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De-stressing Relationships in a Fast-Paced World

How to get a higher EQ -- emotional quotient -- to keep the lines of communication open.
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WebMD Commentary

The more devices we invent to improve communication, the more difficult it often becomes to effectively communicate with our loved ones.

But a loving, secure relationship is serious business, and harder than ever to manage in this stressful, hi-tech world we inhabit.

Stress may not be apparent to you, but your partner may be able to see it just in the way you enter a room, or the way your eyes seem to dart about rather than glance around you. There's a hint of something in the air and you're giving off signals that all is not well with you.

So, how do you manage to keep the relationship on an even keel when the stress of today's 24/7 world has you feeling a bit rocky?

Researchers have come up with some interesting approaches that you can apply to stress in your relationship. Much of this work was done several decades ago; we first heard of it as "body language," in which meaning is inferred from nonverbal body cues.

Your Body's Reaction to Stress

In psychology, there's something called "alexithymia" and it comes from the Greek alexithymos -- meaning "without words for emotions."  If you can't tell someone about your stress, your body will do it for you, in other words.  The signs of stress are up like flags signaling storm warnings: the eyes squint and dart, the shoulders are held up tight and rigid, and the arms and hands fail to relax. The whole "look" is one of tension and unspoken problems. Without even knowing it, you're sending a message to your partner that might put him or her on edge, and potentially increase tension in your relationship. 

So how can you defuse this tension when you're not even aware of the message you are sending?

The answer lies in sharpening your ability to "listen with your eyes" to pick up the cues you are sending based on the reactions your partner is sending back your way. It's a process of building the relationship through gaining insight into what that crook of the eye or downward glance may mean. Not just what you think it might mean, but what experience with your partner has told you it means for her or him. 

The next step is to work on nonverbal skills that will send your partner the message you want to deliver: You are important to me. Each of us has our own slant on how we send those nonverbal messages, so it's a bit like deciphering a code and developing what we might call your EQ or emotional quotient.  But instead of "Q" as in quotient, it's "cue" as in, of course, cue. 

Five Basic Nonverbal Warning Cues

  1. Lack of eye contact
  2. There is no soft, just-for-the-fun-of-it touching
  3. The tone of voice is shrill or in a higher register
  4. Shifting from foot to foot or stepping backward
  5. An absence of either nodding in agreement or some "mmm" sounds to let them know you're really listening to them

The trick here is to recognize body language for what it truly is and to take a good hard look at your own nonverbal cues.  The best way to do this is to use any of several methods.  Let's take the five cues above one at a time and see how you can sharpen your skills in terms of the cues you're sending out.  Remember, people are influenced by what you do and don't say, so practice and you will notice a change in how someone relates to you.

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