4 science-based strategies to tame angry political debate and encourage tolerance

Featured

“Climate change is a hoax,” my cousin said during a family birthday party. “I saw on Twitter it’s just a way to get people to buy expensive electric cars.” I sighed while thinking, “How can he be so misinformed?” Indeed, what I wanted to say was, “Good grief, social media lies are all you read.”

No doubt my cousin thought the same of me, when I said Republican senators are too afraid of the president to do what’s right. Not wanting to create a scene, we let each other’s statements slide by in icy silence.

As a psychology professor and clinical psychologist in private practice, I know my relationship with my cousin would have improved if we could have discussed those issues in a nonthreatening way. If only.

I’m not alone in my frustration – and my desire for change. A December 2019 poll conducted by Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos showed more than nine out of 10 Americans said it’s time to reduce divisiveness, which they believe is exacerbated by government leaders and social media. People want to stop the animosity and relate to one another again. But how?

Based on my knowledge of psychological research, here are four approaches you can use to overcome divisiveness.

Don’t isolate yourself from people with different points of view.

1. Connect

Avoiding interactions with people who have different opinions perpetuates divisiveness. Risk connecting with these people. Relate through activities you enjoy such as volunteering, joining a “Meetup” group or starting a book club. You could even invite people from various backgrounds to a potluck dinner at your home.

What activities like these share is a common goal, which creates a cooperative atmosphere instead of a competitive one. Research demonstrates that contact alone does not ensure cooperative interaction. To truly connect, you both have to demonstrate respect while working on a common goal.

2. Find common ground

It’s important to remember the basic need to feel secure is shared by all people. Focusing on commonalities can lead to a deeper understanding of another person, while focusing on differences will lead to arguments.

An argument involves two people asserting one is right while the other is wrong. But what gets lost in this scenario is the common ground of the problem they both are trying to wrestle with.

Restate the problem. Together, brainstorm all the different ways it might be solved.

For example, a person might say the only way to protect America from terrorism is to sharply limit immigration. Instead of challenging that immigration must be limited, you can restate the problem – then ask if there might be ways to deal with terrorism besides limiting immigration. You might find some solutions you agree upon.

3. Communicate

Listen more and talk less. Show the other person you have understood what they said before jumping in with your thoughts.

Everyone wants to be acknowledged as heard. If they are not, they will continue to press their point. So, to stop an argument in its tracks, start listening and reflect back what you’ve heard.

You’ve probably experienced listening for only what you want to hear – and possibly found yourself not listening at all. You may just be waiting to give a knee-jerk reaction to what the other person is saying.

To listen well, you need to first open your ears, eyes and heart. Examine your biases so you can hear without judgment. Suspend your self-interest and stay with what the other person is saying. Then tell that person what you heard.

Showing empathy does not mean you necessarily agree with what the other person is saying. It just means you’re reassuring the other person you have listened before making your own statement.

Now, it’s time for you to share where you’re coming from. Take a deep breath. Cool down and reassess your thoughts so you can give a considered response, instead of a quick reaction. You can disagree without being disrespectful.

Communication using the above process leads to a conversation instead of an argument and builds a more trusting relationship. It takes only one of you to create an empathetic conversation, as empathy begets empathy. The more compassionate understanding you give, the more you get.

Be skeptical and learn to recognize when you are being manipulated by divisive content.

4. Learn to critically evaluate media

Don’t passively accept all that you see and hear. There are too many sources of distorted facts, unsupported opinions and outright lies available today. Critically evaluate what is being presented by considering the source and fact-checking the content.

Above all, if the message seems fake, don’t share it. Google has a fact-checking tool, and First Draft News has tools to evaluate false content and the way it is disseminated. You can also consult Full Fact and CUNY’s fact-checking guide. So, when you hear or see someone sharing fake information, don’t challenge it. Instead, show how to fact check the information.

Avoid anger and hate in the content you consume. Evaluate whether it is seeking to pit you against another person or group. Follow media that supports empathy, compassion and understanding. But don’t get lulled into a bubble by reading only content you agree with. Help children and teens, not only to critically evaluate media, but also to become kind and caring toward people who are different from them. Teach tolerance by showing tolerance. Yes, you are only one person trying to create change, but your influence does matter.

As for me, the next time I see my cousin, I plan to listen with empathy; let him know I understand his point of view; and try to identify a common goal around which we can share our perspectives.

(The above article was first posted in The Conversation.)

Why Are We So Divided and What Can We Do about It? Psychological Research Has Some Clues

Our nation is increasingly becoming divided into opposing groups.  And these divisions are becoming more and more entrenched.  So, why is this occurring? 

Similarity Brings Comfort

Psychologists say it is easiest to stick with people who we see as similar to ourselves. It requires more effort to step outside our bubble.  So, we tend to associate with people who look or think like ourselves.

We then we take the similarity even one step further by assuming that people who are similar to us on one characteristic are similar to us on many other characteristics.  For example, if a person belongs to the same political party or religion that we do, we might think they also like the same activities that we do. Thus, we have a strong tendency to categorize people with a broad brush.

We also want assurances that we will be liked before we attempt to interact with someone else.  People who are similar to us tend to be liked by us and tend to like us more so than is the case with dissimilar people.  Again, then, we isolate ourselves from the challenge of being with dissimilar people.  The process of seeing our group as the best group is known as ingroup bias.

Ingroup Bias is Hardwired

Viewing others in the same way we view ourselves is a function of a part of our brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex.  Other parts of our brain also predispose us to ingroup bias.

We see the same behaviors of people not in our group as different from those of people in our group. A group of psychologists presented Democrats and Republicans during the U.S. Presidential election of 2004 with an initial statement (e.g., a politician said they were going to lower taxes) from a presidential candidate of their own or another political group.  Participants were subsequently shown a statement which involved an action which contradicted the initial statement (e.g., the politician is now not lowering taxes). Participants perceived less contradiction between the initial statement and the action that contradicted the statement from their own group leader. This biased processing of information from ingroup versus outgroup leaders showed up as activation in certain areas of the brain.

When feeling threatened by an outgroup member, another part of our brain is activated.  Australian psychologists asked Non-Muslim participants to decide to either shoot a photograph of a Muslim (outgroup member) or a Non-Muslim (ingroup member) who, in the photograph, was holding a gun. When confronted by the photograph of the outgroup member with a gun and while deciding to shoot the photograph of this member, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex of the Non-Muslim participant was activated. But it was not activated when deciding whether to shoot the photograph of the ingroup member.

Ingroup Bias is Amplified by Social Media

Social media increases our isolation from others. We tend to subscribe to popular media which only confirms our point of view.  People outside our group may have a different point of view but we are not exposed to it.  And when we are not exposed to outgroup members, our ingroup bias is intensified.

Stereotypes of outgroup members run rampant. We even then begin surmising what other people think.  People who dress like Muslims might think like or (gasp) be terrorists.  People who are trying to immigrate to the United States might think they can be freeloaders.  These stereotypes all come from seeing people outside our group as not only making us uncomfortable but as being a threat. 

It is the way we see people not like us that creates fear and hate—not the actual reality.  Yes, some people from our group as well as some people outside our group are, at best misinformed, and even terrorists and freeloaders, but most people are not.  Yet we continue to have a perception of people not like us in terms of stereotypes.

See Others as Individuals, Not as Members of a Group

To change our perception, we must be exposed to people not like us in positive contexts.  We cannot just stay in our safe shell.  We have to actively seek out people who are not similar to us. We will then see others as individuals, not just as members of an outgroup.

One way to develop positive images is through travel where we interact with others—this could be travel within or outside the United States.  Another way is for positive images and stories about people from groups other than our own to be presented in popular media (social media, television, magazines, newspapers), schools, churches, even stores.

There are many benefits to taking the risk of being with people different from ourselves.  One benefit is changing attitudes toward outgroup members.  The change in attitudes reduces conflict, which benefits one’s well being as well as society.

Another benefit of interacting with outgroup members is self-expansion. Self-expansion means we develop a wider view of who we are and of what we are able to do.  We are motivated to expand ourselves.  And one of the best ways to do so is to engage in activities with members of an outgroup.  We begin to incorporate some of the positive characteristics and resources of others into our view of our self.

Yes, we need to reach out and speak to people other than ourselves.  But, most of all, we need to listen to them.

REFERENCES

Aron, A., McLaughlin-Volpe, T., Mashek, D., Lewandowski, G., Wright, S.C. & Aron. E.N. (2004) Including others in the self, European Review of Social Psychology, 15(1), 101-132, DOI: 10.1080/10463280440000008

Domínguez D, J.F., van Nunspeet,F., Gupta, A., Eres, R., Louis, W.R., Decety, J., & Molenberghs, P. (2018). Lateral orbitofrontal cortex activity is modulated by group membership in situations of justified and unjustified violence, Social Neuroscience, 13 (6), 739-755. DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2017.1392342

Hampton, A.J., Fisher Boyd, A.N., & Sprecher, S. (2019). You’re like me and I like you: Mediators of the similarity-liking link assessed before and after a getting-acquainted social interaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36 (7), 2221-2224. DOI:10.1177/0265407518790411

Locke, K.D., Craig, T., Baik, K.D., Gohil, K.(2012). Binds and bounds of communion: effects of interpersonal values on assumed similarity of self and others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 103(5), 879-897.

Molenberghs, P., Louis, W. R. (2018). Insights from fMRI studies into ingroup bias. Frontiers in Psychology, 9 (1868), 1-12. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01868 

Paolini, S., Wright, S., Dys-Steenbergen, O., & Favara, I.. (2016). Self‐Expansion and intergroup contact: Expectancies and motives to self‐expand lead to greater interest in outgroup contact and more positive intergroup relations. Journal of Social Issues. 72, 450-471. DOI: 10.1111/josi.12176.

Westen, D., Blagov, P. S., Harenski, K., Kilts, C., and Hamann, S. (2006). Neural bases of motivated reasoning: an fMRI study of emotional constraints on partisan political judgment in the 2004 US presidential election. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 18, 1947–1958. DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2006.18.11.1947

Click To Tweet

A (Short) Guide To Better Boundaries

I was honored to contribute to this article which appeared on Page 5 of the Wellness Section in the Sunday New York Times on October 30th. boundriesblog

What It Really Means If Your Love Language Is ‘Acts Of Service’

mad cat

Show me, don’t tell me.

BY ARYELLE SICLAIT

JUL 26, 2019

If you want to know why you do the things you do, you might look to your zodiac sign. For intel about your social tendencies, maybe your Myers-Briggs personality. But for understanding what makes you feel special in a relationship? Well, that’s one for love languages.

If you’ve read up on anything related to relationships and romance, like, ever, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages at some point in your research (or, okay, at girls night).

A quick rundown: If compliments make you melt, your love language is probably Words of Affirmation. If you thrive on the thoughtfulness behind a present, Receiving Gifts is yours. Look forward to dinners for two all weeklong? That’s Quality Time. And if you’re all about holding hands or you feel most connected during sex, you speak the language of Physical Touch.

The language that tends to get a bad rap (aside from Receiving Gifts, which isn’t about materialism, btw), however, is Acts of Service. It describes people whose hearts swell at the thought of coming home to dinner on the table with the promise of an empty sink or a foot rub for dessert. If this sounds like you, you feel most loved when people do things for you, not just with you or to you.

But here’s the thing: The Acts of Service language doesn’t make you a high-maintenance or lazy nag. All it means is that, for you, actions truly speak louder than words. 

Okay, tell me more—what does ‘Acts of Service’ say about me?

At its core, this language is about demonstrations of love.

Since saying “I love you” doesn’t actually guarantee that the speaker means it, some people respond better to seeing someone show their feelings, says Beverly Palmer, PhD, clinical psychologist, professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and author of Love Demystified

That’s not to say you have trust issues (though it’s possible), or that you’re overly dependent (or codependent) on other people. In fact, you’re most likely super self-sufficient and ambitious.

That’s exactly what makes you respond to this language: If someone can recognize all that you do on your own and wants to step in to help make your life a little easier, that, to you, is real love.

Their actions are actually less about the deed itself and more about showing you that they are on your team.

If your partner goes out of their way to pick your sister up from the airport, or call the realtor so you don’t have to, you hear “I care about you enough to sacrifice my own time for your benefit.” And that’s not something you find every day. 

Is Acts of Service ever a bad thing?

Okay, brace yourself: Acts of Service can be a little problematic if you’re not super self-aware.

While every relationship should be about balance, where both partners get their needs equally met, having this particular love language could make you more susceptible to letting expectations get in the way of an otherwise happy and healthy situation. In other words, if you think your partner should be doing X or Y for you, rather than letting them choose how to show their support, you could self-sabotage your bond.

“Unbalanced relationships where one person expects too much and thinks their partner must meet those expectations to prove that they love them” is when things get tricky, Palmer says. No one wants a relationship that comes with a list of chores.

Think about it: At work, you’d be put off by a new employee who feels like they’re entitled to certain things before they’ve even shown their commitment to the company. Similarly, your partner should feel like their demonstrations of love are reciprocated and their choice, at their will—not your demand. 

Want a stronger relationship? Steal this couple’s secrets:

Gotcha. So if this is my love language, how do I make a relationship work?

Communication, communication, oh, and um, some more communication.

When acts of service are involved, there’s no room for assumptions, says Palmer. Assuming your S.O. knows which acts of service you value most and expecting them to perform them at all is a surefire way to make your partner feel taken advantage of.

So here’s how to be straightforward without demanding anything in return:

Do

  • Clearly tell your partner which acts of service you value.This way they can prioritize those actions, Palmer says. Frame it in a way that explains why their help means something to you, like: “I haven’t been getting much sleep lately—would you mind walking the dog in the morning so I can sleep in a little longer?”

    If you have a hard time expressing your needs, talking to a therapist can help you feel more comfortable. Either way, if you prefer to be more subtle, try telling your partner about a time a friend or family member did something for you that meant a lot to you, suggests Palmer.

  • Acknowledge what your partner’s doing—say thank you.It sounds duh, but especially in if you’ve been together for a while, you may not notice some of the things they’re doing to show you you’re their #1. 

    So to ensure they never feel taken for granted, after you talk through which acts of service are major for you, keep an eye out for when they actually do them (or something similar). Say: “Hey, I noticed you picked up the dry-cleaning today while I was stuck at work. I’m going to need those pants this week, so thank you so much for doing that.” 

  • Learn the ways your partner feels most loved.There’s a chance they “speak” a different love language than you do (they might need touch or feel extra special when you tell them how impressed you are by their brain), so do what you can to suss out their love language. Straight-up talk about it (Palmer promises the convo won’t be awkward as long as you keep things positive), or tune in to what makes them light up day to day. 

    Once you figure it out, keep that intel top of mind and create opportunities to speak their language (surprise them with a massage, bring home their favorite cookie…you get the idea). Otherwise, you’ll find these acts of service you crave become less and less frequent when your S.O. isn’t feeling the love from you.

Don’t

  • Expect your partner to read your mind.While, yeah, it’s the thought that counts, if certain actions will make you feel especially warm and fuzzy inside, speak up. 
  • Scoff at no. Remember, acts of service really lose their meaning if they’re not at your partner’s will. So be okay with hearing “Sorry, I can’t right now,” and trust that if they could, they would. If you feel like they’re always turning down your needs, it may be a good opp to visit a couples counselor. Communication is everything, after all.
  • Fully rely on your partner to pick up your slack.Even if your partner has your back, keep up with your own responsibilities so they can live their life, too. Dumping your daily tasks on them, Palmer says, is a one-way ticket to Splitsville. 

Bottom line: The Acts of Service love language is just as legit as all the others. Don’t let anyone (including yourself) shame you for it.

As long as you’re offering your partner the biggest service of all—speaking their love language in return—go on and enjoy that empty dishwasher, guilt-free.

ARYELLE SICLAIT Assistant EditorAryelle Siclait is an assistant editor at Women’s Health.

 

Love in the Age of Social Media

picture1

You meet someone on line.  Then you text.  Then you meet for coffee.  But why do so many of these possible lovers turn into duds?

Maybe it is because what is presented online is not who the person really is.  Or maybe it is because spending so much time with people online leaves no time to build relationship skills.

So, what should you look for offline in a possible partner?  And how do you best present yourself offline?

Online

To find the partner you really want, make a list of the qualities of that person that you feel are important for a good relationship.  Then prioritize these qualities.  The first three priorities will then become what you will look for in online descriptions and what you will try to ascertain during your first offline visit.  If one or more of your first three priorities are not listed in that person’s online description, move on.  A person who really has those qualities will list them rather than just presenting superficial desirable qualities.

Offline

Or, if it seems that none of the online descriptions contains your priorities, you need to move offline.  Offline places to meet possible partners are: meetup groups (meetup.com), volunteering sites, universities.

Now you are having that first meeting with a potential partner.  How do you present yourself?  Do you have the relationship skills to succeed?

Everyone wants someone who is a good listener.  Instead of focusing on the anxiety you feel about this first meeting, focus on the other person.  Listen to what that person is saying and show you listened by repeating back a snippet of what was said.  All you really need to do during the first meeting is listen because listening is the number one relationship skill.

You might also want to assess how good of a listener the other person is.  Since two people showing they are really listening to each other could be the start of a loving relationship.

(To find out more ways to meet a potential partner read Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life by Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D.)

What the World Needs Now

diverse hands

“What the world needs now is love …. Not just for some, but for everyone.”

Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote that song in 1965, when the United States was involved in the Vietnam War.  Are we at war again now, 53 years later, not overseas, but at home? 

Well, we do have a war of words and actions directed at demolishing others.  Oh, “others”?  Even characterizing another person as “the other” creates division.  It becomes all too easy to become divided into camps of “us versus them”.  So, let’s try again…we have a war of words and actions that obscures our common humanity.

When our primary source of news switched from newspapers to social media, we entered a “post-truth world” in which people read, listen, and watch what they agree with, not what challenges their preconceptions.  Isolation from different points of view, different values, different customs all entrenches us in our preconceptions.

Most of our preconceptions are based on gaining or maintaining power over another group of people. For example, if we read on our social media sites that blue people who come to the United States are free-loaders we will probably not be exposed to news about the blue people who contribute to our society.  We then can maintain our previous prejudice and see “them” as not as good as “us”.  Furthermore, if we exclude blue people from our social groups, we can associate only with people with the same belief, thereby solidifying our belief.

What, then, might heal these divisions and antipathies? 

Love is what the world needs now.  But can we love someone who thinks differently, acts differently, and looks different?  There is a way to do this and it is called “empathy”. 

To have empathy for another person means setting aside our evaluations of that person.  Then we actively listen to the other person’s thoughts and feelings and acknowledge we heard them.1   This doesn’t mean we agree with the other person, just that we understand where that person is coming from and tell that person that we do.

When we are viewing another person with empathy, we have momentarily let go of our defenses.  And when we acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and feelings it disarms him/her.  Defenses are not needed by either party, so better communication and cooperation can emerge.

A loving empathy has been used even to defuse conflict between groups of people.2 The surprising fact is that both parties do not have to show empathy initially.  It only takes one person or group to start the process of empathetic communication.  And then empathy begets empathy.3

Through empathy, then, we have the power to connect with others at a level that is deeper than attitudes and beliefs.  When we truly listen to the other person, we see the other person’s humanity beyond our previous preconceptions.  No longer is there a power struggle of us versus them.  There are just two human beings willing to listen to each other, heart to heart, without judgment. Then we can connect through acknowledging our common human needs, feelings, and fears. 

The empathetic approach to relationships is backed by evidence that it works—it works to neutralize power differences and tensions.4 Empathy is a viable alternative to our present way of seizing and using power.  It is a quiet revolution.5

References

(Notice how old the references below are and, yet, we still have not implemented them throughout our society.)

  1. Rogers, C. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology 21, 95-103.
  2. Rogers, C., and Sanford, R. (1987). Reflections on our South African experience. Counseling and Values (Special issue on Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach to peace) 32, 17-20.
  3. Feshbach, N.D. & Feshbach, S. (1982). Empathy training and the regulation of aggression: Potentialities and limitations. Academic Psychology Bulletin, 4, 399-413.
  4. Rogers, C. R., and Sanford, R. (1987). Inside the world of the Soviet professional. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 27, 277-304.
  5. Rogers, C. (1977). On personal power: Inner strength and its revolutionary impact. New York: Delacorte Press.    

 

Seeing Others as a Threat and How to Change It

#lovelifeprof.com

 

Our nation is increasingly becoming divided into opposing groups.  Yes, most of us have a tendency to feel most comfortable when we associate with people who look or think like ourselves.  People who look or think differently than we do, make us uncomfortable.  So, we stay away from them and isolate ourselves even further with our own kind.

Our isolation from others is intensified as we subscribe to popular media which confirms our point of view.  People outside our group may have a different point of view but we are not exposed to it.  Then we begin surmising what other people think.  People who dress like Muslims might think like or (gasp) be terrorists.  People who are trying to emigrate to the United States might think they can be freeloaders.  These stereotypes all come from seeing people outside our group as a threat, which popular media perpetuates.

It is the way we see people not like us that creates fear and hate—not the actual reality.  Yes, some people from our group as well as some people outside our group are terrorists and freeloaders, but most people are not.  Yet we continue to have a perception of people not like us as a threat.

To change our perception, we must be exposed to people not like us in positive contexts.  One way to develop positive images is through travel where we interact with others—this could be travel within or outside the United States.  Another way is to view positive images and stories about people from groups other than our own in popular media (social media, television, magazines, newspapers), schools, churches, even stores.

We need to reach out and speak to people other than those in our own group.  But, most of all, we need to listen to them.

 

What the World Needs Now

Compassion

As the 1965 song reminds us, “what the world needs now is love…not just for some but for everyone.”

The challenge today is to ask ourselves, “Can we show love towards everyone?”

Can you love someone who has beliefs very different from yours, someone who has hurt you, someone who is a stranger?  Wholeheartedly answering “yes” is difficult because love seems to be restricted to close relationships.  Indeed, we expect romantic partners and family members to love each other.  But loving a stranger—that isn’t love.

Is it possible to love someone who is very different from you?  Oops, maybe we shouldn’t have put that person into the box of “different”.  Even seeing someone as different, and judging that person as “the other” has already put a limit on your ability to love.  For loving another means identifying commonalities and recognizing our common humanity.  Someone may look, think, or act differently than you do but that person’s feelings are no different from your own.  So, a connection can be built by recognizing the feelings that are behind the thoughts and actions.  A loving response then lets the other person know you recognize these feelings.

Love that goes beyond close relations to strangers and even to all of humanity means responding with understanding rather than judgment.  Seeing another person through your eyes often involves judging that person.  Seeing another person through their eyes leads to understanding that person.  You begin to feel what the other person is feeling, to have empathy and to tell that person what you are experiencing when you are seeing through their eyes.  An empathetic connection is the essence of love and it can be created with anyone.

Let us choose love over fear.

Want More Intimacy in Your Relationship?

wedding-1770860_640

“I want us to be more intimate,“ she says.  “Intimate,” he thinks, “that must mean she wants more sex.”

Men and women often mean very different things when they think about intimacy.  Women often are asking for more emotional closeness when they ask for more intimacy.  Men, on the other hand, sometimes confuse sexual and emotional closeness.  Some men might even admit that they have no clue what a woman is asking for when she asks for more intimacy.  And some men and women can use sexual intimacy as a substitute for emotional closeness.

What, then, is intimacy?

 Intimacy is the ability to engage in close and reciprocal relationships, to engage in cooperative behavior for mutual benefit, and to flexibly respond to the range of others’ ideas, emotions, and behaviors.  Engaging in cooperative behavior for mutual benefit is a good description of sexual intimacy as well as emotional intimacy. 

Intimacy strengthens close relationships and fosters mutual growth.  Intimacy is needed even in platonic relationships because it promotes positive interactions in dyads and teams working towards a mutual goal.

What interferes with creating intimacy?

Intimacy involves giving and receiving understanding and support.  Some people tend to receive but not give.  What can hold you back from giving fully of yourself in a relationship is a need to defend against hurt.  Or you may be so judgmental and defensive that you do not respond flexibly to other’s ideas.

How does a couple create emotional intimacy?

In order to create emotional intimacy, you have to let go of your defensiveness.  You need to listen to the other person with a non-judgmental ear.  And you need to be willing to be non-defensively open in what you share with the other person.  When you are together, talking and listening with these attitudes increases emotional intimacy. 

Intimacy is an essential skill in loving relationships and Dr. Beverly Palmer shows how intimacy can be developed in her recently released book, Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life.

Love is a Science

science-experiment

Presenting the Scientific Basis of Love

By Beverly B. Palmer, PhD

The article below was just published today (July 30) in the Association for Women in Science Magazine, Summer 2018

Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life began in 1985, on my one-semester sabbatical, because I wanted to present the scientific basis of loving relationships.

There had been an explosion of research articles on loving relationships in journals until 1975, when U.S. Senator William Proxmire gave a Golden Fleece Award to the National Science Foundation for spending $84,000 on a study about love, He reasoned:

I object to this not only because no one—not even the National Science Foundation—can argue that falling in love is a science; not only because I’m sure that even if they spend $84 million or $84 billion they wouldn’t get an answer that anyone would believe. I’m also against it because I don’t want the answer,

I believe that 200 million other Americans want to leave some things in life a mystery, and right on top of the things we don’t want to know is why a man falls in love with a woman and vice versa.

This just spurred me on to bring the latest scientific research to the public. Furthermore, I wanted to present this research in a user-friendly format.

After I finished the book, which I initially titled, Love Life, an agent began working to find a publisher for it. However, he died suddenly, and then let life (work, child-care, aging parent care) interfere. I stuffed the manuscript into a box, which eventually landed in my garage.

Fast-forward thirty years: Standing in my garage, looking up at all the boxes piled high on shelves, I realized that when I’m gone, my son will come in and throw everything in the dumpster. So, i began a campaign to clean out the garage.

Among Christmas cards from long ago and lecture notes that were hopelessly outdated, found the lost manuscript. As I skimmed through its 185 pages my thirty-year-older and more experienced brain realized that this manuscript was not the best. Yet, my editorial self could not let it go.

I realized I had been continuing to read journal articles and books that presented research on love and that I had even been using some of this material in my lectures. So, I began rewriting the manuscript, bringing it up-to-date with the latest scientific evidence. And then I rewrote it and rewrote it, finding my voice and the best way to relate to my audience along the way,

I again was spurred on by current events. A book on love hit the nonfiction bestseller list But this book was written by a pastor, and it presented opinions not science. Similarly, most of the websites giving relationship advice contained only opinions. A book on scientific evidence about love was very much needed

Besides presenting advice based on scientific findings, I wanted to include the entire experience of adult love—from how people meet, fall in love. create love, and fat} out of love to how they come to love again. I wanted young adults to read this book before they got into a serious relationship. In that way, they might become aware of the red flags to watch out for. Newlyweds could read this book so, when the excitement of passionate and romantic love started to fade, they would know how to build a love that lasts, Couples in a long-term relationship could discover how to cope with negative feelings of anger and hate, as well as how to resolve conflicts satisfactorily. I also wanted to reach people who have lost a love, so that they could more deeply understand their feelings and even love again.

The challenge was to make reading this book relatable and entertaining for a general audience. To flesh out the scientific findings, I included lively case studies from my private practice. To increase reader involvement, I included many self-assessments that could also be shared with one’s partner, In the preface, I even encouraged readers to leave the book open to a page they want their partner to notice.

Scientific research provides powerful and practical tools that you can use to solve your love life I want to share some of these tools, described in my recently released book, Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life, which you can use to make your love last.

Science says there are three attitudes essential for a love that lasts—empathy, acceptance, and appreciation—ail crucial not only for a maturing and lasting adult partnership but also for parent-child relationships. Empathizing and telling each other that you do understand the partner’s perspective prevents and even resolves many conflicts. John Gottman has shown that it is the proportion of negative to positive statements that predicts an unhappy relationship and even one that leads to dissolution, Similarly, a 1 to 5 proportion of positive to negative statements can preempt or even de-escalate negative interactions during a conflict. Empathetic statements are intensely positive statements, and empathetic statements can even help resolve conflicts in one’s professional life.

Acceptance means valuing a partner’s uniqueness, both their strengths and weaknesses, rather than judging or criticizing them, Your partner’s behavior might irritate you, but you dont have to direct your upset at your partner as a person. You can, instead, let your partner know you are just commenting on the behavior and that you still value your partner as a person.

The third ingredient is letting each other know, every day in many different ways, how much you appreciate each other, There are many ways to show appreciation. Noticing what your partner is saying or doing and commenting favorably on it is one way. Hugs, smiles, and saying, “Thank you,” show that you value having your partner in your life. Take a moment right now to show your partner some appreciation—today and every day.

A personal note I would like to add is that my husband and I recently celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. I guess some of the evidence-based advice I wrote about was tested in our relationship to see if it really worked.

References

Algoe, S. B., Haidt, L, & Gable, S. L. (2008), Beyond reciprocity:

Gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8, 425—429. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC2692821/

Hatfield, E., and Walster, G. W. (1978). A New Look at Love. University Press of America. p. viii. https•flbit.ly/2rWRMgW

Gottman, and Levenson R, W. (1992). Marital processes predictive of later dissolution: Behavior, physiology, and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 63, 221-233.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1403613

Rogers, C. R. (1961) On becoming a person. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 342-344.