Let me start this blog by letting you know I am a family-law attorney who, unfortunately, still litigates cases. I prefer the Collaborative Process for many reasons. This means I work with couples who at times can be very angry with each other.
This post, however, has to do with attitudes. A recent Facebook post keeps popping up frequently about a teacher of mentally challenged students. He started each school day telling each student compliments specific to that student. There were both expected and unexpected results with her experiment. Most impressive, the students began giving each other compliments and their academic grades improved.
Being a strong believer in the concept of positive energy spreading just as quickly as negative energy, I decided to start my own experiment. A few months ago I started asking my clients who are engaged in a high-conflict relationship with the other parent to give the other parent a compliment. Daily seems too often and rings of insincerity and ulterior motives. I requested once a week or if that was too onerous, once a month.
There is an old saying that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And since my name is Honey, let’s call this The Honey Experiment.
Sometimes it is a real struggle to find something – really anything – to compliment. It could be as simple as “That pink shirt looked good on you,” to “I appreciate how you give each child individual attention.” The only requirement is that it be completely sincere. If it is just a chore, it will sound hollow and may be worse than saying nothing at all.
You can do this, too, no matter what the status of your relationship is, from loving to friendly to hostile. Find something you truly like about the other parent, be it physical or a character compliment. Just find something. Send a text or an email or even say it in person if you are comfortable doing so.
My sampling of clients are too small to have any scientific basis attached to the outcome, but I too was surprised at the early results. All of the clients I suggested do this agreed. Some followed through on a regular basis, some not so much.
What happened with each of those clients (even the ones who did not actually give the compliments) resulted in less calls to my office voicing complaints about the other parent. I suspect that this newly positive attitude among my clients (even those who did not give the compliments but who clearly gave it some thought) carried over to body language, to tonal qualities in their voice, and in facial expressions at parenting exchanges. It is difficult to be angry with someone who is nice to you. This is not a panacea, but there have been remarkable and noticeable changes in my clients.
Going through the stressors and pressures in a custody battle makes you forget the good qualities that you once appreciated in the other parent. Sometimes those qualities are so buried under bad conduct that it is difficult to dig them out. The compliment project is yielding benefits in their relationship with the ex-spouse or co-parent. Surprisingly, the biggest benefit seems to go to the person giving the compliment, not the one getting the compliment like you might expect. In addition, because the parents are happier, their children are happier, and this is something everyone wants to see.
You cannot give a compliment with expectations of getting one in return, because most likely that will not happen. More importantly it diminishes the point of the experiment. Give an honest, unsolicited compliment to the other parent regularly without expectations of any kind and pay attention to the changes in your life and in the lives of your children.
Isn’t The Honey Experiment worth trying? What have you got to lose? If you try it, post a message on our group’s Facebook page and let us know how it worked out for you. Or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org