John Gottman

Dr. John Gottman is a professor emeritus in psychology known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations, many of which were published in peer-reviewed literature. By observing how couples interact with each other, he was able to predict whether or not a couple would get divorced within 5 years with over 90% accuracy. One of the findings was the “The Magic Ratio” discovering that since it is human nature to remember negative experiences more than positive ones, it takes five positive interactions to offset one negative interaction. And healthy, lasting relationships are often at or above this ratio.

That may seem like it takes a lot of work… and a lot of money. Maintaining a healthy relationship long-term IS work, the trick is to not make it FEEL like work. And hard currency (money) can easily be replaced with creative currency… with a little help from Byawi…

Because You Are Worth It

But what if we’re not creative? What if we have a hard time coming up with ideas?

Our minds are both our greatest resource and our own worst enemy. The trick is to understand our own irrationality so we can overcome it.

What stops us from coming up with that next great idea? Or working on that project we always talked about doing?

When I was a child, my father loved taking me with him to the town garbage dump. It was our father-son bonding time. He’d spend the day trimming the pine trees around the yard and I would load it up on the trailer. We’d drive down to the dump and I remember seeing the mountains of separated material in the distance as we arrived at the gate… appliances that have seen better days, treated lumber from torn down walls and buildings, and the one designated for the branches and clippings we had in the trailer.

I always hated going. It was hot and humid in those Connecticut summers, there was no shade, and playing games on my computer always seemed like a logical alternative to piercing pine needles, scratched up legs and sun burn. If that wasn’t bad enough, my father exploited my inability to escape a moving vehicle by exposing me to his vast and infinite wisdom. His unrefined approach often led to using what he had around him to complete his metaphors or otherwise get his meandering point across…

“Son, you will face many challenges in life. They will often feel insurmountable like those mountains of trash. And the longer you ignore them, the larger the pile gets. And the larger the pile gets, the easier it will be to get overcome with anxiety and give up. Don’t let that mountain intimidate you. Just roll up your sleeves and start picking away at it. Break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces until you can see what needs to be done and just do it.”

Our creativity is often overshadowed by a mountain of distraction, a mountain of “What if’s”, a mountain of fear, a mountain of self-doubt. So when it comes time to do something romantic for our partner, we can sometimes flood ourselves with toxic thoughts:

“What if she doesn’t like it?”
“What if he thinks it’s stupid?”
“What if she expects a bigger gesture and it ends up leaving her underwhelmed?”
“What if he’s not surprised?”
“She complained I never did something like this for her, so now if I do it, it feels forced.”
“I can’t afford this.” “I can’t compete against so and so (some other friend or family member who takes their partner on expensive trips or buys them luxury gifts).”
“I don’t have the time.”
“I don’t have the energy.”
“This just isn’t who I am.”

All of these self-defeating thoughts are thoughts we are not having with our partner and their perspective. It is only within ourselves and our own perspective. We are sentencing ourselves to failure because we are making assumptions about how our partner would react or how our partner thinks.

Take a moment to silence these conversations and remind yourself that if you and your partner are truly in love with one another, then ANY romantic gesture regardless of size is better than no gesture, and certainly better than a negative one. It may take more gestures or more time if you are recovering from a recent and/or significant negative interaction (“Not so fast, you’re still in the dog house.”), but the alternative of doing nothing is almost certainly worse.

So how do we break down this mountain that is blocking our creativity? By cutting it into manageable pieces: the key attributes that make up a successful, romantic gesture.

Salience (Surprise) – Salience is the degree at which something is noticeable and grabs your attention (for example a sound, smell, touch, or something visually stimulating). And when it comes to romantic gestures, this often comes in the form of surprise. Doing or giving something new or unexpected. With all of our electronic devices and the barrage of distractions we face during every waking moment, it is getting harder and harder to truly gain someone’s attention. To make the most out of your romantic gesture, this is the first critical step. To gain their focus on you and the moment.

Sincerity – The gesture has to be genuine. That does not mean it has to be perfect. Both men and women can sense when their partner is ‘going through the motions’ rather than ‘coming from the heart.’

Memorable – Often the greater the Sincerity and Salience, the more memorable it will be. This can be enhanced further by connecting the gesture with relevance. Something that takes your partner back to a past joyful experience to relive those positive feelings. Or a gesture that shows you were listening and that you care by fulfilling a need or desire.  If it is a physical item or keepsake, one that he/she would want to hold onto for more than a few days, unlike cut flowers that have a very short shelf life.

Quality / Value – This does not mean expensive or time-consuming. Woody Allen said it best, “80% of success is just showing up.” There is a reason why three out of the five stages of coming apart as outlined in communication scholar Mark L. Knapp’s Relational Development Model: Circumscribing, Stagnation and Avoidance all have to do with a progressive breakdown in communication. Our word (spoken or written) is the world’s most powerful bonding agent.

And while our words have the potential to wield unlimited value, they can be generated for free. Our own words, even if unorganized or limited by our vocabulary, are often more potent to our loved ones than paying money to use someone else’s words. A handwritten, personalized message—exclusive to just the two of you—holds far more quality to the reader than one with a pre-printed message shared by thousands of other people.

Today’s trend in expressions of affection is to move away from machined / mass-produced, assembly-line manufactured items and get back to the basics.  Original.  Handmade.  Gifts and gestures that took more thought beyond just clicking the “Buy” button.  That extra thought and intention says “Because you are worth it.”

“But what do I say?” “How do I say it?”

Again, think of the mountain metaphor and break the message down into smaller, more manageable pieces. First step is to fill yourself with the relief of knowing you can open up a text editor or notepad and make a draft that can be changed as many times as needed. Creativity is best nurtured the more we can free ourselves of fear and anxiety.  Second, remove as many distractions around you as possible.  Turn off the TV, the music, find a quiet place or if close to nature, take a walk outside and breathe in the fresh air.

Third, think about the elements of romantic relationship maintenance:

  • Positivity – Complement your loved one, tell them why you love them, what made you fall in love with them, what keeps you in love with them, or how their attributes positively affect you and others.
  • Openness – Be vulnerable, humility is one of the greatest demonstrations of strength.  Express your feelings, share a story or experience from your past, this lets them know you trust them with your inner-most secrets.
  • Assurances – Let your loved one know how committed you are to the relationship, that your intentions and future have him/her in the picture.  This can include future shared dreams and goals, recounting that old couple holding hands at the grocery store the two of you recently saw claiming that will be the two of you some day.
  • Supportiveness – Give messages of encouragement to your partner if they are about to embark on a new chapter or significant event (higher education, new job, health issue, etc.). Let them know you are there for them and you are his/her biggest cheer leader.
  • Humor – Laughter is the best medicine. Romance does not always have to be serious. Just make sure the humor is not used as a tool to show lack of commitment. Inside jokes that are personal and understandable to just the two of you are a great form of expressed intimacy.

While your message does not have to include all five of these elements, and most do not or should not, there is plenty within these elements to write a meaningful and memorable message that your partner will surely cherish.

Fourth, consider timing.  Romantic gestures are often reserved for those special holidays (Birthdays, Religious Holidays, Valentine’s Day, etc.), but those days come with an implied obligation.  Your partner will be more surprised and your gesture will be more meaningful and memorable when done on a random day that is not tied to any expectation of giving.

Lastly, the residual effect.  Romantic gestures, even the most subtle ones that do not come with hefty price tags, are the gifts that keep on giving.  Your partner will often share his/her experience with their close friends and family.  This social network maintenance works for you two-fold.  Your partner relives the moment more than once (and the joyous emotions that come with it) every time he/she shares the story.  And second, having a positive image in the mind of their social network means these friends and family members will also reassure your partner how great a person you are, which maintains or even raises your value and makes you more desirable in your partner’s eyes.

A bonus to expressions of love through words is that the more you do it, the easier it becomes, not just in sharing with your romantic partner, but other times when it is important to maintain and strengthen other relationships with friends and family.  Communication is becoming a lost art in our society, and those that maintain and even improve their communication skills see greater opportunities in both their personal and professional life.

Take the Finance Out of Romance – The Power of Words

A romantic gesture does not have to be expensive or time-consuming to be effective. Overcoming the hurdles that stifle our creativity is how we can express our affection in profound, meaningful and lasting ways.

Love Cards

Create a lasting memory with a handmade Byawi greeting card. Many of the popup designs can be removed from the card and kept as an ornament or keepsake. We’ll get your special someone’s attention, your words will do the rest.

The Byawi mission is to recognize and enhance the value in you and the extraordinary people within your reach through richer thoughts, communication and action.  We are excited to introduce our new blog: The Gift of Knowledge Series.  In it, we will focus on ways to establish a deeper and more meaningful connection with ourselves and those we hold dear to our hearts.

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