will smother the mystery, fun and desire in a relationship:

Don’t express every feeling and thought.

Hurt feelings, misunderstandings and other stresses will inevitably occur in any relationship. So you need to be able to communicate effectively, that is, being candid while having compassion. Express yourself briefly and on point, and ask yourself “is what I am about to say/do/ask helpful or hurtful, and is it necessary?”

Do not communicate every thought and feeling, and become annoying and tedious. Constantly expressing what’s on your mind is unnecessary and a sure way to kill all curiosity and ultimately the relationship.

“I’m bored.”
“I’m lonely.”
“I’m hungry.”
“I don’t like the way she talks.”
“I gained weight and feel sluggish.”
“I think I’ll have a cookie.”

Try to contain the more mundane thoughts and feelings, and express only the more interesting and important ones.

Don’t be controlling.

People generally become controlling out of their own insecurity. They may assume that if they can control the other person’s actions and thoughts, they might avoid potentially losing them. The opposite is true. The controlling person becomes oppressive and undesirable, making others want to flee.

Avoid nagging, pushing and managing your partner. Avoid telling your partner what to do or what to think all of the time. Allow some freedom, independence, and space between the two of you – it’s important. You want to be with a separate individual, not a puppet.

Don’t be needy.

At the beginning of the relationship, you may have felt whole and fulfilled as though all your needs were being met. But many of those feelings of fulfillment are a result of the initial excitement of falling in love, as well as your own projections, that is, your fantasy of who that other person is.

When you continue to expect another person to satisfy all your needs, you burden the relationship with your own unrealistic expectations. No other person will totally satisfy your emotional needs. You need to meet those needs yourself.

Enjoy your time together, but don’t require your partner to validate you constantly and to fulfill all your needs. That will only lead to disappointment and resentment.

Enrich your life.

If you want to feel desired, you need to be desirable. People shine when they live a full and vital life, engage in interests and with a variety of people, and have independent thoughts and pursuits. So pursue your passions and nourish your friendships.

Some partners may feel threatened by this, but the alternative is worse. Restricting your life by eliminating your passions and other friendships will ultimately doom the relationship and your own life to misery and meagerness.

You can start with small steps. When you see how effective those steps are, it will become easy, fun and rewarding to make your life more abundant and multifaceted. For example, do some things on your own or with friends instead of always waiting at home. Suggest new activities to your partner, but if he or she is uninterested, then go do it alone or with someone else. Take a walk, see a movie, take a trip to the beach, take up a new hobby, travel on your own or with friends.

You will become more interesting, fulfilled, and desirable.

If following these suggestions is difficult for you, you can get help and learn specific actions to take to develop healthier loving relationships at Co-Dependence Anonymous or with a good cognitive behavioral therapist.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Turning a Complaint into Enticement
“We never go dancing or do anything fun anymore!”

"Dazzle" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So what I really meant was…

“Let’s go dancing!”

Exaggeration and blame make a person feel defensive instead of accommodating. Self-pity is unattractive—definitely not a seductive way to get someone to want to go dancing with you!

When people demonstrate personal authority and show excitement, they have a lot more magnetism than when they complain. Expressing desire is more effective than expressing discontent. So communicate in a positive, irresistible way:

“I’d love it if you came dancing with me tonight/next week/every Saturday!”

If the answer is “no,” find someone else to go dancing with, go on your own, or find something you both want to do together—but express yourself in a positive way, remembering that the goal is to enjoy your time together.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Spending Time Together as a Couple.”

Narcissism Part 5: How to Deal with a Narcissist.

“Roar of the Raptor” by Mimi Stuart©

Don’t Trust a Narcissist

Avoid seeking a trusting intimate relationship with a narcissist. If you decide to enjoy the narcissist’s charm and charisma, do not get carried away into trusting him or her with inner secrets. Do not set yourself up for betrayal and hurt by having confidence in his or her loyalty. Do not let your feelings of self-worth depend on a narcissist’s love, actions or behavior.

Speak to the Narcissist’s Self-interest

It is generally helpful in a relationship to express your feelings or needs. But if you are dealing with a true narcissist, do not expect empathy and understanding. You will be more effective in communicating with a narcissist when you show how certain actions or behavior might benefit him or her.

Don’t Disagree

Beware of disagreeing with or contradicting narcissists. They behave as though they are strong and confident but they are easily offended. They do not want to be viewed as inadequate. If you confront their weaknesses, they may become vengeful and punishing. Keep your discussion focused on practical goals rather than personal accountability.

Be on your Guard

Narcissists hide their own flaws and project problems on to other people. Beware of allowing them to blame you for too much. If you are doing business with a narcissist, keep a paper trail. In marriage or divorce, hire a good attorney.

Separating from Narcissistic Parents

It is sad to be raised by narcissistic parents, because they view their children as extensions of their own false self-image they present to the world. If the child disagrees with a narcissistic parent, that parent becomes hostile and volatile. If the child does not embrace the family image or the image the parent projects onto the child, the narcissistic parent rejects or loses interest in the child. It is helpful not to take this personally, but rather to see that the parent’s callousness and preoccupation with family image are caused by his or her own low self-esteem.

Don’t hope for Change

It takes a lot of motivation for anyone to change. Unfortunately, narcissists rarely have the desire to change because they don’t think they need to, as they are not self-reflective. Their underlying problem is a weak sense of self. Thus, they focus on developing a strong outer shell consisting of their image. They rarely seek counseling, but if they do go, they tend to manipulate the situation in order to look good rather than become self-aware to improve their lives.

If you are in relationship with a narcissist, it is helpful to recognize their traits in order to protect yourself. You can then choose when to encourage the narcissist’s self-image, when to fortify your sense of humor, and when to avoid dealing with him or her all together.

Avoid being Narcissistic

Note that it is natural and healthy for a child to go through a narcissistic stage. Even as adults, most of us still have some mild narcissistic tendencies. So while it feels good to be praised and complimented, we should beware of becoming dependent on others for their validation, admiration, and approval to boost our feelings of self-worth. Psychological dependence on others comes at a cost. Thus, it is important to be reflective to make sure we are considering and balancing our own self-interest with the wellbeing of others.

There is a big difference, however, between being simply insecure or self-centered and having the condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you are self-reflective enough to even wonder whether you are a narcissist, let alone read a psychology blog, it is highly unlikely that you are!

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read Narcissism Part 1: Symptoms

Read “Dealing with the narcissist.”

References: “Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.”

When is “distancing” beneficial to your relationship, and when is it harmful?

“Romance of Flight” by Mimi Stuart ©

There are times when “distancing” — seeking more space between partners — is the best thing you can do for the relationship, and there are times when it is harmful. Ideally, there is a balance between distance and togetherness, that is, between being self-contained and sharing thoughts and feelings. Too much of either separateness or connection will cause relationship problems.

Usually people who resist distancing are the ones who need to learn to become more self-contained, and those who crave distance would benefit from learning to balance their need for connection with independence.

When too much connection is harmful and distancing is beneficial

In general, people who are needy and eager to pursue connection may have one or more of the following characteristics:

• they need a lot of attention, approval, or validation,

• they express their thoughts and opinions without discretion, either complaining too much or making perpetual observations even if tedious or uninteresting,

• they are afraid to do things alone—e.g., to see friends or family, pursue interests and hobbies, etc., or

• they don’t have control over their emotions, and tend to express too many negative emotions to their partner.

When people focus too much on getting their needs met by another person, the relationship becomes fused, boundaries dissolve, and anxiety becomes increasingly infectious. The assumption of people who tend to fuse emotionally is that others are responsible for their own well-being. Such expectations increase pressure, anxiety, and disappointment, because people ultimately cannot provide well-being to another person without diminishing that person’s selfhood and independence.

When two people focus on getting their own needs met and become more independent, their relationship tends to flourish and become more reciprocal.

When is distancing harmful

If you feel hurt, angry, or resentful toward your partner, you might need a little time to calm down (to withdraw or seek distance) to figure out if you need to talk to your partner, let the situation slide, or take some sort of action. Hopefully, you will only need a few minutes to sort it out. In more serious situations you may need more time, or you may even need to talk to someone outside the relationship to get help.

Make sure, however, to avoid distancing when it is motivated by a desire to punish, to manipulate, or to avoid conflict.

• Distancing to punish

Beware of using distancing in a punitive way. If you withdraw to punish your partner, you will only further exacerbate the negative relationship dynamic. Your aim should be to understand and respect each other, not to hurt each other.

• Distancing to manipulate

Beware of distancing as a means to manipulate your partner. Causing your partner to fear abandonment may get your partner’s attention, but it will damage the relationship in the long run. Controlling someone through their emotions creates resentment and prevents open, honest communication.

• Distancing to avoid conflict

If your fear of your partner’s reactions causes you to become distant, you deny yourself the opportunity to develop true intimacy, which requires honesty, trust, and openness. Don’t shy away from expressing your feelings and desires but do so respectfully and be ready to listen and discuss.

In conclusion, appropriate self-containment is an important ingredient of a healthy relationship but it’s important to avoid using distance as a way to hurt or manipulate your partner, to avoid conflict, or to get attention. Learn to balance your emotional independence with candid, caring connection.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD