Any type of relationship, whether it is between family members, people we work with, friends, or customers we serve, takes a lot of work to maintain and build upon. And much of the cement that improves our relationships is developing trust, compassion, and acceptance of the other. As well, differences must be taken into account – no two people are alike or have the same interests, and while you will naturally seek commonalities to share, accommodating both differences and compatibilities is essential for long-lasting connection.
1. Know thyself.
Long stated by many people, this simple adage is essential for good relationship building. If you don't know your own needs, wants, preferences, and limits, you risk using relationships as a source of your own validation, which can easily lead to co-dependency, clingy behavior, aggressive possessiveness, manipulation, or other unhealthy reasons for wanting to be with others. Knowing yourself enables you to be a creative, uplifting force rather than a destructive, Debbie Downer one, and you will find yourself able to revel in other's successes, achievements, and strengths rather than resenting them. We are always attracted to people who make us feel good about ourselves and ultimately, this is the number one skill in improving our relationships with others.
2. Know the other person.
It isn't easy learning all you can about a wide range of people but it makes so much of a difference that it is definitely worth it; even people who cross our paths once in life can touch us deeply just by being interested in us as a person. For example, think of the salesperson who engages you in a conversation about your life rather than acting like they couldn't care less whether you were there or not and only going on about the product. A successful sale is often brought about simply because the salesperson acknowledges that they're in a relationship with the customer as a human being, not as a consumer. Take time to build rapport, no matter how brief a connection with another person, and you will be greatly impressed by how much easier your interactions with others become.
- Ask simple questions about big things. Get to know other people's values and beliefs by asking them. For those people you're intimately connected with, what do you know about their views on the world, other people, laws, sin, marriage, faith, spiritual fulfillment, etc.?
- Share your views and values too. However, be prepared to be challenged by what others think and believe without being negative, confrontational, or hating in response. You don't have to give up what you believe in but you may just learn something by truly being open to learning what others think.
- Feel comfortable in asking questions about other people's values; many people love the opportunity to open up some more. However, don't probe or twist their responses and be particularly caring about those people who are still working out their values, who seem confused, or who simply find this sort of conversation overwhelming. Not everyone feels comfortable opening up about values but most people do appreciate compassionate guidance.
3. Avoid pinning your worth on being part of a couple or even a family.
At times, many of us come across as needy precisely because we feel we're not whole unless we're part of a couple. Being single is not always a choice but it is important to make the most of it when we are in this situation and to continue to reach out to others as a friend and as a fellow human being rather than constantly seeming needy and lost. Learn to spend time with yourself in positive ways, seeing being alone as healthy rather than lonely, and as simply another spectrum of your complete self.
- For those who come from broken-down family situations, there can be a deep yearning to recreate a family that "works". There is nothing wrong with this desire provided you do not let it cause you to abandon enjoying the life you have until that is achieved; do not put your life's fulfillment on hold because of a contingency you haven't yet met (and remember that the idea of what "works" is very abstract). In addition, continue to be part of the lives of those family members whom you still relate to and care about from your broken family. They are still your family, and they can be a source of strength and grounding. For those whose former family situation was so bad that they cannot return to any family members for support or love, find other people in whom you can rely upon for love and support, such as good friends, extended family members, or people who have meant a great deal to you through life. We're all one human family after all.
4. Remember that the best relationships are based on living, loving, and sharing
5. Grasp the other person's perspective.
Another important relationship improvement technique is wearing the other person's moccasins. It is impossible to truly know another person's motivations, reasons, and actions until we look with care and listen with an open heart. It is easy to dismiss a person because they have done or said things we're not in agreement with or because we feel hurt on a superficial level and prefer to lick our own wounds instead of looking at the real motivations underlying their intent. Is it possible that your own reactions are causing another person to react to you in a way that makes things harder between you? For example, if you keep pushing someone who is a reluctant talker to expose their feelings about you, and they end up saying even less, consider that you having been so pushy may be the cause of the other person clamming up totally. Or, if this person did finally open up but you jumped down their throat with your annoyance or anger at the things they've said, you may simply have confirmed for them that keeping quiet is the best option around you. Instead, try the following whenever you are in a relationship situation where you feel confrontation, unease, or misunderstandings arising between the two of you
6. Believe, trust, and assume good faith.
Believing in people and trusting them is not always easy. Certainly, there are people who will abuse your trust and won't live up to your belief in them. However, it is always far better to assume that others will do the right thing and that they will seek to live up to your belief in them than to view the world through fearful or angry lenses. By all means use your wits and common sense about what doesn't feel right when interacting with other people – you don't want to end up physically harmed or emotionally abused – but try to be a source of encouragement and enlightenment for other people in your life by giving them an indication that you do believe and trust in them above all. It is far harder for people to break trust and to let another person down when they are fully aware of that trust and belief and that to break it they must make active choices that bring about harm. In many situations where coercion is absent, assuming good faith about a fellow human being will bring you the reward of a much improved relationship, and could even result in a lifelong commitment to one another as friends or trusted partners.
7. Nurture your relationships.
Any living being and any living relationship needs nurturing to flourish; left alone, left untended, left uncared for, and the survival rate is not good. This means setting aside time, however brief, to spend with this person. In intimate relationships, the time needed together will be far greater than the time for a boss with an employee or a retailer with a customer, but in every single case, the time spent must be dedicated, focused, and of quality, in order to nurture the relationship. Give your full attention, show that you care and that you're interested, and be mentally and emotionally available when you spend time with another.
8. Be willing to take full responsibility for your own words and actions if you want your relationships to work.
After childhood, you are expected to be responsible for what you say and do; unfortunately, there are many adults unable to grasp this simple notion and who feel safer, for one reason or another, in placing blame for their own inadequacies and actions onto others. After a time, this causes relationships to falter because nobody wants to be at the receiving end of being blamed for things all the time, and it is both boring and exhausting to be around someone who constantly blames others but never takes personal responsibility. One very fast way to improve many relationships is to remove blame from the equation, to accept responsibility where it's due, and to find solutions instead of complaining.
9. Be ready to face difficulties and problems within your relationships as they come up.
Letting problems in a relationship fester is a recipe for fueling misunderstanding and anger, which can ultimately lead to a rupture in your relationship. Talk to one another openly about feelings, issues you have, and concerns about things you've heard or being told. Avoid prejudging by gossip but do seek to clear the air when someone you interact with seems to have said or done something that reverberates negatively on you.
10. Grow together.
Expecting someone to remain the same person they were 5, 10, or 20 years ago is both unrealistic and unfair. Do you want to be remembered as the same person you were 20 years ago, or have you grown and changed in that time? Good relationships make space for growth and both parties accept this growth in each other. In fact, not only allow this space but nurture it; help the person to become more and more the person they feel best as, and help them to grow their strengths and rely upon those. Bringing out the best in others is one of the greatest experiences of being part of relationships, whether it's family, lovers, students, staff, coworkers, friends, customers, whoever!