5 Tips For Building Happy Healthy Relationships
Use these tips to bring more ease and joy into any relationship.
My husband and I recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, 37 total years with the man who is without a doubt my soul mate! Like all couples, we have had our ups and downs, but I would not trade one day of it for anything. People often tell us we are ‘lucky, well suited, have it easy, make it look easy’ and so on. Certainly we are blessed to have found each other, but make no mistake, no relationship is perfect. A big ‘aha’ for me when I was training as a relationship coach was that we were already used many of the strategies I was learning in our own relationship. Aha! That’s what makes it so good! Here is a list of tips (in no particular order) to help you bring more ease and joy into any relationship.
1. Build memories
Have fun together and laugh daily. Call me crazy, but I think it’s important to surround ourselves with people we actually like, respect, and want to spend time with. Shared experiences help us build special memories that will strengthen your bond, and actually help us through the more challenging times, reminding you why you chose that relationship in the first place. I know … there are some relationships we haven’t ‘chosen’ (maybe the co-worker or in-law that you struggle with), but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the best of it.
When a relationship is not a priority and this important base of connection is not nurtured, it will not survive, not happily anyways.
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking ‘he/she should know how I feel, what I’m thinking”. I’m not sure if knowing would make life easier or harder! Since most of us cannot read minds, it really is important to actually tell each other, with honesty and respectfulness, how we are feeling and what we need. And be sure to be curious about the other person, to ask clarifying questions like ‘do you mean ….” so that person feels heard and understood, something we all want and need. A wise person once told me that communication is a game of tennis, not catch. To me that means it’s a back and forth dance of leading and following, asking and answering questions, making and receiving suggestions, of acceptance or negotiation and of actual dancing and fun! It’s ok and sometimes necessary to argue, as long as it’s done with kindness, compassion and respect.
3. Avoid the 4 Horsemen of the relationship Apocalypse
According to research at the Gottman Institute, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. We use this metaphor to describe communication styles that, according to our research, can predict the end of a relationship.”
Stonewalling happens when we stop talking, tune out or otherwise shut down. That makes communication really difficult! If this is an issue for you, you could have a code word that you can use to let the other person know you need a short time out. Take 20 minutes to go for a walk, listen to some music, have a cup of tea or do whatever you need to soothe and restore yourself before coming back to the conversation. But do come back!
Criticism is about making the other person wrong or bad by attacking their character. Again, use the communication strategy of expressing how you feel and what you need rather than being on the attack.
Defensiveness usually happens when we are criticised and we may even try to shift the blame. Instead, we can learn to take responsibility for our actions and offer an apology when appropriate.
Contempt is just plain being mean, making fun of the other person, making them feel worthless, whether we use words or our body language. Instead remind yourself of the positive qualities of the other person and find gratitude and respect for them. The next tip will help with that.
4. Focus on the other person’s strengths and good intentions
When we are really frustrated or stressed, it can be difficult to remember all the good things that drew us to that relationship in the first place. It can be helpful to make a list (we should really prepare a strengths list for ourselves and the other person!) to remind us of all the good in that person. It’s most often the case that the other person actually has good intentions, maybe they just want to help us, or make us feel better, or are struggling with something personally and doing the best they can at the time.
Remembering the other person’s strengths and good intentions helps us treat each other with the kindness and respect we each deserve, and avoid escalating a situation.
5. Create a circle if healthy relationships around you
Keep the important relationships close and nurtured, but do have a life out outside. We cannot expect to give or receive 100% attention to/from anyone all the time. If you’re in a marriage with someone who doesn’t enjoy backgammon and that’s something you love, join a backgammon club! No relationship should be expected ‘complete you’. Having said that, don’t forget about Tip #1!
At the end of the day, all of these tips will help to strengthen those important relationships in our lives and make them easier to navigate with compassion, kindness and calm. They will help nurture our own flexibility and willingness to grow. Don’t forget to send some of that kindness and compassion to yourself, honoring your own strengths and needs, and following these tips for the most important relationship of all … the one with yourself.
Wishing you many blessings!
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