Sally and Frank came to me with the complaint, “He/she doesn’t love me.” When I asked Sally what Frank could do to make her feel loved, she said, “He needs to tell me I’m beautiful.” Further exploration revealed that she needed to hear this once a day. Although we tested other adjectives like gorgeous, fantastic, pretty, cute, adorable, fabulous, wonderful, terrific…no other adjective gave her the feeling of being loved. Frank agreed to do this one simple thing. In contrast, Frank needed someone to pet his head (anywhere on his head) about once a week to feel loved. Sally agreed to do this.
In Frank and Sally’s case, differences in their internal definitions of the word “love” resulted not only in feelings of neglect but also caused several arguments. Sally and Frank were late for a party. Feeling stressed, Frank drove recklessly making Sally nervous. In order to calm him down, Sally said, “Don’t worry about the party; you look really handsome tonight.” This, of course, did nothing for Frank, who much would have preferred to have a little head scratching for reassurance as he drove. Frank, however, recognizing that Sally was upset, reached over and stroked her head…messing up Sally’s hair and leading to an argument.
Each of us assumes that everyone else’s reality is the same as our own, so we interact with others from our own personal frame of reference. In reality, we each have a preferred way of functioning and interpreting the world. When we learn to understand our partner’s unique perspective of the world, we can significantly improve our relationships through more meaningful communication.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) studies the structure of how humans think and experience the world. It is a powerful system for representing and influencing human behavior. NLP combines aspects of psychology (including Freudian, Jungian, and Gestalt), hypnosis, linguistics, and computer science. Developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970’s, popularized by Tony Robbins in the 1980’s, and added to by many brilliant practitioners, its techniques have been successfully applied to therapy, health, communication, education, business, sales, peak performance, and other fields.
NLP begins by teaching important communication skills, and describes how our beliefs, emotions, values, and sense of identity affect our behavior, either helping or interfering with success. We all experience the world through the five senses, and store that information in different parts of our brain. When we communicate our experience, we use visual (images), auditory (sounds), kinesthetic (touch and internal feelings), gustatory (tastes) and olfactory (smells) words. We typically assume that our internal representation and sense of reality is objectively real, and everyone else understands the world the way we do. Through developing NLP skills, we understand that everyone experiences reality differently, which gives us the tools to understand someone else’s world, communicate our world to others and add resources, skills, and strategies for achieving excellence in all areas of our lives.
Back to relationships…Janet came complaining about Paul, “He doesn’t love me, he just keeps giving me all this jewelry.” Janet displayed three nested rings of alternating diamond/ruby, diamond/emerald, and diamond/sapphire. When asked what Paul could do to make her feel loved, she replied, “He could tell me he loves me.” Further exploration revealed that she needed to hear this once a day. Paul agreed to do this. Not surprisingly, Janet was a therapist who made a living listening to other people. She preferred to process information auditorily. Paul was a chiropractor who made a living looking closely at people’s bodies. He preferred to process information visually, so gifting Janet with stunningly beautiful jewelry was a natural way for him to express his love.
In NLP, a person’s internal definition of a noun (concept) is called a complex equivalent and is unique to each individual. The best way to elicit someone’s complex equivalent is to ask, “Exactly what do you mean by _____?” Take the word “love” for example. What feels, looks, smells, sounds, and tastes like love is represented differently for everybody. Red roses and chocolate may not be it. In order to really understand and connect with your partner, you need to ask for his/her definition of love and other important concepts and values such as security, success, happiness, family, home, etc. It may surprise you how easily you can accommodate someone and make him/her happy once you know exactly what is meaningful to that person.
Joe and Cecilia have been married for 25 years and have a lovely, close, intimate relationship. Joe is British and Cecilia is American, so they had to translate cultural as well as individual differences. When Cecilia got excited about something, she gestured with her arms and spoke in a louder, higher pitched, more animated voice. Joe never seemed to get excited about anything. When Cecilia finally asked Joe to demonstrate excitement, he raised his eyebrows once. For their 4-month pregnancy checkup, Joe was invited to hear the baby’s first heartbeat. At the first pulsing sound, Cecilia burst into tears. Joe raised his eyebrows twice. Cecilia remarked to him afterwards that she recognized how extremely excited he was.
Lydia had been married for only a month when she realized she felt lonely even when her husband, Sam, was in the house. She finally figured out that she couldn’t reconnect with him (after being away at work all day) unless he physically touched her. Sam, on the other hand, only needed to see her to reconnect. A brief discussion resulted in a new ritual. As soon as they both came home, Sam and Lydia kissed, Sam patted Lydia’s behind, and both said, “How was your day?”
Marjorie reported that learning about NLP and communication “had made her a nicer person.” She explained that she used to be selfish and only thought about what others could do for her. Not surprisingly, she and her husband did not have a good relationship. When she realized that it could be easy to make someone happy, she asked her husband what would make him feel loved. He replied that he would appreciate it if she made him tea while he watched TV. Her teenage son complained that there was no food in the house. Her initial response was, “You obviously haven’t looked in the refrigerator, and you’re never around to have dinner with us, and I’m too busy to cook.” Then she realized that what he meant by food was home-cooked meals. On weekends, she began cooking enough to stock two shelves of the refrigerator. He started coming home for meals and tells her constantly how much he loves and appreciates her.
For satisfying and lasting relationships, ask your loved ones what you need to do, say, or show them to make them feel loved and happy. You might be surprised at the answer and at how easy it is to accommodate them. You’ll definitely find it rewarding.
Judith A. Swack, Ph.D. in Biochemistry/Immunology, is a master NLP practitioner and mind/body healer who has developed Healing from the Body Level UpSM (HBLUSM), a rapid and revolutionary healing methodology that integrates biomedical science, psychology, applied kinesiology, hypnosis, NLP, spirituality and energy psychology techniques. Dr. Swack and her associates work with individual clients in person or by phone. For more information, call her Needham office at 781-444-6940 or visit http://www.jaswack.com.
Bandler, Richard. The Structure of Magic: A Book About Language and Therapy (Book 1). Science and Behavior Books, 1975.
Andreas, Steve and Connirae. Change Your Mind. Real People Press, 1987.
Dilts, Robert. Changing Belief Systems with NLP. Meta Publications, 1990.
O’Connor, Joseph and Seymour, John. Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People. Thorsons Publishers; 2nd revised edition, 1993.
Charvet, Shelle Rose. Words That Change Minds: Mastering the Language of Influence. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company; 2nd edition, 1997.