A series of monthly relationship practices by Jill Weinknecht Wardell, Training and Development Specialist, Training and Organization Development department
Wellness not only applies to individuals but to relationships as well. What are healthy relationships? Healthy relationships are those that are capable of movement, transformation, and change. The way you cultivate healthy relationships is by putting practices into place that raise awareness and create new possibilities for you and/or your partner (whether it be a supervisor, colleague, friend, or loved one).
A practice is something (an action, words, or way of being) that you intentionally put into place in order to create or forward positive change. You may choose to practice for the sake of another without them knowing it or if you have an interested and/or willing partner, you may enroll them to practice with you. Either way, it is important to pay attention to how the quality of the relationship shifts over time.
We forget that just as we are capable of change, relationships too, are capable of change. Nothing is the way it is things are the way we design them to be. Practicing helps us reclaim our role as a co-creator of our design. Even if our partner is not willing to practice with us, we can create a sense of peace and well being in ourselves and likely change the course of our relationship simply by choosing different ways of seeing, being, and acting.
Relationships serve not only the two people who are involved but a larger network as well a department, work colleagues, family, friends, and the community. For the sake of these extended communities and their well being, we need to tend to our relationships to ensure that they are healthy and functioning, providing internal as well as external support to us and to those whom we serve.
Keeping a practice log is one way of tracking progress. It is not meant to be a journal and need not be lengthy. The intention is to succinctly focus on the following:
January 12, 2009
Practice: Notice the difference between phenomena (what actually happened and observable through the senses) and story (my interpretation of it).
Today, on my way to the office, I said hello to a colleague who did not say hello in return. I immediately noticed my shoulders raise and tense up, my breathing halt, and a feeling of resentment well up. I began creating a story about how rude she was to ignore me, assuming that she had. I remembered my practice and became curious about what other stories and other possibilities might be true. Possibly she didn't hear me or maybe she was caught up in an assignment. As I imagined these stories to be true, I felt my breathing return to normal, a spaciousness return to my posture, and a feeling of peace return. I was able to let go of my truth and any resentment I felt toward this colleague.
Most of us know from experience that empathy is an important skill to cultivate in relationships. It is also a critical skill in order to master deep listening. When we can imagine what it’s like to walk in our partner’s shoes (from their perspective, not ours) and share this with them, our partner experiences a level of listening that is uncommon and powerful. In order to practice this, you first need to be present and let go of your own preconceptions and experiences that get in the way of your listening fully. Once you have heard the story, offer one-word emotions that describe what you think they must be feeling: “Given what you shared, you must be feeling…(concerned, betrayed, sad, fearful, loved, unsupported, giddy, disappointed, etc.).” Once you share these, you’ll want to check in for agreement: “Did I get that right? Are there other feelings?” and then reflect back any other emotions that they share as a result.
In the next month, try cultivating deeper levels of listening through empathizing with your partner. As you listen, envision yourself as an empty vessel, letting go of your opinions and experiences that are similar. Remember that we are all unique observers, no matter if we share similar experiences. If you drift off, shift your attention to your breathing to bring you back to the present moment. Notice how being present and practicing empathy not only improves your listening but allows your relationship to deepen to the next level as well.