When we are getting something right - in our couple relationship, when we are a child,
in our professional life or in our friendships - we usually get some kind of feedback
signal to tell us: “Yes, that’s it. That’s good.” It might be praise, encouragement,
the fact that people are buying your product or service, or one’s own ability to
sense rightness, to know a job when it is well done. This feedback signal then creates
in us some kind of energy or vitality - a feel good moment. When that happens, the
connections in our brain that allowed us to do what we did become stronger, and thus
we are more likely to use that same process again the next time. This is because
we like the feeling that we are getting something right. This is how we learn almost
everything we learn. A gold star from our teacher when we get right answers in maths,
a smile from our parent when we make our first cup of tea for them, a slap on the
back from our team-mates when we score a goal, and step-by-step we learn to function
in the world we live in.
The couple relationship is no different. It is a place of learning, where both partners
are beginners in the art of couple love when they start their relationship together.
Over time, with each other’s support and healthy feedback partners hopefully develop
their ability to understand couple love. Positive feedback is therefore a useful
tool that both partners can use if they are to help each other learn the art of love
in their particular relationship.
The key point to understand is that whether people want feedback or not, it doesn’t
matter, because feedback will come whether you want it or not. If you don’t offer
your partner praise and encouragement when they get something right, then you will
probably have to give them negative feedback later because you’re upset that after
10 years together they still haven’t learnt some basic things about what you love
to receive from them. Your partner may have offered many types of love during that
time, but because they didn’t receive any signal from you that you enjoyed what they
offered, then the connections in the brain didn’t harden, and therefore that act
of love didn’t become a substantial, regular habit.
There are basically 3 types of feedback.
1) Positive Feedback – you’re getting it right, well done, keep it up, increased
market share, etc
2) Understandable Negative Feedback – That was wrong, don’t do that again, customer
complaint, large number of products returned for same fault, not voting for you,
3) Unclear Negative Feedback – New product doesn’t sell, customers stop buying, team
leader drops ’hints’, not voting for anyone, etc
Ideally, couples help each other develop and grow through mainly using positive feedback.
There are a variety of ways partners can make sure that they regular express what
they appreciate about their partner’s offerings of love. For example, they can live
by the motto: “Catch my partner doing something right, and tell them.” Or they can
make sure they have a time each week to say what they enjoyed about their partner’s
acts of love. They might also learn the art of educational praising - praising in
a way that goes deep into a partner’s consciousness. There are many other ways that
partners can send the positive feedback signal that is so vital for our growth and
development. We just have make sure we have one or two of them.
Partners can also learnt the art of giving understandable, negative feedback to their
partner every now and again. Finding the right time, have one’s partner’s full attention,
learning how to be specific about the problem, and other basic communication principles
are often essential parts of giving negative feedback well. I need to learn to create
an environment where my partner is to fully be able to receive my complaint, where
they are willing to think about new ways to love.
Sadly, in many couple relationships, the main source of feedback is unclear negative
feedback, feedback that doesn’t really allow partners to look at the deeper issues,
doesn’t allow for partners to clearly identify what is going wrong. So the issue
isn’t usually solved - and it comes back a few weeks later to haunt the relationship.
On my course, students are encouraged to think about a range of different feedback
strategies, and to find one they can feel comfortable using.