This ingredient by
For most of us, falling in love is the easy part – the only ingredients you need are a pulse and some feelings! The “dating / getting to know you phase” for the most part is fun and pleasant with everyone minding their table manners so they can woo and charm each other.
Inevitably though, challenges emerge with the reality of daily life together. We come face to face (literally!) with morning breath, no makeup, grumpiness through fatigue, annoying habits, mess and the whole range of behaviours that signal the end of the “honeymoon period”. This is where many couples lose it and things plateau or head downhill – tragic on many fronts.
This period of surprise, sensemaking, disappointment or even disillusionment is a natural part of the process of “combining ingredients” in any couple relationship. Sometimes the ingredients don’t rise to the challenge and the end result is a bit flat… or explosive! Inevitable conflicts get triggered by life events like setting up house together, having your first child or being promoted to a position that demands more time away from home. During these seasons of life when we need to lean more heavily on each other in different ways, we start grating against our different expectations, unhelpful approaches to working through conflict, trust and respect issues and / or poor communication skills. Being equipped with the right ingredients to blend well through these periods is crucial – because, as surely as yeast tends to rise, they are coming! Handled well, these are the times through which great relationships lay the strong foundations of commitment, trust and respect.
Everyone talks about communication as a key ingredient which is true. However, based on our work with couples over the last two decades, we have observed ALL successful relationships combine for four fundamental spices (which in practical terms are habits!) to make up this single communication ingredient. Further, every failing relationship we’ve every seen has lacked one or more of these spices in communication “base layer”! Our experience confirms that these four spices are essential for the communication ingredient to work well and for any relationship recipe to be a success.
These 4 spices combining to make great communication are:
1. Be CURIOUS, not critical
2. Be CAREFUL, not crushing
3. ASK, don’t assume
4. CONNECT before you correct
We need to make a habit of including these spices every time. They are simple but they’re not automatic… and for the most part including them goes contrary to our natural instinct and responses. That’s why they have to be learned on purpose and practised until they become the new natural flavour of our communication ingredient. The great news is that we can all make a habit of blending these spices, get over the inevitable gratings from merging two lives into one and discover the joy of “honey after the honeymoon”. It’s not about serving up a perfect meal every time – who does? But it is absolutely about being intentional in bringing out these flavours. Otherwise based on the current relationship breakdown rates, we are signing up for a 50:50 chance of making anything great. Those odds don’t build confidence in the kitchen… and they don’t build confidence for a lasting marriage either.
Founders Jon & Andrea Taylor-Cummings have created an online education platform which uses on-demand, video-based courses – Relationship Essentials – to address the top issues that tend to derail relationships. In addition to working with couples and individuals under their #100kGreatRelationships campaign, they are also working with corporates & other institutions to have relationship education included as part of professional development.
The first key spice in the communication ingredient is Be CURIOUS, not critical. This involves investing the time to discover how we’re wired differently so we can change the narrative in our heads and play to our strengths, rather than waste time & energy criticising differences.
The second key spice in the communication ingredient is Be CAREFUL, not crushing. This involves overcoming our typical “fight or flight” responses to conflict by developing the skills to work towards genuine resolutions, treat each other with care no matter how angry we get, and come out stronger together.
The third key spice in the communication ingredient is ASK, don’t assume. This helps get over the hurdle of mis-trust and dis-respect that creeps into relationships. It’s about learning to reframe problems and getting good at having “courageous conversations” where we ask and discuss, rather than assume and stereotype.
The fourth spice in the communication ingredient is CONNECT, before you correct. This is about shifting the balance to be more deliberate about connecting by communicating real value and appreciation, and holding back on our insatiable need to give “constructive feedback”!