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the RELATIONSHIP dance WITH VICKI MINERVA How Do Those Couples Do It? Y ou know, the ones who stay together and still appear to enjoy each other?? The ones that you see depicted in the cute pictures of old people walking, holding hands? I have to admit that they are more rare than I wish they were. None of us come from perfect families with the ability to communicate perfectly. That’s not even possible! But there are attitudes and communication skills that we can all learn which will help to create a more satisfying relationship. These skills can actually be a help in any relationship so you don’t have to be a couple to reap the benefits; use them at work, with the kids, family, friends. Unfortunately many come to take the comfort of familiarity as permission to not be attentive to basic maintenance in the relationship. In the same way that my car will fail on me if I don’t do things like change the oil or get tune-ups, even refill the gas tank, our relationships will soon deteriorate if we don’t take care of them. A critical starting point (and one you’ll need to KEEP coming back to) is approaching each other with respect. It’s a mindset you may have to train yourself in, especially if you’ve started down the slippery slope with short cuts – being curt with each other when irritable, neglecting simple manners, saving our best behaviors for show. For example, when my husband and I are trying to make decisions, or have a disagreement, I remind myself that: 1) He’s an adult; 2) He’s got a different perspective from his experiences which can add dimension to the subject; and 3) His feelings and concerns are important to put on the table as a factor in any resolution. It’s important that both people maintain humility in the problem-solving so that both feel there is room to share honestly. When the dynamic shifts to keeping score, you may win the battle and lose the war over the long haul. Even if my preference isn’t decided on, I can feel better about the final decision when I’ve been able to put it out there. This also applies to children. Parents still need to be parents and are responsible for the training and care of their children, but the attitude of respect becomes the lab of experience that will shape how they conduct themselves with others. When you can hear and respond to your t’weens need to be socially accepted, you may be able to suggest an alternative that satisfies your need for a safe environment while helping your child connect with friends. There may still be times when the answer is ‘No’ but the conversations that express your concerns in search of workable options are invaluable in teaching children how to make good decisions. I wanted my daughters to be empowered to manage their lives with growing skills as they approached adulthood and that didn’t happen magically on their 18th birthday. The same principle applies with friends and coworkers. The amount of time and energy that can be saved when people treat each other with respect would probably surprise you. We all have a silent internal dialog that runs while conversations happen aloud. When we feel disrespected, that internal dialog takes up most of our attention. Whether I silently feed my resentments towards the other person, or berate myself with my own disparaging comments, I stop being able to respond to what’s being said. It’s as if my ‘outside’ continues to give the appearance of being involved while my ‘inside’ plans the next comeback (instead of listening) or goes into hiding. It stops being as productive a conversation as it might have been! When respect is there, all those distractions are gone. It’s easier to have a spontaneous conversation that stays focused when people aren’t second- guessing themselves or each other. Saying “‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’” may seem pointless. The time it takes to think of a kinder way to say something, or the effort to readjust your attitude may seem inefficient until you argue about things you don’t disagree on. The amount of good will that you generate with a respectful attitude makes any relationship feel safer and more satisfying. This isn’t idealistic, it’s actually really practical. I’m pretty sure the little old couple who adore each other kept respect high on their list. I realize that there are relationships that may not feel safe to you because you’re already in that disrespectful place, or you may be in a relationship with a person who has no interest in respecting you. This complicates things. I encourage you to read self-help materials, connect with people who do respect you for support, pursue meaningful spiritual practices, or seek counseling if you need to. Keep this in your toolbox, but you may need some additional tools as well! Vicki Minerva has lived and worked in the South County area as a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 35 years. She and her hus- band George raised two beautiful daughters with the help of the village here. Her educa- tion includes a M.Div. degree from Fuller Seminary and a M.A. in Marriage, Family Counseling from Santa Clara University. You can contact her at 408.848.8793 or visit her website at vickiminerva.com My goal is to provide you with some information and help you access tools that will help you live your life and manage your relationships in healthier ways. This information is not a substitu te for personal counseling and should not be taken out of context. There are many reputable therapists in the South County area should you need additional help. 82 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN MARCH/APRIL 2016 gmhtoday.com