What makes a successful relationship? We might answer with commitment, quality time, unconditional love, or good communication. While all these things are important, let’s explore one aspect of communication that goes beyond the words we speak or don’t speak: paying attention to the subtle emotional reactions, the fine details we observe in each other.
When I think about attention to detail, my accountant comes to mind. To be a successful accountant one must have accuracy, correct number placement, and pay attention to every decimal- they all matter. Very tiny details make a big difference to the outcome. What if my accountant didn’t pay attention to detail, made little errors that became big mistakes and then told me ‘Don’t worry about it’ or said ‘It’s no big deal’. This would not suffice for anyone- no way. I want to know exactly what is happening, why, and what outcomes to expect. It’s my financial welfare at stake and I’ll have to live with the consequences that are to come. Therefore, I choose to work with an accountant who is mindful of the details, communicates problems when they arise and works to find a solution.
Another example of paying attention to detail is when I have delegated the chore of dishwashing to my children. I am not ok with greasy residue left on my pots and pans or when unloading the dishwasher I find ‘leftovers’ on the clean dishes. I don’t say “good enough” or “at least it’s sterilized!” Well, actually… It depends on how busy we are that day!
It’s similar in relationships when it comes to how we communicate our emotions and the care, patience, and attention to details we offer to our spouse or partner. Attention to the subtle details like facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, really matter! Unfortunately, we often tell ourselves “it was nothing”, “no big deal, no problem”, or we tell our partner, “Why do you always make mountains out of molehills? Just let it go already!” I believe that if we took care and gave attention to the small “molehills” that pop up daily, they would not grow into insurmountable “mountains”.
Here’s an example of how this plays out, a husband and wife are talking about an upcoming anniversary trip. She’s disappointed because her hopes for the weekend seem less important to him. Rather than telling him she feels disappointed and unimportant to him, she shrugs her shoulders and with pursed lips says “sounds good”, and then she turns away. Her body language is saying something completely opposite of her language. Her husband could choose to go with her words to avoid conflict, or, he could address the “molehill” that just popped up by engaging with his wife and exploring the message her body language is sending. It might sound like, “Honey, I hear you saying our plans sound good to you, but I noticed some tension and you looked away- how are you feeling about our trip this weekend?” Attention to the small details communicates to his wife, “I see you, I hear you, I care about you” and will prevent animosity and tension from accumulating into something bigger, a mountain, later.
One of our goals in couples counseling is to help you slow down the conversation- addressing the many molehills that have grown into mountains. You will learn to discern what to let go of & what to give attention to, allowing you to enjoy life with your most significant person again.