Relationships are a crazy rollercoaster ride. At the start – they often just happen spontaneously and seem so simple. Somewhere, somehow, they can easily get derailed and you might not even know why. Let’s take a quick look at the ride.
Whether your relationship is a friendship, within a job, or with a significant other, they all offer some energy at the beginning. For instance, scientists tell us that when two people begin to date there are some very interesting things that happen in our brain.
When you first catch each other’s eye or have a first connection, your brain produces the chemical dopamine and life is good. The first time you get asked out or someone accepts your invitation – there it goes again. Sweet! The first holding of a hand – more. I’ll stop the process there, but you get the point. Usually, things must progress or the chemical infusion diminishes. That’s why the hand-holding process is often followed by other “holding.”
The Dopamine hit that the pleasure center of our brain receives is amazing. That feeling is something everyone longs for. It makes you feel alive. It is like fuel. After the initial hit we desire more and more. The truth of the matter is that you might have spent your entire dating life – high. That might explain a lot!!!
When relationships are new – no matter where you are – you probably notice similarities. During this phase communication is easy. “Oh, you are from Minnesota. Wow, I once laughed at Bret Favre as he hopelessly tried to hold on to his youth in Minnesota. We have so much in common.” or “Oh you like cats. Wow, I like to eat at the little Thai place down the street – Crazy, Huh!?! We can find similarities everywhere we look – at our jobs – with friends – when dating.
Unfortunately, when the chemical hits stop, we often begin to focus on and notice differences. You can spend a lot of time wondering what they are thinking and why they would do such ridiculous things. You don’t really try – it just comes naturally. Soon, you begin to notice that the excitement has reduced. The new car smell is gone.
One of the real losses is in the area of communication. When things are in the, “Gimme another hit phase, it seems like it is so easy to talk about anything. As time goes on and the “same ole, same ole” sets in, we often move our conversations to just the details. We’ve told all of our exciting stories and we may not be creating many new ones. We mutter enough words to keep all of the plates spinning for another day. Perhaps we can call this “WORK TALK.” It’s like life in the huddle. Just call the play as fast as you can. Then, off we go. Does that make any sense to you?
The longer that this goes on, the more difficult it becomes to communicate about anything of great importance. When we are just fact or detail based, even our listening skills diminish. In most relationships, the quickest way to take a giant leap forward is to become a world-class listener.
There are two huge obstacles to being a great listener:
• We talk too much. Truth is – MY words just make more sense – at least to me. It is a crazy phenomenon – when our mouth is open, our ears are usually closed. The discipline needed to put as much effort into listening and understanding as we do into speaking and being understood is staggering.
• We don’t care enough. This one is just harsh, but often true. We are more concerned about ourselves. Listening is sacrificial. It requires attention and care. If you want to show great respect to someone, listen. By the way, listening isn’t just not talking. Listening is active. Occasionally, nodding or saying, “Uh huh” does not necessarily indicate listening. The worst news is that it will require putting down the ipad, the phone, or even the remote control. It might require turning something off, not just pushing the mute or pause button. Just sayin’- listening requires effort.
So, if you want to move forward in a relationship – any relationship – here are some helpful steps.
L – isten – undistracted attention w/o interruption
U – nderstand – don’t just hear what is said, but understand what they are saying. Don’t just focus on words. Sometimes we just pick them apart. Even if they aren’t perfectly communicating the thought – dig deeper. Not only are you trying to understand what they are saying – you need to try to feel what they are feeling. I know, we are just getting nutty now. To do this you have to move beyond your way of thinking. Seeing something through someone else’s eyes is required for real understanding.
V – alidate – when they are finished, try to tell them what you have understood. If you are wrong, they will try again. If you are right – you will see them immediately nod in agreement. This is a magic moment.
One last thing:
This moment that I just mentioned is seldom experienced in most people’s life. When I am talking about something important to me, my desire is to be understood. In most relationships we only have these kinds of discussions when we are so frustrated, we are ready to explode. Instead of someone trying to understand me – I often receive someone trying to convince me of their way of thinking.
The sweetest moment in a relationship is when you feel truly understood or when you feel like you actually understand someone else. Here is the crazy part – scientists say that this magic moment (let’s call it the “get it” moment) actually produces the very same chemical high that I mentioned earlier. Not just for the talker – but for the listener as well.
If your relationship has lost some sizzle – if the new has worn off – if you have quit feeling alive – Don’t underestimate the possibility of listening. I’m not talking about hearing that you need to pick up the kids or get the oil changed (in the car, not the kids), or any other work talk. I’m talking about sharing something that really matters. It is the ability to bring up something that could become an argument, but actually turns into something great.
James 1:18 (The Message)
Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.
It may not produce as much dopamine as some physical acts, but it will most definitely beat holding hands.