As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s all about the emotions as we celebrate the people who matter most to us. And rightly so, because our relationships provide us with all the things that make life meaningful, and joyful, and amazing!
But we also know that relationships can be… well, a bit more complicated at times, too. Love is certainly not the only emotion involved, and relationships can take a heck of a lot of work—just keeping it real. So just why is it that the very same people we love so much can sometimes make us feel frustrated or misunderstood? How can we care about someone so deeply, but at times also feel confused or disconnected from them? How do we navigate through the emotions of our relationships and try to improve them—so we can focus on the happy stuff more often? What gives?
Lucky for us, we‘ve had the most insightful chat with Holistic Therapist & Relationship Expert, Koren Bierfeldt — to help us understand why this is the case.
With close to 20 years experience Koren helps us understand the nuances of miscommunication and why it’s crucial to have good communication to grow healthy, fulfilling relationships — and keep our meaningful connections in tip-top shape. Read on to discover how Koren works with couples to help transform their relationships and get tips on how you can show your loved ones how much they mean to you!
Koren, it seems you really enjoy what you do — how did you get started in such an impactful career?
Like a lot of people, when I was a teenager I went through some very difficult times. I turned to a psychologist for help and she made an incredible difference in my life. She was a great role model, and that’s when I became really excited about the idea of being able to help others and touch lives in such a profound and positive way.
Can you give us a glance into how you work with people and help them connect with each other?
I really love working with couples and families, because I believe that relationships are our greatest gift. As people learn how to communicate effectively and how to resolve conflict in healthy ways their closest relationships can be strengthened, uplifted, and healed. I teach my clients how to honor each other’s differences and needs, and how to accept ownership for their own actions and reactions. They learn how to truly listen to one another, and to communicate with appreciation for each other.
Why is effective communication important in maintaining healthy relationships with the people we love?
Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important things you can do to have successful and fulfilling relationships. Caring, connected, supportive relationships are built on trust, honesty, openness, and mutual respect. Working together in love toward the common goal of an improved relationship can be deeply transformative and can greatly enhance intimacy, connectivity, and understanding. When we feel heard and understood in our closest relationships we experience greater joy in all aspects of our lives.
Can you share any interesting facts about communication, understanding, and how these affect our physical or mental well-being?
Research has shown that poor communication skills are the number one reason for conflict in relationships. And a lack of adequate repair following an argument is the biggest contributor to marital unhappiness and divorce.
Studies have also shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and community are happier, have fewer health problems, and actually live longer. Scientists also found that having relationships that make us feel connected and understood helps relieve harmful levels of stress. It also improves coronary function, insulin regulation, and our immune systems. Conversely, lacking healthy social connections can be associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as increased mortality.
One study (J. Holt-Lunstad, T.B. Smith & JB Layton, Brigham Young University) examined data from close to 309,000 people, finding people lacking strong relationships had a significantly higher mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day— also greater than obesity and physical inactivity. So, we see how important meaningful relationships really can be.
But Koren, sometimes our relationships can be soooo difficult to navigate. Why is it that so often our actions don’t align with what we feel inside?
There are different reasons why someone’s behavior may not align with how they really feel. Some people are afraid of conflict and avoid expressing their thoughts or emotions in fear of causing an argument or hurting the other person. Others choose to behave passive aggressively and say they’re fine, when they are really hurt or angry. Some believe that if they lose control of their emotions others will think they are weak or vulnerable – we call that “emotional perfectionism.” People may also be afraid of rejection and repress their feelings because they’re afraid of abandonment or ending up alone. All of these behaviors cause harm to relationships and create disconnection with loved ones. But acknowledging our feelings and addressing them honestly is the best way to move forward toward health and happiness.
Can you offer any advice for people who might struggle to express their emotions?
When I’m working with someone who has a hard time expressing their feelings, I usually ask them to think about what it is they want most. If the answer is that they want a deeper level of connection and intimacy in their relationships, then they have to be willing to speak authentically even when it’s difficult, which takes courage. I also ask them to really consider the price they are paying when they choose not to express themselves. Because there are lots of ways we can share our feelings with someone, whether by acts of kindness, saying it directly to them, or even writing it down for them to read — of course, greeting cards make emotional expression so much easier!
Communication overall has changed in recent years – have these cultural changes made communication more or less effective in your opinion?
We now live in an age where so much of our communication takes place digitally. When we wake up in the morning we immediately reach for our devices and then use them to stay connected with everyone, the whole day. I think there are pros and cons to this.
Instant communication, connection and social media have boosted our ability to engage with a broader social network—with updates and significant events happening not just in our friends and family’s lives, but also those with whom we might not otherwise stay connected. Which can be good. The downside is that we’re often not as present or connected with those who are right in front of us—often the people who matter the most. In-person and verbal communication can often have far greater emotional value than anything that can be conveyed electronically. For example, we can’t hear the tone or softness in someone’s voice when they tell us they love us in a text. We can’t feel the sincerity of emotion as intensely when we aren’t able to look into our loved ones’ eyes as they express their feelings. And that’s all very important.
It seems like you really make a difference, Koren – so what’s the very best part about what you do?
I get to help people heal their relationships and lead healthier, happier lives. I’ve witnessed many beautiful transformations over the years. What could be better than that?
Okay, last thing — Valentine’s Day is almost here. Any thoughts on how people can make this the best Valentine’s Day ever for their loved one?
That’s a great question! It makes me think about the fact that people have different ways of experiencing and receiving love. Some people feel most connected through physical touch or affection. For others, the most important thing is spending quality time together. My suggestion on how to make this a special Valentine’s Day would be to really think about what makes your loved one feel most connected, special, and loved. If you’re not sure, ask them! That’s their personal love language. Then plan a special way to tell them and show them – give them an experience, a card, or a gift centered around meeting their most heartfelt needs.
Care to share a favorite Valentine’s Day memory before you leave?
My love language, the type of communication I appreciate most, is verbal affirmation. I feel most loved when people communicate their feelings verbally or in written form, and really listen when I’m expressing myself.
One of the best gifts my husband gave me was to take me to a coffee shop in a bookstore. He gave me a beautiful card that expressed his feelings about our marriage. Then he said, “Today, you can talk about whatever you want and I will give you my full attention. If you want to get a book and discuss it, I’ll spend the afternoon doing that with you. If you want to process your feelings about our relationship, I will listen deeply.” Then he proceeded to tell me all of the reasons that he loved me. I was in complete heaven! I know that, for him, this was not a fun way to spend an afternoon. He would much rather have gone to a sporting event or out with friends. But he took the time to think about what would make me feel most loved and cherished. There isn’t any gift that I can think of that has ever meant more to me than that day.
So, whether face-to-face, hand in hand, digitally, or through written messages, it’s important to remember that speaking from the heart is key—not only in this season of love, but every day.
Saying “I love you” is always a great way to go, of course! But if that seems a little tricky to you, our writers have offered suggestions on finding the right words for you. Check out these tips for what to write in a Valentine’s Day card — and make sure to tell the person you love how important they really are.
Learn more about Koren Bierfeldt and how communication can improve your relationships at www.korenbierfeldt.com.