Your intent is in your delivery
The effect of tone of voice in a relationship
There was a poster that used to hang up on my office wall that read:
"90% of the friction of life is caused by the wrong tone of voice".
It was amusing when new client couples would glance over at the poster, and almost simultaneously say to each other "That's you". The less subtle would just look at their partner, point to the poster, do "the eye" thing (you know the one I mean), then sit back in their chair, arms folded, looking both triumphant and validated.
I hadn't yet said a word.
According to a 2015 study that examined hundreds of conversations from over 100 couples during marriage therapy sessions, tone of voice was a key indicator of relationship success. What the researchers affirmed was that communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it, including pitch, pace, volume, timbre, and timing.
A low pitch can make you seem more authoritative and serious, even if what you’re actually saying isn’t profound. Consequently, your tone of voice can have the opposite effect. If you’re constantly at a high pitch, others might assume you’re unsure about what you’re trying to convey. This can lead to a sense of untrustworthiness that can make it harder to get what you want.
When you slow down, you can help your partner understand what you are saying, and they will be better able to absorb your message. Going too slow, however, can be construed as demeaning and offensive. Pausing, before speaking, really does help.
Yelling at your partner will just fire back at you, either causing them to yell back or retreat from the conversation entirely. Instead of raising your voice, if you want to emphasize something, try slowing the pace of your words.
This is the emotion in your voice - the attitude you bring to what you say. Your partner will use this to build their understanding of what you are saying. Emotionally charged words set you apart. Shift your mindset to your heart and let your message shine through your words.
Sometimes, it just isn't the right time to talk. For example, just before the kids head off to school; when you’re at the in-laws; and 1.47am. However, NEVER talking about an issue that needs to be resolved isn't helpful either. Couples that do this have to keep going out and buying bigger carpets to sweep things under.
Emails and texts communicate tone as well. It’s better to pause and consider, rather than send and regret.
‘Open season’ on the elderly
It’s ‘open season’ on the elderly when it comes to caregiver financial grooming and abuse in New Zealand.
In fact, I have discovered that when it comes to protecting the interests of the elderly, there really isn’t any protection at all for this most vulnerable population.
I have been spending some time reviewing what protective factors exist in the aged care industry, when it comes to guarding against the possibility of vulnerable elderly being exploited by state-funded or private in-home caregivers.
It turns out that the agencies that are charged with helping the 2200 complainants per annum of elder abuse in New Zealand, such as the Elder Abuse Response Service, Age Concern, or Grey Power, are simply toothless state-funded echo chambers into which complaints go to die; the police are not interested in helping complainants unless it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed; the Health & Disability Commission complaints process can take over twelve months to reach a decision as to whether a breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights has occurred, for no meaningful sanction; and the courts only seem to be concerned with what is legal, not what is ethical in this space.
One case I became familiar with was a woman who worked as an in-home caregiver, who had groomed and then financially exploited so many elderly clients, she ended up with a portfolio of ten properties to her name. The woman was blatant in what she was doing, the families of the elderly clients couldn’t stop her, and the police didn’t want to know about what was going on.
Based on what I have discovered so far, there are dozens, possibly hundreds of cases of elder financial grooming and abuse by both family member and third-party in-home caregivers in particular, that have, and are occurring in New Zealand.
This abuse is hiding in plain sight, and there is no meaningful state authority to stop this abuse occurring.
This situation needs to change, because pretending to care about elderly financial grooming and abuse, without the power to do anything about elderly financial grooming and abuse, is both morally and ethically misleading to the public.
See more information on this topic at https://bewarecare.org/
When was the last time you needed encouragement?
Encouragement in its purest sense is an action, usually of giving someone support, confidence, and hope towards an ultimate positive outcome, as a result of that person’s perseverance and endeavour.
Encouragement is the psychological equivalent of a “booster shot”, and needs regular top-ups; one encouraging comment over a 10-year relationship doesn’t work.
The rise of “cancel culture” (whereby if you say something that someone else disagrees with, they try to de-platform you via various social media attack methods), has resulted in lots of decent people deciding not to say very much at all about anything, and civil society is the poorer for it.
The “silent majority” thus stays silent, censoring themselves in all communication realms, including the realm of encouragement.
Pause a moment: when you look outside of yourself and your own circumstances, who or what has your personal support? Have you communicated your support to that person – encouraged them perhaps?
Pause again: when you need encouragement, to what or to whom do you turn to for encouragement assistance? Do you even feel confident reaching out to secure some encouragement regarding what you are going through, the circumstances you are facing, or the problems you have that have yet to find an appropriate resolution?
English metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631) wrote the words “No man is an island” (old English including woman and man in the same word “man” at the time), to remind readers of the myth of independent self-sufficiency, and that everyone relies on someone. Those that choose not to offer or receive support can become isolated, invisible even, the people who may die in their beds, and no-one notices their demise for months, sometimes years.
Encouragement can come in many forms, the most common being words, action, and time.
Look around: who may need a kind reminder that they matter, and what they do, matters? Who may benefit in ways immeasurable by the offer of some help and assistance with something they are struggling with? Who may respond well to someone who stops to notice that they are isolated, and offer (more than once, if necessary) to include them in an activity, event, or just to hang out with them for a while?
The opportunities to receive and give encouragement are everywhere.
Doing so just requires a different set of eyes through which to observe humanity around us - theirs, and ours.
Can you hear that sound? That’s the populations collective sigh as New Zealand once again experiences a Lockdown as a result of COVID-19.
Beyond frustrating, isn’t it? Despite the best efforts of “the team of 5 million”, in spite of the plan to “go hard, go early”, and after the hundreds of exhortations to “be kind”, here we are again, right back at Square One.
It’s enough to do one’s head in.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to despair, doom, gloom, and a sense of hopelessness: it’s the ability to determine the difference between what we can influence, verses what we become concerned about.
Our concerns can be overwhelming because they never really have an endpoint. Our influence, however, is much more manageable because it has a much smaller space to move.
In a lock down we can influence our immediate environment, the people in our bubble, and our resources (e.g. time, money, activity) – that’s pretty much it.
Our concerns, however, can reach all the way into the future, be aimed at the highest realms of government, and become focused on people, places, and things that we ultimately have no control over (e.g. the Pandemic Management Plan, the passing of laws, the closing of a country’s borders, and the loss of jobs and businesses).
To keep a clear head, we must focus on our circle of influence, not our circle of concern. A Circle of Influence list may look like this:
a. What immediate health and safety practices in and outside the home do I need to put in place?
b. From where do I trust to secure accurate information about what is actually going on?
c. What agreements do I need to reach with my family / partner to determine a way through this situation?
d. What job opportunities are revealing themselves as being “recession-proof”, and which of these job types might be suitable for me going forward?
e. How should I better prepare for situations like this in the future?
f. What am I going to have to give up in order to get out of this situation in one piece?
Get to work on this list as soon as possible, and add your own influence questions as well, as this will give you an immediate sense of purpose and control.
Concerns are like rabbits, and there is no point chasing twenty rabbits, when you only need one for a meal.
Emotional and cognitive agility
in a post-COVID-19 era
By the time you read this, we will most likely be in a Level 2 (or hopefully Level 0) COVID-19 environment.
Wage subsidies will be coming to an end.
Many businesses will be reviewing their ground lease costs, realising that their operations can be run remotely.
For a significant number of people, there is no job to go back to.
In addition, inactivity over a longer than normal period of time (Lockdown) can have a “lethargy effect”.
Yes, it turns out that getting up and going to bed later, and spending increasing amount of time on “noise” activities (Facebook, Instagram, Netflix) in the absence of regular routine and responsibility can actually poison personal motivation.
In uncertain times, and with no clear direction, the ability to be emotionally and cognitively agile (to “pivot”) is a key life skill requirement, and we have read about people during the Lockdown who have been able to do this:
For example, I have no influence over funding decisions in the Government Cabinet, but I can determine what my personal expenditure will look like, going forward.
While you may not have a job, that doesn’t mean you don’t have transferable skills and experience that is going to be most welcome in other fields.
Agility is both emotional (how you feel about what you can cope with), and cognitive (what you believe about the options available to you).
Developing a “menu of options” is a useful first step, because we cannot select a meal from a blank menu.
Start with what you have, not with what you want.
Zig-zag, dance, side-step, jump towards, and pivot towards the very next opportunity you need to secure, and be prepared to re-learn, re-train, and yes, even possibly re-locate.
Find a cheerleader, be your own cheerleader, or cheer on someone else, but just make sure you are moving.
Because from today, we are in a new world, virus or no virus.
Most of us have seen it, and many of us have done it.
An easy-going, pleasant conversation accidentally strays into an unseen danger zone. The atmosphere gets tense and prickly, then suddenly you’re getting yelled at. And you’re yelling back.
Or you ask what you think is a simple question, and BOOM the defences go up and... you’re yelling at each other. Or you’re yelling at the kids. Or a total stranger.
It’s hard to believe that something so relationally damaging as yelling could also be such a common go-to when a situation breaks down. In fact, yelling is so destructive that it’s like pouring acid on relationship goodwill.
It’s not as though yelling even works; when was the last time you felt grateful and receptive when being yelled at?
There’s usually something else working behind the scenes of a yeller. Sometimes they are feeling overwhelmed, or disrespected, or powerless. They might be feeling undermined or intensely frustrated, or even just exhausted.
While being aware of those feelings can be helpful, awareness is not quite the same as resolving the situation.
Rather than screaming at one another, it is far better to use logic and natural consequences to resolve intense and difficult situations.
Natural consequences occur without enforcement by anyone: the consequence is naturally tied to the event, and is allowed to play out.
For instance, the child who forgets their school jumper must choose between being cold and staying inside at lunchtime; the teen who racks up traffic violations gets their car impounded; the teen who forgets to do their laundry has no clean clothes to wear.
And no one has to say a word.
Of course, it’s only fair to give plenty of warning if you’re changing behaviour that has been ingrained for years, so if you want logical consequences to work, you will need to have a conversation and be sure it’s understood.
These conversations have an “If -Then” theme about them.
If you keep forgetting to let me know that you won’t be home for dinner, then you will no longer be included in our dinner plans.
If you continue to treat me like your on-call taxi service, then as a taxi service, I have the right to go off duty, and you will be walking;
or maybe “If I continue to find your stuff all over the lounge after I have asked you to pick it up, then I will black-bag what I find, take it to the local Hospice shop, and you buy it back from them.
There are likely to be plenty of objections, or even disbelief, but usually a person only need experience the consequences once or twice to realise that it’s within their power to avoid them.
With natural consequences in place, the need for yelling subsides and a more peaceful and harmonious household or workplace is often the result.
Why couples fight
... and it's not what you think!
It’s common knowledge that the Number 1 reason couples fight is because of money.
The trouble is, this common knowledge is wrong.
There are three main drivers of conflict in relationships, and unheeded, they can cause much unresolved and ongoing drama, stress, and division.
1 Unmet expectations
I once read about the emotion of anger being described as ‘disappointment energy’, an apt description of unmet expectations.
He thought she was happy with decision ‘x’ that they had reached. However, she was in a ‘pretend agreement’ with him, only he didn’t know it. She was really hoping that he would agree with her, and when he didn’t, she said “yes” to decision ‘x’ to keep the peace.
But then she got angry with him when she said yes but actually meant (and should have said) no.
This is a common relationship conflict dynamic, and occurs when honesty in a relationship has become a trade-off to conflict avoidance. It’s unsustainable, and ultimately futile. Better to tell the truth, and let the natural consequences of the truth play out.
2 Emotional baggage
No-one escapes life without accumulating some emotional ‘bruising’, whereby circumstances or events have left a ‘trigger-point’ of some description upon the soul of the bearer.
This means that a firm ‘No’ can be nominated as someone ‘being difficult’, or a raised voice is labelled ‘you’re being abusive’, or setting boundaries around money, time, or resources is attacked as ‘being controlling’.
Catastrophising everything, just because you have lost any and all perspective of what is and what is not appropriate in a relationship conflict, is not the way to harmony.
Your feelings are YOUR feelings, and no-one is MAKING you feel anything.
How favourably do you view your partner? Do you perceive that they have your back, that they will defend the best interests of the relationship, that they would stand up for you?
Or do you see your partner through eyes of mistrust, bitterness, despair, or doubt?
Is this perception correct?
Is there perception of you likewise?
When was the last time you had this conversation as a couple? Might now be a good time to do so?
Let’s make 2020 the year that couples work to keep a clean slate in their relationships with each other.
How to “Find Time” for a break
As a private practitioner, my client base is primarily comprised of busy, hard-working people from varied circumstances such as double income, single income, sole-parent, blended family and everything else imaginable.
The common denominator among the majority is lack of time to relax, take a holiday, or simply catch a break. For many a common approach to this dilemma involves a “when, then” mindset.
“When work settles down, then I can plan a holiday”;
“When the kids are a bit older, then I will have time to (insert enriching activity here);
“When (insert major task here) is done, then we will head away for a break”.
The trouble is, “then” never seems to come.
There is an oft-quoted recommendation in the budgeting and savings sector which goes “Pay yourself first”, whereby 10% of a person’s income is paid to a savings or investment account, the remaining 90% then being allocated to various financial commitments. The reasoning here is that people won’t be able to train themselves to save if they pay themselves last.
Recently, I have been assisting my clients to adopt a similar reasoning with time.
For some people, the prospect of taking time out, switching off their phone, or even setting some reasonable boundaries with their employers (e.g. “please don’t call me on my day off”) can be a truly foreboding experience.
“But what if….??” questions are usually delivered in rapid-fire succession:
“But what if a client calls me and I don’t answer?”
“But what if my employer needs me?”
“But what if I miss out on (insert FOMO here)?”
It often turns out that these fears are unwarranted, over-exaggerated, or just plain wrong.
To “pay themselves first” with time, I ask my clients to pick a clear weekend in the future on their mobile phone calendar which they then screen out with the words “Not Available, “Holiday”, Break” – anything to forcefully remind them that for that period of time, they are as reachable as sending a text to the interstellar part of the universe (which is where the spacecrafts Voyagers 1 & 2 have just crossed over into, over 40 years after they took off from NASA).
They then enter a four, five, or six week “recurrence” appointment with themselves, adapting the six-weekly recurrence to work in with public holidays.
Suddenly, a minimum of nine free weekends (plus public holidays) materialise in their lives, every year. The relief on their faces is palpable – and will remain so, as long as they exercise some self-discipline in enforcing the holidays.
Try this on your phone – I think you will be delighted by the results.
A South Australian teacher by the name of Christopher Vogel recently presented the findings of a thesis analyzing the “Keeping Safe” programme, a mandatory child protection programme taught in all public schools in Australia from kindergarten, to year 12.
Vogel’s research reveals a systemic bias against boys. The curriculum provides 84 examples of males being aggressive to females (including child rape and abuse) and only one instance of a female being aggressive to a male (looking in his room without permission).
In New Zealand, research from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority shows girls are generally outperforming boys both in external and internal assessment, at all three levels of NCEA, and in University Entrance. Girls are also attaining more merit and excellence certificate endorsement at all levels, although the gap narrows at higher NCEA levels. On this reported outcome, I pause to consider whether lower achievement for boys might have anything to do with the 80% female dominated state schools’ workforce, which includes approximately 85% of female teachers in primary schools and 62% in secondary schools, and the method of academic assessment being more suitable for girls.
In state-funded domestic violence prevention programmes (e.g. White Ribbon), the embedded (and patently wrong) theme of “women = victim & men = abuser” couldn’t be clearer, despite the evidence revealing that female-on-male violence rates highest when alcohol is involved in a domestic dispute, and 44% of females commit acts of domestic violence towards men, as witnessed by their own children.
The rise of the #METOO movement hasn’t been kind to our menfolk either, with multiple examples worldwide of men being accused, without evidence, of sexual impropriety against women, and losing their jobs, families, and sometimes their lives, only for the accusations to be found to be (too late) without merit. No meaningful consequences ever seem to befall the (mostly) female false accusers.
Couple this appalling “moral panic” outcome with a rise in father-absent (or should that be father-dismissed) families, and it seems clear that boys are having an uphill battle trying to claim a legitimate, healthy, and valued place in the world.
If society want to raise good men, then society needs to first stop demonizing boys.
Research reveals that men retain their looks longer than women; are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than women; are better able to physically defend themselves and their loved ones than women; are overall better at playing games with children than women; attain the majority of senior responsibility work roles than women; and make more money than women.
So parents: love your boys, and grow them into good men, because ultimately – we need them.
Having been working one on one with people for nearly 30 years, it makes sense that over this time I would have accumulated a plethora of information about all sorts of things. I’ve often found when I’m sitting with a client that something of use would float to the surface. It got me thinking: if I was to randomly pick five pieces of information that could be helpful to someone, what might they be? Here’s what I came up with:
School uniforms etc:
If a family is struggling to afford school uniforms, BYOD devices, stationery, etc, Work & Income offer a Special Needs loan to anyone who needs it (i.e. the applicant doesn't need to be on a benefit to get the help). One phone call to their 0800 number, some eligibility questions, and a green card wings its way to the applicant, made out to a supplier. The loan is interest free, and can be paid back for as little as $10.00 per week.
If someone needs legal advice, but would struggle to afford the fees, the New Zealand Law Society fund the Community Law Centre Programme which provides free legal advice to applicants. They have an 0800 service, or applicants can simply walk into their local branch. There is also a very helpful online Community Law Manual on their website:
Teens going through stuff:
The parents and caregivers of young people and teenagers who suffer experiences of grief can have a really hard time sourcing appropriate support. There is a programme called "Seasons of Growth" which runs supervisor-led peer support groups to assist young people through these harrowing times: www.kidslink.co.nz/services-view/seasons-for-growth
Family Services Directory:
When help is needed, it can be a bit of a nightmare for people at times trying to work out who does what, and where. The NZ Govt has compiled an online Family Services Directory that can be searched via area, service, and funding. Not surprisingly, it's called the National Family Services Directory: www.familyservices.govt.nz/directory
When considering engaging in study, the opportunity to secure a scholarship provides significant reassurance and assistance towards this goal. A website called "Generosity NZ" has compiled nearly all of the scholarships available in one place, and information pertaining to the necessary application criteria: www.generosity.org.nz
You never know who a list like this might help - so please drop me a line and let me know if it does!
Steve is the Director of Relationship Matters Ltd. He holds two applied Bachelor's degrees (Counselling & Addiction) and a P.G. Dip. in Applied Social Practice. Steve is married with two children and lives in West Auckland.