Relationships skills are something I have touched on and modeled in my domestic violence psychoeducational groups for about 11 years. I think relationships skills are applicable most effectively in the very brief time it takes me to recognize an expression and respond hormonally. If my response is a stress hormone, my expression will reflect that, and I and my relationship partner may have a negative feedback loop set up very rapidly, perhaps twice as fast as I can blink my eyes.
I also was an expert at recognizing non-verbal cues as a child growing up in a household with alcoholic parents. I could recognize who was angry and how angry they were, sometimes by just sticking my head in the door after school. I did not need to see anyone, just sort of sniff the air. If it was too scary, I ran off to play for as long as I dared.
So I learned early on to pay attention to non-verbal cues, and over the years, I have read many of the books about body language, and then I found Paul Ekman's work on facial expressions and how we human's respond to them, I was so gratified to find professional work which validated my personal understanding and experience.
Ekman has attempted to categorize facial expressions across cultures, and part of what he has discovered is that some expressions, for example contempt, are recognizable across cultures.
I respond to an expression of contempt in 1/25th second, and it takes me 1/10th second to blink my eyes.
When I see someone I care about look at me with contempt, like my child or my wife, or a friend, I respond hormonally faster than I can create words.
And that is when I need relationships skills.
The First Relationships Skills
My body can prepare itself for the fight or flight or freeze response in 1/18th second, and when I am perceiving danger, that physiology is appropriate. When I am not in danger, perhaps my mate and I are arguing again about that gridlocked issue, for me to respond to her tone of voice or facial expression with fight or flight chemistry is ineffective, and perhaps deadly because that physiology demands that I either fight for my life or flee for my life or freeze for my life.
So the first rule of relationships skills is to relax effectively. I know that I will respond powerfully to her non-verbal communication with an arousal of some kind. (If she smiles, that will cause a similar kind of excitement, won't it)?
What are good relaxation tools? There are any number of them, and I use deep breathing coupled with my Heartmath. I like the fact that with HeartMath, I can diminish high arousal much faster, sometimes within a heartbeat.
It can take men who flood with stress hormones 20 minutes to return to a normal physiology, and then come back to a conversation. HeartMath gives me a tool that works faster, and the whole family can learn it.
Imagine everybody in the family being on the same heart beat?
The Second Relationships Skills
The next relationships skill is to listen effectively, and to be able to ask questions effectively, particularly about your negative perceptions. You may have seen a 1/25th second flash of irritation, but was it about you?
It pays to be able to ask about what the other person was irritated about. You can still get angry, even enraged, if they say they were contemptuous about you, but why waste all that good adrenalin if they were irritated with the cat or the dog?
Reflective listening simply means that I make a committment in my brain to pay attention to the words they are saying, and the best way I know how to do that is repeat them to myself, and then to them, and last but not least, you must ask them if you heard them accurately. (Not correctly, but accurately.)
If the speaker reports that the hearing was inaccurate, then ask them to repeat the information so you can hear it accurately.
That is called giving the gift of attention, and giving that gift will make a huge difference in your relationship.
Now I need to learn to offer choice in relationship, which is the opposite of power and control.
The struggle with offering choice in a relationship is that my partner may have a preference different than mine, and if they choose that preference, I may experience some disappointment.
My next task is to see that disappointment as an opportunity rather than a stumbling block.
All of the particular relationships skills take place are begun in an incredibly short period of time. Emotions and perceptions happen at a level of my experience that is faster than my ability to create words.
It will take some practice for awareness to be part of the equation, so that I can name my feelings and create words that enhance my relationship while managing my boundaries.
For excellent video tools to help with that process, please look just below.