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It all adds up
You’re probably already aware of the term “micro-aggressions” that is commonly used to describe the multiple minor offensive and hurtful messages that people within a minority community experience. It is death by a thousand cuts that may not always be noticed immediately, but is has a compounding effect. If you are the aggressive one, you may even be unaware of the hurt you are causing.
As a couples therapist, I notice that micro messages in relationships go both ways. There is most certainly a compounding negative effect on any relationship when the micro aggressions are deployed. Negative thoughts, comments and actions have a terrible way of self producing more negativity. Like the metaphor of the straw that broke the camel’s back, each micro-aggression by itself may not seem like a big deal, but as they build up, the weight may become unbearable.
Micro-progressions are ways to illustrate that you prioritize the progress of your relationship and safe connection with that person. Healthy couples do this well and are effective in building stronger relationships because they create a culture of progress and moving forward towards greater connection. Perfect couples don’t exist, but what they tend to do well is send out consistent micro messages that have a compounding effect on the way you view your partner.
John Gottman has theorized that there is a 5 to 1 requirement for positive vs negative messages, in order for relationships to progress. In other words, for every one micro aggression it takes (at least) five micro progressions to undo that damage and build positive momentum. He also noted that nurturing a culture of appreciation creates greater connection as the couples are intentional about sending micro-progressions consistently.
Show and tell
You may be aware of your strategies or perhaps you do them naturally and without any consideration. So take some time to slow down, be mindful, and really think about it. Perhaps you use eye contact, empathy, validation, attention, mirroring, listening or some other way to show and tell others that they are valued and important to you. Also be mindful that your way of micro-progressing may not be received by your partner in the same way, so of course it’s essential to explore, understand, and discuss better ways to progress your relationship towards closer and more comfortable connection.