In Relationships: Showing vs. Saying

Show It and Grow It

Relationships between two people require a show-me message. That’s why there aren’t a lot of bullet-pointed Valentines Day cards, listing alphabetically amorous adjectives about your love. The card works better if it portrays or conveys a feeling. You might want to send a love message that captures a certain feeling and shows the kind of relationship you have.

For example, we-have-so-much-in-common type of love or one of skipping-down-the-mountain-together, adventure type-love or that of skin-to-skin yearning — each of which conjures up and beckons a certain kind of loving dynamic. Choose a card to match your relationship. And similarly, when you present the card to your sweetie, the warm tone, the kind face, the shiny eyes, the open arms is what really bolsters the written message so that it becomes digested and anchored into your loved one’s sense of believability and basic security.

Let’s say, I wanted to assure you that you’re not alone, I could say: “I’m here for you.” But unless I match the look to the words, you might not believe me. Why would you? Words alone can sound hollow. Add feeling to actions. Try leaning in with warm, steady, intentional, and kind eyes.

That’s why we hire actors to act out characters in movies. We only believe the words if we believe the accompanying face, gesture, intensity – a portrait of authenticity, a match in sentiment and body. It’s why emojis help with the nuance and emotional texture for our text messages.

Say It, Do It, Done

If I’m writing a to-do list, it’s perfectly fine for me to write out household tasks in a hollow fashion because my laundry doesn’t need to take me seriously. I just need to take myself seriously and the list is just a note to jog my own memory. I already believe in the task. And I can check that laundry task off my list once I’ve done it and boom — done and done. And that check mark is similarly believable.

Know Your Partner, Show That You’re Really There, and Connect

Here’s how this could look: Meet Tami and Lisa. Lisa had a hard day and Tami is trying to get better at being supportive — in a way that Lisa likes. So when Tami says “I’m here for you,” she remembers that the epitome of comfort for Lisa is what her grandmother used to do for Lisa. It means staying calm, quiet, offering a soft smile, having a soft presence, being in the same room without overtaking the physical or air space.

Tami knows that Lisa easily feels overshadowed. She is the youngest of 4 children, and is not in the habit of taking up room to speak her mind or from her heart. Tami knows to make brief statements like, “that must be hard,” “uh huh,” and “yeah” to provide bite-sized support through mirroring, all the while being careful to leave that space so that Lisa feels that there is evidence that room is truly being made available for any and all of what she needs to say. So that maybe she’ll actually say it and feel relief, or even better, feel connected.