Couples are busy, stressed, financially-strained and often running on E. People are frequently coming home, walking past their partner, barely saying hello to the children and burrowing their heads in computers, Blackberrys, televisions, etc. So many of us are trying to hold so many things in our heads that we forget about the most important thing—relationships.
In an effort to help all couples everywhere, I want to talk about the importance of the two Gs: greetings and goodbyes. These are very powerful moments in relationships. One starts off the relationship on a good foot while the other ends it on a good foot.
You can think of them in terms of the primacy (first, i.e. greeting) and recency (last, i.e. goodbye) effects. Just as research shows that the primacy and recency effects are powerful forces in terms of sequences (the most remembered components are the first and last. For example, the first or last person in a debate, speech, audition, etc.) so are they in terms of relationships. The greeting is the first thing that happens and often sets the stage and mood for what’s to come later. The goodbye is the last thing that happens. Typically, we hold the first thing and the most recent interaction in our memories the longest. The mundane stuff that happens in the middle often gets lost in the shuffle of our brains.
In many ways this is very good news for busy couples and families. Because of the way our brains work, if you strengthen your entries and exits, you can significantly impact your relationships for the better. Both of these elements take minimal time and effort. They do, however, require that you’re deliberate and focused.
When we enter our homes with our heads distracted, our eyes averted and our moods somber, we’re like a gray cloud sweeping through the house. If we haven’t seen our family for 7-10 hours, that’s a hell of a way to greet them. This entry is felt and can set the tone for the entire evening. While I understand that working all day (in or out of the home) can be stressful, it’s not an excuse to be cold, rude or emotionally absent.
Entering and leaving the home is a pivotal moment in families. If you’d like to make it a powerful entry and exit, here are three steps for each to help you do that:
1. Prior to entering your home, center yourself. It should take less than 5-7 minutes. You can do this in the driveway, garage or even by a park close to your house. Take a moment to quiet your mind, calm your energy and let go of the day’s stress. You can get back to these worries later, but for now put them on the shelf and don’t allow them to ruin your night as well.
2. Set your intention. Tell yourself that your intention is to be a loving husband/wife, father/mother the moment you step in that door. Minimally, this means that you are respectful, present and positive. You can also make a smaller, more targeted goal, such as: be playful, listen intently to how your family’s day was, be complimentary, etc. Your intention can change daily according to the needs of your family.
3. Plan your greeting. You must greet your family upon entry. This is not up for negotiation. Say hello, ask about their day, tell them it’s great to see them, etc. Do not wait for them to come to you; take the lead and soon they will meet you. Enter your home with a hug, kiss and/or a great line: “How’s the most amazing family/wife/husband in the world today?!” Make it fun, playful, endearing or serious and endearing. The bottom-line is greet your family every time.
1. Denote your goodbye—do not sneak out. I remember Caroline Kennedy talking about the importance of letting loved ones know you love them. Due to the immense loss in her family, it was a poignant reminder that everyday could be your last. Say goodbye before you leave. You can do so with a hug, kiss, high five, joke or any other creative, connecting exit you can come up with. This last interaction is the one we carry with us. Make it a positive one.
2. Put your heart in it. This takes consciousness and determination. Don’t just go through the motions. Your partner and children know when you’re truly present and when you’re not. Don’t try to fool them. Instead, take the extra minute and BE PRESENT. It takes less than a minute, yet has a lasting impact.
3. Come up with a family exit. Make it explicit with your partner and children that you think it’s important to say goodbyes when one of you is heading out. You can all decide what that will look like or if it’s up to the individual. Coming up with a tradition can be fun to start with newlyweds and young children. Young kids love big family hugs or cool secret handshakes. New couples like to leave with a kiss. Start it early and allow the tradition to take hold. If it fades, remember to bring it back.
When it comes to relationships, never underestimate the primacy and recency effects. Spruce up your hellos and goodbyes and feel the relationship shifts. Be sure to never sneak in or out of the house. It gives the message that your family is inconsequential to you. This is a sad message for children and adults alike.
CHALLENGE: Work on your entries and exits over the next few weeks. Be determined and committed to entering your home with a good spirit. Refuse to sneak in or out; make the most of these two important relationship moments. Pay attention to any shifts that occur.