By: Lisa Firestone Ph.D. | July 24, 2022
"Many people have only heard the term “collaborative communication” used in the context of company culture and teamwork. It’s basically defined as a method of exchanging information that helps people work toward a common goal. Yet, it’s not just businesses that reap the rewards of this type of relating.
Studies have shown that couples who practiced collaborative communication experienced more overall relationship satisfaction. When you get into the steps of collaborative communication, it’s clear how it can be a powerful tool for improving interpersonal relationships. Here, I break down what it entails and why it makes such a difference to the quality of a relationship.
What is collaborative communication?
Collaborative communication does not just refer to the words that come out of our mouths. Rather, it encompasses all the intricate ways we communicate through tone, expression, body signals, etc. Most of us aren’t even aware of all the messages we send on both verbal and non-verbal levels. Many conflicts between couples arise from misreads, misunderstandings, and lapses in our communication.
In order for two people with two completely different minds and two complex personal histories to live harmoniously, there needs to be a certain amount of balance and understanding. Collaborative communication offers a pathway to achieve just that by helping people become more aware of all the ways they communicate and guiding them to make an effort to align themselves with the other person in order to achieve a shared understanding.
How can we cultivate collaborative communication in our closest relationships?
Communicating collaboratively means taking actions that draw our partner out and trying to understand an interaction from their perspective. Our goal is to align our state with theirs, so we get a fuller picture of their experience separate from our own. When we do this, we often have to fight our own impulses to come from a more reactive, defensive, or combative place in ourselves.
Successful collaborative communication further focuses on how we can express our own perspective in a manner where we are more likely to be heard by our partner. Enhancing our ability to communicate with more vulnerability, openness, and empathy creates more trust in the relationship. Couples can form much stronger connections where each person feels known and understood by the other.
The specific techniques we can work on to achieve this type of communication with a partner include:
1. Becoming a better, more attuned, and less defensive listener
In order to be on the same team, we have to work on our listening skills. Tuning in to our partner and aligning our state with theirs is crucial. We can do this by really hearing them out without interrupting or arguing with their perspective. This doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they say, but our goal in this moment is to understand where they’re coming from as best we can, put ourselves in their shoes, and empathize with their unique experience. This is part of creating a shared understanding.
2. Separating our past from the present
In order to press pause on our immediate reactions, especially those that are exaggeratedly emotional or defensive, we have to do some reflecting on why we get triggered by certain interactions. Some of us get set off by a partner’s exasperated expression or instructive tone. Others feel provoked by hearing a series of complaints or getting any sort of feedback.
Understanding that both what we hear and how we react during conflict is influenced by the lens of our past helps us recognize that what we’re reacting to in real time isn’t always fully to blame for the big feelings that emerge within us. The more we get to know and recognize our triggers, the more we can resist falling victim to them. Rather than blindly following our flared-up reactions, we can be mindful and choose how we want to respond to our partner.
3. Expressing ourselves in ways that allow our partner to know and feel for us
Our tendency to feel like we need to protect ourselves often leaves us using more defensive or combative language. Instead, we should focus on expressing how we think and feel in a way that doesn’t lay blame on the other person but rather invites them to know and feel for us. For example, instead of saying, “You never listen to me. You only care about what you want,” you could say, “I feel hurt when I don’t feel listened to. I really appreciate when you take time to hear me out and take my feelings into consideration.”
4. Repairing after ruptures in communication
Let’s face it, we all make mistakes and are bound to have moments when we’re not at our best (to say the least) with the people we care most about. The best thing we can do to get back on the same team is to repair. Acknowledge what took place, accept responsibility for your part in it, and try to find a more balanced way to communicate your thoughts, feelings, wants, or needs. Listening to our partner’s experience of the rupture is also essential. Making space for them to express their perspective helps them feel heard and allows for healing."
By: Mark Travers Ph.D. | July 14, 2022
"To love someone is to accept them fully, blemishes and all. We all know this definition of love. Over the years, certain behaviors, rituals, and symbols have become synonymous with this all-encompassing notion of an eternal bond, such as the institution of marriage.
However, such a binary and rigid view of love can cause us to ignore its many gray areas. We can start indulging in behavior that is to our detriment and allow for behavior that is obviously problematic.
Mental-health research has proven time and again that love can look and feel different from the way it appears in books, movies, and music. Here are three common mistakes people make when they view their intimate relationships too rigidly.
1. You’re too quick to make sacrifices for your partner.Yes, sacrifice is inevitable in most relationships. And yes, it is honorable. But is it always necessary? Research says not really. “It’s certainly honorable to put aside one’s own self-interest because of your partner or your relationship,” explains psychologist Francesca Righetti. “However, our research shows that there is a difficult aftermath for both the giver and the recipient.”
According to Righetti’s research, this is what the aftermath often looks like:
While sacrifice has this effect on both partners in a relationship, women are more likely to experience lower well-being after sacrificing because sacrifices are often viewed as their duty instead of their choice. This means they may especially experience the costs of sacrifice, but few of the benefits.
To avoid the pain sacrifice can cause in a relationship, Righetti advises partners to follow these two steps:
2. You’re too lenient in letting things go.Sometimes our loved ones may behave in a manner that is unethical and/or potentially harmful. These situations require us to be completely honest with our partners and ourselves – but it is possible that we fail to do so because we love them.
“When someone close to us behaves unethically, we face a conflict between upholding our moral values and maintaining our relationship,” explains psychologist Rachel Forbes of the University of Toronto in Canada.
Forbes’ research found that people often experience a deep ambivalence when responding to a significant other's unethical actions – possibly because of people’s tendency to share a sense of identity with their loved ones:
The costs of this ambivalence are twofold:
For people who might be struggling with being honest about a loved one's misbehavior, Forbes has the following advice: “The ambivalence we feel when confronted with close others’ bad behavior is difficult to reconcile. When faced with a loved one’s unethical behavior, it’s important to reflect on our moral values and whether the act itself fits within those values.”"
By Deborah Skolnik | Updated on July 14, 2022
"Cute as they are, babies can be quirky, too. They've got immature nervous systems, zero life experience, brains that are still developing, and, let's face it, not a lot of social awareness. Add all that up, and it's no surprise they do things that make no sense to adults.
So what kind of head-scratchers might you encounter? Read on to learn about six weird baby behaviors that pop up sometime in a baby's first year.
Touching Their Genitals
It's time for a diaper change, so you do what you usually do and take off your baby's diaper. Except this time, your baby doesn't just lie there; their hands wander south and stay there. What's going on? Are they copping a feel?
Yes and no. "It's very common to see babies start playing with their genitals around the 5 to 7 month mark," says DeAnn Davies, the director of child development at Honor Health (formerly Scottsdale Healthcare) in Arizona. "It means something very different to them than it does to you, I promise!" Babies are driven to touch themselves out of simple curiosity, she explains: "They're such eager learners and explorers at that age—anything they can get their hands on is fair game."
Their natural curiosity includes themselves and their various body parts. "If you think about it, your child is also playing a lot with his hands and feet, but it doesn't attract your attention the way it does when he touches his genitals," adds Peter Vishton, Ph.D., head researcher at the Child Development Research Center at the College of William & Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Your baby may spend more time on their genitals than on other places because it feels good.
It's important to remember that genitals are just body parts like everything else, so avoid reactions that might induce shame. Instead, adopt a body-positive approach. For example, if your little one reaches down during a diaper change, hand them a toy so they have something different to occupy their attention. Or else just go with the flow. "Accept that touching themselves is something kids do, and it's just another way of learning about their bodies," Davies says.
Flailing Their Arms When Startled
Long ago, before the modern conveniences of BabyBjörns and bouncy seats, wee ones spent a lot of time in their parent's arms—from which a fall could be fatal. So, babies adapted by developing a defensive strategy against getting dropped. At least, that's how some experts think an automatic behavior called the Moro reflex came to be.
Whenever your infant has the sensation that they're falling or if they're startled, they may fling their arms out to either side as though they're trying to fly. "If someone had lost her grip on a baby, it helped him literally hang on for dear life and bought mom a few seconds to catch him," says Davies.
While it's startling to see the Moro in action, it's actually a sign that your little one's nervous system is developing properly. Still, "it's stressful on the infant," says Dr. Vishton. "His breathing and heart rates will go up." But don't worry—the reflex usually subsides by about 3 months.
Standing but Unable To Sit Back Down
Around 10 months of age, your baby will hit a cool milestone: They'll grab onto a piece of furniture and pull themselves up onto their feet. Unfortunately, this exciting turn of events has a downside—they may be unable to figure out how to sit again!
Lowering your butt back down takes practice and coordination. So get ready: "You may be awakened at night by a crying baby who's stranded upright, holding on to the side of his crib," Davies says.
It's OK to offer a helping hand, but don't rush to sweep them off their feet altogether. "Sitting is a skill he needs to learn for himself," Dr. Vishton explains. The chances they'll hurt themselves are small since babies have those cushy tushies (and diapers) for padding. During the day, put them next to a safe surface to pull up on (like the edge of a sturdy sofa) and put down a pillow. Soon they'll be sitting with confidence.
Getting the Shivers
One minute, your baby's lying there calmly. The next, they're trembling like you did when you got your nursery-furniture bill. What's going on?
That's a nervous-system blip, says Davies. "Neurologically, babies are just not very good at regulating their movement at first, and you may see a little jerkiness. It's just part of the maturation process," she explains.
Of course, check their hands to see if they feel cold. While you might shiver a little when you catch a chill, a newborn can quiver much harder, says Dr. Vishton. "Babies are born relatively thin since they have to fit in their mothers' bodies," he explains. Therefore, your little one doesn't have much padding to help them regulate their body temperature. And they can't do the things you do when a breeze passes, like fold their arms across their chest or grab a sweatshirt. That's where trembling comes in handy: When muscles tense and relax rapidly, it generates heat. So, give them an extra layer of clothing and see if it helps.
If your child trembles often and it's accompanied by crying, that's worth a call to a health care provider. But the occasional shiver is usually not something to stress over."
By: Melanie Greenberg Ph.D. | March 30, 2015
"We all want loving and successful relationships, but we don't always know how to achieve them. Over time, negative cycles can develop and loving feelings can turn into frustration, disappointment, and even rage. The more you try to get your partner to do what you want and need, the less he or she seems inclined to do so. Or maybe you're in the honeymoon stage of a relationship and want to know how to make the good feelings last.
Wherever you're at, research shows that certain ways of relating and being together can increase your chances of maintaining love and togetherness for the long haul. Being loving toward your partner, expressing affection and appreciation, and spending time together in activities that build intimacy can create the glue that holds your relationship together.
Following are 7 practical suggestions based on what researchers have found when they've studied happy couples.
1. Listen with an Open Mind and Heart
Unhappy couples don't listen to each other. Over time, they get into negative cycles of communication, such as criticize/defend, demand/withdraw, or attack-counterattack. The result is that nobody gets heard or understood; partners feel judged, criticized, or dismissed, rather than affirmed; and there is no buildup of good will. Happy couples are more present with each other and make an effort to listen and take each other’s needs seriously. They make an effort to validate each other—communicating that a partner's perspective is understandable and valid, given their personal history or current circumstances. This creates a sense of being on the same side and having each other's backs.
2. Strive to Build Intimacy
Unhappy couples may seem almost like roommates. There is an emotional distance and lack of intimacy, with communication focused on mundane aspects of life like picking up the kids and running errands. A sense of being attractive and desirable to your partner gets lost. Further, unhappy couples may communicate mostly by fighting and arguing, by making sarcastic comments, or by pointedly ignoring each other. By contrast, happy couples prioritize emotional and physical intimacy, creating a positive, self-reinforcing cycle. They make time for each other, even if it's just a few minutes, by having greeting rituals when they leave and enter the house; hugging; and checking in with each other during the day in person or via text or e-mail. Happy couples express affection and appreciation often in words or gestures.
3. Repair Fights
Unhappy couples don’t resolve conflict. Arguments turn into ongoing hostility or a silent treatment that can go on for days. By contrast, happy couples tend to reach out to each other after fighting to show they still care, even if the issue isn’t fully resolved. Reaching out can be speaking in an affectionate tone of voice, making a positive comment, using humor, smiling, suggesting doing a fun or relaxing activity together, apologizing, or indicating understanding of the others’ perspectives. Repair attempts help your partner calm down and see the bigger picture. And then fights are seen as just temporary rifts, not chasms in the relationship!
4. Act Courteously
Unhappy couples don’t exhibit courtesy and sensitivity in the way they treat each other. By contrast, happy couples communicate a basic respect and warmth for each other, in lots of small ways, every day. They may hug goodbye, bring each other coffee, or offer to help each other out. They treat their partner respectfully in front of other people, even when they are angry. Happy couples also don’t engage in character assassination. They stick to the issue at hand, and don’t bring up every unpleasant thing their partner ever did. They don’t use negative labels or name-calling, and they give their partner the benefit of the doubt and assume goodwill.
5. Have a Sense of Partnership
Individuals in unhappy couples don’t consider how their decisions are going to affect their partners, or they may hide important information from their partners to avoid a fight. This creates problems with trust. In happy couples, people act like partners. They put the relationship and family first most of the time, even if they have to sacrifice some things they may enjoy as an individual. They check with each other before making big purchases or plans with extended family. They allow their partner’s wishes and needs to influence them, rather than digging in their heels."
By: Daniel R. George, Ph.D., M.Sc. | July 7, 2022
"This post is authored by Mariam Shalaby, a 4th-year medical student at Penn State College of Medicine"
"It is a tumultuous time in the U.S.—politically and socially—and many of us in the field of mental health are additionally tasked with the responsibility of caring for the emotional needs of others. This can be taxing, even for someone like myself who is a medical student training in psychiatry. What are practical steps we can take to maintain a productive and caring presence amidst national turmoil?
A day in the life of a mental health trainee
As a fourth-year medical student, I spend a month at a time training in different locations. Recently, I have been training at the local psychiatric hospital, where patients are cared for when their mental illness leads them to be at risk of harm to themselves and/or others, or unable to care for themselves.
Waking up on a recent Wednesday morning, the first thing did was check my phone. Texts from loved ones working through personal problems flooded my screen. I sent a quick reply — “Thinking of you” — before switching apps to scroll through cute cat videos interspersed with passionate 30-second video clips about baby formula shortages and another school shooting. I clicked my phone screen off before taking a deep breath and getting ready for the day.
Driving to the hospital, I noticed the fluffy clouds and the blue sky above me. It was a pretty June day—a peaceful morning. Merging onto the highway, I noticed the car in front of me. Pink paint emblazoned on its trunk exclaimed: “PAWS OFF ABORTION! STOP CONTROLLING WOMEN.” My chest tightened.
I walked into the hospital and sat down for rounds, which is when the team meets with every patient to talk about how they’ve been and discuss their treatment plan. We interviewed eight patients in a row. When I asked one patient what led her to attempt suicide, she looked at me in the eye and said, matter-of-factly, “I was sexually abused by my father as a child, I have struggled with cocaine use for many years, and I am dealing with unresolved grief from the loss of my husband due to overdose.” I gulped, and said, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Inside, I panicked: What is going on, and how are we going to fix it?
Finally, we finished rounds. I took a break for lunch at the neighborhood Italian bakery and noticed an enormous plywood sign in front of one of the houses across the street: “FROM IRELAND TO PALESTINE, OCCUPATION IS A CRIME” it screamed at me in black spray paint. I took a deep breath and tried to notice the taste of my pizza and the sound of the birds. The time passed too quickly, and soon it was time to return to work.
When I finally arrived home at the end of the day, I felt drained. I had little energy to do anything at all. And it was only four o’clock; I had gotten home early. I resorted to looking at my phone, and found myself once again watching silly videos that left me feeling just as tired as when I got home.
I’m grateful that, like many other professional Americans, my basic needs for food, water, and safety are met. And I’m grateful to serve in a role that helps others find stability in their lives. But these days, a sense of vigilance and worry often consumes me. Many of us wake up daily to an overstimulating digital atmosphere, a turbulent sociopolitical landscape, and an emotionally taxing job. I walked through the day on edge, alert for threat.
While there are practical ways of responding to outside threats to our senses of security and calm, such as participating in activism about causes we care about and doing our best to care for patients, addressing inner sensations of stress in response to those threats isn’t always so clear. Simply telling myself to “calm down” doesn’t work. Trust me, I’ve tried. That said, here are a few things that I have found to be helpful: