You can improve communication without improving a relationship, but you can’t create connection without improving a relationship.
Communication has been hailed as a “holy grail” to interpersonal relationships, and is routinely promoted as the way to improve relationships between spouses, children, parents, and work colleagues. As years of research show, communication is definitely an important dimension of any relationship. But communication isn’t the key to fixing relationship problems. Connection is.
Connection is the basis for every positive, happy, and satisfying human relationship, and human flourishing. We thrive when we feel connected and in harmony with others. But, our brains often interfere with our ability to experience connection by positioning our minds for separation. Most often without our even realizing it.
Separation begins as a self-defensive reaction of the nonconscious mind, an automatic brain response to some prompt that triggers attacking and defensive thoughts, recollections, or imaginings. As we tell ourselves negative and polarizing stories about others to justify our positions and prove ourselves right, we generate the negative and polarizing mental force that shapes an oppositional relationship dynamic, and interferes with our capacity to be happy and satisfied.
But there’s more. Whether we share our negative stories with others or keep them to ourselves, they interfere with our capacity to connect, causing us to see ourselves as more entitled to, better than, less at fault than, and more special than others. As we justify our own superiority and entitlement, however privately or publicly, we position ourselves for separation, whether or not we communicate in ways that allow us to pass as being polite or appropriate in our interactions with others.
But it’s not just our relationships that are at risk.
There is a large body of scientific research showing a link between negative emotions and compromised physical health. Studies like those led by Dr. Richard Davidson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, show how negative emotions pose risks to physical health. Davidson and his colleagues investigated the impact of emotions on flu risk, and found that subjects who experienced intense negative emotions produced fewer flu antibodies after receiving the flu vaccine. Just recently, Dr. Steven Cole of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the University of California, Los Angeles and his colleagues showed exactly how negative mental states lower immune system functioning, by altering gene expression.
It turns out that the negative force of mind that causes us to feel separated from others is not only bad for our interpersonal relationships. It’s bad for our health.
Learning how to create connection when your brain positions your mind for separation is a solution to fixing relationship problems, and an important factor in being able to promote wellness.
You can invite and support connection with any relationship partner, be it a spouse, parent, in-law, sibling, or other person, by learning how to practice “compassionate cooperation,” a methodology for redirecting the negative and polarizing force of mind that causes separation.
The practice of compassionate cooperation is a way to take an active role in reshaping how you think about people and relationship situations. It enables you to redirect separation as connection, and offers strength, hope, and unimagined opportunities for healing and gratification through transformative relationship change. Anyone with the will and commitment can learn how to practice compassionate cooperation and take measurable steps to improve a relationship.
I have been practicing and teaching compassionate cooperation for more than twelve years. In my own life, I have healed relationships I never thought possible to heal. I have a close and loving relationship with my ex-husband, with in-laws who once rejected me, and with a mother I once saw as difficult. My life is living proof that the practice of compassionate cooperation works. I have been teaching others how to practice compassionate cooperation as well. Over the years, through the Prince Street Practicum in Conscious Living, a community group I mentor, I have seen men and women, old and young, use compassionate cooperation to turn around failing relationships with siblings, stepchildren, coworkers, partners, spouses, parents, and in-laws.
So the next time you find yourself pushing another person away in your mind, I ask you to think about connection. And have the courage to learn how to improve the most important relationships in your life by learning how to heal separation through the practice of compassionate cooperation.
Lynne D’Amico, PhD, is author of Force of Mind, Song of Heart: Shaping Consciousness, Connection, and Compassionate Cooperation, which details the practice of compassionate cooperation. (Photo by Oleh Slobodeniuk via Flickr)