Last updated on 15th May 2019
"The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart." Dhammapada
We introduced the first of three sessions on relationships in last week's meeting - "How to live well: 7th meeting - relationships, roles, Dunbar, needs & dyads". We looked particularly at Funeral speeches/current progress, Dunbar's 5-15-50-150 social network hypothesis, self-determination theory & our needs for relatedness & beneficence, and the affect dyad exercise. But first we began by underlining the benefits of good relationships for physical health, psychological resilience and also for our overall wellbeing. This website's book section entitled "Social networks: an introduction" introduces the very extensive research underpinning the emphasis of these points.
In tonight's second session on relationships, we continued to work with Dunbar's 5-15-50-150 social network model & the affect dyad exercise, and we also introduced information about nourishing & strengthening relationships, touch & sex, conflict & wisdom, and briefly behavioural systems & attachment. Do visit the book section "Social networks: Dunbar's 5-15-50-150 model (assessing how we're doing" to remind yourself of these areas, and follow the links to learn more.
Here are the "Home practice" requests for this eighth week:
1.) Please continue to use the 12-breath practice ... developing familiarity with adapting it, as needed, to increase our effectiveness, support our relationships, and increase our appreciation of life. Make sure that you can practise the 12-breath in a variety of positions ... sitting, lying, standing & walking. Remember too sometimes to use longer practices ... for example going through the sequence twice, thrice or more.
2.) We reviewed how we had experienced the Affect Dyad last week ... and this week we paired with a different course member to give ourselves more experience of using this rather wonderful exercise. I suggested it might be helpful to record our own 5 minute section of the Dyad, and then listen back to what we said. Remember the "Emotional competence questionnaire" and consider how what we said during the Dyad related to the component's of emotional intelligence ... identification, understanding, expression, regulation & utilization. The Dyad exercise can be seen as training particularly in identification & expression of emotions, with knock-on benefits for understanding & regulation (and the inter-personal skill of listening too, in our receiver role during the exercise). Here's another copy of the "Weekly affect dyad recording sheet" if you found this helpful last week. The "Emotions: arriving & leaving" model also helps us orientate to these different components of emotional intelligence.
3.) This week we spent some time talking about how we can look after and nourish our relationships better. I used a gardening metaphor to highlight that relationship maintenance is an active exercise. Relationships that are simply taken for granted tend to decline in quality. Please read the blog post "Personal social networks: how can we look after our relationships better?" to remind yourself of what we spoke about here ... and to extend your understanding further. To build on the value of knowledge of one's friends & family, I included a couple of sheets giving "games" - Aron's "Self-disclosure exercise" and Gottman's "Knowledge quiz". Again, the book section "Social networks: Dunbar's 5-15-50-150 model (assessing how we're doing" can be helpful, as too is making specific intentions using the "Personal community map questionnaire" and the "Goals for roles: 5yr, 1yr & 3 months plans" sheet (both of which you have probably already started filling in). As you answer these questions, it's worth being aware of a rather strange aspect of assessing our social networks ... we're likely to be over-critical about them, feeling that we don't have as many friends as others do ... or that we're not as close to our friends & relatives as others are. This is surprising as human beings often see themselves through rose-coloured glasses. If, for example, you ask people how good a driver they think they are, very few will say they're below average. And the same applies to many aspects of our talents and our lives more generally ... we often over-estimate how we rate compared to others. However this doesn't usually apply when we assess our social networks - see, for example "Home alone: Why people believe others' social lives are richer than their own". It seems this is due to comparing ourselves with others we know who are particularly sociable. You're more likely to get a clearer idea of how your social life compares with others by deliberately trying to think of people you know who seem to be 'averagely' sociable. This 'marking our networks over-critically' has been noted by other researchers - "From misperception to social connection: Correlates and consequences of overestimating others’ social connectedness" - and this can decrease our sense of wellbeing. Interestingly though it can sometimes have the beneficial effect of encouraging ourselves to be more sociable, so this over-critical sense can sometimes have helpful results.
4.) We talked a bit as well about touch and sex. I've written in the past that the fascinating research paper "More than just sex: affection mediates the association between sexual activity and well-being" highlights that sex increases subsequent affection & positive emotion, which in turn increases wellbeing & relationship/life satisfaction. The more recent publication "Sexuality leads to boosts in mood and meaning in life with no evidence for the reverse direction: A daily diary investigation" makes similar points, underlining the potential value of a good sex life for boosting overall wellbeing. Touch overlaps with sex, but is much broader in its relevance - see "The communicative functions of touch in humans". As the paper "Non-verbal channel use in the communication of emotion" highlights, touch is a key non-verbal way of communicating love, care & sympathy. When touch is used sensitively & appropriately, it is a wonderful thing. It can boost a deep sense of security - "Touch promotes state attachment security", doing this in non-intrusive ways - "Touch is a covert but effective mode of soliciting and providing social support", encouraging effective cooperation -"Tactile communication, cooperation, and performance", while promoting psychological health - "The neurobiology shaping affective touch", and physical health too - "Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support: a study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness". There's a kind of geography of touch throughout our day, with different forms of touch being widely acceptable for example when saying hello, saying goodbye, expessing support & sympathy, sharing humour, and so on. Touch on the arm or shoulder is usually interpreted as acceptable in our culture even between people who don't know each other that well - see "Topography of social touching depends on emotional bonds between humans". If it makes sense to you, consider exploring ... in a warm, respectful way ... being a bit more tactile this week. How does this feel? How do others react?
5.) We spoke a good deal this evening, as well, about conflict. Please click through to "Personal social networks: the frequency of conflict" to remind yourself of points we covered here ... and click through to the "Conflict: not too much, not too little" sequence of blog posts to deepen still further the exploration of this challenging area. The pair of posts on "A startlingly effective way to reduce interpersonal conflict and distress" highlight the value of expanding how we understand the situation when faced with conflict (particularly in couple & other close relationships) ... and this segues to the territory of interpersonal wisdom (which links with the Bus conductor's 'wise hat' in the 12-breath meditation practice we've been using). Please choose a personal experience to describe with the "Situated WISe reasoning scale (SWIS) event" and record your responses on the "SWIS questionnaire". How did you do? Where were you pretty wise (at least as far as the SWIS scoring suggests) and what can you learn to do better? Very interesting stuff. Remember there's more about wisdom in the first eighteen slides downloadable from the recent blog post "Do therapists get wiser with experience - or just repeat the same old mistakes?". The "SWIS questionnaire" can also be a useful resource when you're actually going through conflict. As highlighted in Igor Grossmann's 2013 paper "A route to well-being: intelligence vs wise reasoning" - higher wise reasoning scores are typically associated with "greater life satisfaction, less negative affect, better social relationships, less depressive rumination ... and greater longevity. The relationship between wise reasoning and well-being held even when controlling for socioeconomic factors, verbal abilities, and several personality traits. As in prior work, there was no association between intelligence and well-being." It's interesting too that a key area that seems to separate truly excellent psychotherapists/counsellors from less deeply helpful practitioners is how they do in situations of conflict - see the posts on "Truly excellent therapists have 'grace under interpersonal pressure'" - and therapy isn't so different from many other forms of close, meaning-to-be-helpful, interpersonal relationships. And this, for me, supports the suggestion from research on wisdom, that learning to work better with conflict is an absolutely core ability for excellence in interpersonal relationships.
I'm well aware that I'm giving you an awful lot of material here. And of course, one could focus the whole of this 10-week course just on relationships, and still we would have only begun to work seriously into this area - which is so important for wellbeing, for psychological health, and for physical health. Do what feels right for you, knowing the available time you have and the other competing demands in the course and in your life. If you're interested, an additional area to mention is attachment:
6.) Attachment is a psychological term that covers key aspects of care-seeking & care-giving relationships. The blog post "Attachment, compassion & relationships" introduces this territory, and there are many more attachment resources on this website as highlighted by clicking on "Attachment" in the "Tag cloud". I asked everyone to try assessing their attachment styles in the different main relationships of their lives - see "A good way of assessing attachment style across a variety of close relationships: the ECR-RS questionnaire" - and I mentioned that these biologically set up response patterns can also be "too hot, too cold, or mostly about right (adaptive)" in other areas too - see "Behavioural systems: attachment (care-seeking), care giving, exploration, sex, and power". Again, this territory is of considerable significance for close relationships, but only explore more deeply now if you have the time and a recognition of its relevance.
7.) And lastly, do take a bit of time to write on your eighth session reflection sheets. There's a huge amount of important territory that we've begun to cover in this eighth session. Remember that we will continue to look at this area of Relationships for another session, so ... as usual ... just put in the amount of time on all this that you can manage without over-stretching yourself.
And for the last of this three-part sequence, see next week's session - "How to live well: 9th meeting - social identity theory, strength of weak ties & Barbara Fredrickson's emotional resonance".