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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Can This Simple Phrase Change Your Relationship for Good?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 3rd 2011

loveA while back upon working with a couple who was having an upsurge of decades of past resentment I offered up a simple practice to see how it might change the way they interact. I asked them to say, “I love you” whenever they first started speaking to one another. So when they first saw each other after work or when they first talked to one another on the phone they would start with “I love you.” What followed was striking…

As they started their initial greetings with “I love you” they noticed their bodies begin to relax, defenses came down and they simply didn’t feel like fighting. They told me it added lightness as the onset of their conversations. They also reported a reduction in the stress between them.

This was a very simple practice and had wonderful results. Now did it last?

Of course it didn’t.

They had decades of habitual interactions with one another that caused them to slide back into old habits of metaphorically pricking one another from time to time like two porcupines trying to connect. However, this was expected and built into the practice.

In engaging any practice with change, it has to be understood that there is an extremely high probability that we’ll slip back into old patterns or wander off from our intentions. Just try and stay focused on your breath for a little while, see if you can do it without your mind wandering. This is the same for trying to pay attention to new intentions.

So, after they slipped back and recognized it, we worked on gently guiding them back to practice. Each time they did it, they came back to the same positive results.

Now, this isn’t meant to be a panacea to all relationship problems, but we all need tools in our toolbox to support us when our unhealthy habitual tendencies take root.

Take this one with you today, see what happens. Allow your judgments about it to step aside and let your experience be your teacher.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

"I love you" can ease the pain - George - Sep 6th 2011

A couple who is committed to each other, either through marriage or civil union or simply because they are sincere about their relationship can indeed be enhanced by using those "3 little words."  They are together in the first place, presumably, because they love each other; though that's different with a couple that isn't legally connected, I suppose.

If saying "I love you" to your partner will ease the language of frustration or hurt or outright anger, then it's worhwhile to do it.  Every relationship has stress and strain, and if we can alleviate anger by simply falling back on what we've already avowed in the past, why not do so?

Love Without Anything Behind It - Cathy - Aug 4th 2011

Could it be that simply saying "I love you." and not showing it in the interactions with one another just be "empty".  I have noticed that people who constantly use "I love you." often do not show it.  My husband's family often say this and mine did not yet I see my family showed love and his just spoke it.  Actually, what I saw was that this was used to manipulate the other into some sort of obligation.  It seems this is being used as more of a break like say, "count to ten" before reacting?  I could see that helping but to abuse the word "love", I am not comfortable with that.

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