Empathy is an important part of any relationship. Being able to view things from another’s perspective, place yourself in their position, and feel what they feel makes forming very deep bonds possible. But too often, even the most compassionate people avoid opportunities to empathize and bond with those who should be closest to them.
Husbands and wives, parents and children, families and others sometimes get so preoccupied and “used to” each other that they simply stop making the effort, or worse, don’t realize an effort is needed. Usually, lack of empathy is not malicious, or even realized until the relationship splinters, and then there is surprise. The emotional bank account is empty.
The good news is that there are ways to ensure that the emotional bank account stays in the green. I’ve listed some of these ways in a previous post, so won’t repeat them here. Instead, I’m going to focus on building emotional connections. And the best way to do this is to become a collector of emotional moments.
What does it mean to be a collector of emotional moments?
When I talk about becoming a collector of emotional moments, what I mean is looking for opportunities to connect emotionally with others. And when those opportunities arise, never miss them, and always celebrate them. As you take the opportunity to recognize, celebrate and collect these emotional moments, your relationships leave the mundane and practical, and become emotional themselves. In other words, they deepen on an empathic level.
Dr. John Gottman talks about these special emotional moments being like pearls in a string of pearls. Each pearl is unique and represents a time when each person is fully present in the moment with the other, and connecting on a deep level. As this string of pearls gets longer, the relationship deepens and the emotional bank account grows. As it does, each partner in the relationship becomes more mindful of the other, and better able to be empathic towards the other, even in difficult times. The relationship grows beyond superficial and can withstand the inevitable disagreements and challenges every relationship faces.
How do you start?
The first step in becoming a collector of emotional moments is to make a determination that the relationship is worth deepening, because like most things, developing the necessary skills takes time and effort. Once you have made the decision to deepen the relationship, then you begin to look for these moments. This requires that you be present, and attuned, to your partner.
Notice when he expresses himself emotionally, and recognize the emotional expression as a bid for connection, even if it may not seem so. Facial expressions, tones, body language are all clues to your partner’s emotional state. Look for when they are happy, sad, angry, fearful, or in any other emotional state and be present, unconditionally. Let her know that you recognize and understand their emotions with your own expressions, words and gestures. Its that simple. Mere acknowledgement and understanding, without argument or excuses, build emotional connections, and the emotional bank account.
The challenge and the payoff
The challenge in becoming a collector of emotional moments is usually that doing so requires significant changes in relationship habits. To be a good collector, you have to proactively look for and seize on opportunities to connect with others. You have to be present and mindful, and you have to sometimes put yourself at risk of your partner’s anger or even contempt, without reacting defensively or arguing… even when you are convinced you are right. You just have to believe that at some point you will have the opportunity to share your point of view when it can be heard by your partner. This takes courage and faith.
But, the payoffs are tremendous, and if you have the faith and courage to become a collector, your relationships will reach new levels of meaningfulness.
To learn more about deepening your relationships, and becoming a collector of emotional moments, order a copy of Dr. Gottman’s book, The Relationship Cure.