How Emotional Agility Improves Relationships

Values Can Bring Us Closer to Our Lover

Susan: One of the things I talk about in my book is this idea of walking your why. When it comes to relationships, what that really means, is having two or three core values. This isn’t about goals.

Often in relationships, people will say that my goal is to stop fighting. Or my goal is to go on a date night and spend special time together three times a month. Or to increase the number of times we have sex a week.

To me goals are endpoints that are things you can define and that you can measure. What I’m talking about with values is the quality of experience that is important to you. What is the direction that you want to move your relationship in?

The difference between the value and goal in this context is that with values, you never reach that endpoint. You don’t reach that endpoint that says, “I’m now in a loving relationship,” because our experience fluctuates and changes every moment. Instead ask yourself, “What is crucially important to me in my relationship?”

Kyle: You’re getting at the essence of what someone wants and needs in their relationship. Can you give us an example?

Susan: For example, one of the things I hold very clear in my relationship is that I want what I call a “clean relationship.” What I mean by a clean relationship is a relationship where my husband can be tired or he can be busy at work, and we don’t get into a space where we are walking on eggshells around the other person. I don’t have that story that my partner is too busy to speak to me so now I’m not going to speak to them for a week. One of the things I intentionally do in my relationship is the opposite.

It is important to me that there are no parts of the relationship that are no go discussion areas. Another really important value that I hold in my relationship is one of generosity. For me that means assuming good intentions and giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.

What is important here is that so often when people are trying to get through relationship difficulties, what they try to do is try to manage or control their thoughts, emotions, and stories. This happens when a partner is really angry or hurt and they try to control themselves.

What I talk about is a very different approach where you open your heart up towards the thoughts, emotions, and stories that you have and are compassionate towards them. You recognize that they don’t need to be in charge because you get to be in charge and you become clear about what is it that matters to you and what are the qualities of action that you want to bring to your relationship.

What we know from the research is that when people are feeling stressed, when they are feeling pressured, when they are running around with kids and trying to get children off to school, is often the time when they get hooked.

So they attach themselves to stories, emotions, and thoughts that aren’t helpful or they focus on what is called social contagion, which is where you compare yourself to your friends and their relationship and start to beat yourself up. Or you start to mindlessly engage in behaviors that don’t serve a relationship. So for example, you stop looking your partner in the eye or you stop greeting them when they come home from work. These are mindless behaviors and what we know from the research is that they can be very pervasive and they can be very destructive.

The really important takeaway is that I don’t mean values in an abstract kind of way. Maybe for the reader, their value is being collaborative or caring or having a clean relationship. Every day you get hundreds of opportunities to either make a move that is towards that value or away from that value. In my book I call these choice points.

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