In her book Bring Yourself to Love, Mona Barbera, Ph.D., offers the idea of “giving better back” as a way to affect real change in your relationships. Rather than getting hooked into to a predictably toxic discussions, she suggests that we can “show [our] partner how it feels to be treated well” by doing it.
Akin to Christ’s imperative to “turn the other cheek” when feeling offended, Barbera says to turn a potentially negative exchange upside down by shifting the energy. When you find yourself thinking your partner’s a jerk, try to step back and determine how you might “respond with better energy than you are getting.”
Lest you think Barbera is telling us to play “nice-nice” she points out that “better can mean many different things” and she offers helpful concrete examples:
When there is:
Criticism, you can be curious
Agitation, you can be calm
Judgment you can be compassionate
Anxiety, you can be confident
Fear, you can be courageous
Confusion, you can be clear
Distance, you can be connected
Repetition, you can be creative
Practicing “giving better back” helps restore and build love in relationships that have become stuck in defensive behaviors.
Adapted from Bring Yourself to Love (2008)
Mona Barbera, Ph.D.