Very often, I am asked the following question "How do I improve my relationship?". Sometimes our relationships can struggle as a symptom of a larger issue, and sometimes they are the source of our distress. Having good relationships, and this applies to all types, can be incredible sources of support and joy.
But, they can also act as sources of stress and distress. To quickly define a relationship, a grouping of at least two connected by either distance or frequency of contact functioning to achieve objectives as a group rather than as each individual. Relationships are complicated simply because they involve not one, but at least two people. And as I hav
e always said, the most complicated thing I have ever known is any human being. When we add two together, we make every one of their predictable outcomes even more unknown and seemingly random. It is a wonder anyone even gets into a relationship!
But, relationships are ancient. They are primal, valuable, essential even. Humans have survived hundreds of thousands of years, and we are their proof. We survived, not because we were the strongest or the fastest or the smartest animals fighting for resources. We survived because we socialized, communicated, and interacted with each other. To this point, our mind is stimulated through the ancient form of IN PERSON communication in a way that is unique in complexity. We are simultaneously processing auditory signals, visual signals, olfactory signals. Cross referencing language, facial expression, cultural cues, inferring from the most subtle of data huge amounts of information. And doing this at a speed that allows us to respond almost instantaneously with massive amounts of information sent back to the other party.
So, with all of this information. When are you going to tell us how to improve our relationships? Well, I just have one more story to tell. My grandmother grew up outside of Pittsburgh, in a small steel town called New Kensington. She was a single mother of 3 in the 60's, boy was she something. A force of nature. One of the most striking observations I recall, when she would take me out with her to a bar or restaurant everyone seemed to know her. And I mean everyone. As soon as the door opened you would hear "Hey Ruth!". It was like she was a celebrity. She would sit and talk with so many people for hours while I played pinball or ate wings. And as I grew up and would sit with her at the bar, I finally got to hear their conversations. I had thought previously that they must have been discussing hugely important topics to talk that long, the meaning of life, or their political opinions. Instead, it went more like "do you know amy? she's tom's daughter. Tom lives up on Oak rd, the Oak rd with the white fence not the red one." I remember being flabbergasted, How could this be what they were talking about? Why would this make her such close friends with so many people?!
It was only later in life as a psychiatrist and a therapist that I came to understand exactly what was occurring. It wasn't what they were talking about that drew them close together and made her friends with hundreds of bartenders, waitresses, and owners. It was that they were talking, and for how long. This leads me to my point, and the only truism I know about relationships of any kind.
The duration of communication is directly proportional to the quality of the relationship.
The more you talk, by duration, the better your relationship. Thats it, thats the tweet. So, for now I would encourage you to ask yourself; last week, how long did you spend talking with your partner, or friend, or coworker. Maybe even time it. And see what happens when you increase that time the week after. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
- Dr C