“It takes two to speak the truth, one to speak and another to hear.” Henry David Thoreau
Take a few minutes and imagine your life without family, friends, and/or partners. What would life be like and how would you invest your time and energy? As social creatures, this may be difficult as relationships provide encouragement, support, and joy. Likewise, our identity is often integrated with the people in our lives. In order to grow, enhance, and/or maintain relationships, it is important to target the following skills:
Communication: Allows us to build the bridge in creating deeper connections. Before you can be understood, you have to understand the other person’s perspective. Communication requires that you give your full attention (e.g., turn television off; disconnect from phone; make eye contact). Use less judgment and criticism, and more active listening, reflecting, and summarizing. Using “I” statements will always be more powerful and productive than “you” statements, and equally important is describing your partner’s comments (e.g., let me make sure I heard you correctly; it sounds like…”) before sharing your own reactions and feelings.
Conflict Resolution and Respect: Every friendship and relationship has differences and disagreements. This is not the problem; rather how people respond and react to the disagreement is most important for relationship health. Begin by setting an appropriate time and place for discussion. Be specific in defining the problem and examine how each partner may contribute to the concern at hand. Together, explore and past attempts to resolve the concern as well as brainstorm at least 5 solutions to the problem. Next, agree to try one solution. Re-evaluate as needed and ensure you schedule another meeting to discuss progress/need for implementation of another solution.
Boundaries: Boundaries provide guidelines and limits that promote safety and positive self-care practices. Boundaries are used to communicate needs in relationships too. Boundaries may be physical (e.g., personal space; touching body), or emotional (e.g., protect sense of self; not over-taking responsibility). Often, clients struggle with boundaries because they fear rejection, confrontation, and disappointing others. Try to reframe boundaries as a commitment you are making to yourself and focus the energy on what you have control over.
Honor: To more fully connect with someone, become more aware of your own language and tone. Honor your partner to create more space for change. Honoring is not equivalent with agreeing or endorsing other perspectives, although it does provide more opportunities for having a successful dialogue.
Love: Most of all, find ways to love your loved ones. Beyond simply saying, “I love you,” focus on ways to show your loved ones you really mean it. There are countless opportunities to show love, for example forgiving quickly, play together, say thank you, smile at your partner, serve them, leave written notes, cook together, enjoy breakfast in bed, etc. Holding hands, journaling together, singing, and creating memories together represent additional examples. Ask the other partner what he/she may need, and how they feel most loved. Also, explore love languages together (e.g., acts of service vs. words of affirmation).