I dare say that all of us want healthy, strong, and beautiful relationships, so that when challenges arise we have the ability to overcome them together, working as a team.
Despite that strong desire, our daily behavior sometimes seems to go in the opposite direction. There are definitely practices that strengthen our relationships and others that gradually destroy them.
And I’m not talking only romantic relationships, but rather any meaningful relationship we have in our lives.
It is important to self-evaluate what kind of behaviors we exhibit in our most important relationships to ensure that we are strengthening them and not driving their deterioration. And while this may be common sense, it is most definitely not a common practice.
There are no perfect formulas for the relationships, it is an art. However, the invitation is that you start to see more carefully your key relationships and if these 5 ingredients are always included.
# 1 Listening
“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self”.
– Dean Jackson
In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey defined it in a wonderful and empathetic way: first seek to understand and then be understood. Listening is a way of giving psychological air, and a key component in all healthy human relationships.
How many of us listen to replicate, to give an argument, to convince or invalidate the position of the other party? What if we were to listen only to understand, even if we do not agree with the other person’s perspective, or to catch the other’s feelings, their worries, their desires, their anxieties. Simply to make a human connection.
Listening is a selective activity that involves paying attention. If you want to understand another person better, you need to observe the body language that speaks to us beyond the words and be vulnerable in order to connect with their feelings.
Listening carefully is an act of love, is being present for the person that’s speaking to us, delivering our time, a piece of our life. When you listen you are telling the other person “you are so important to me.”
Practice: listen to a person close to you with your eyes, ears, and heart. Put away your cellphone and any other distracting device. Pay attention to the gestures; listen without judging, without analyzing from your point of view; just listen with love.
# 2 Encourage with kindness
“Encourage instead of complaining”.
We can give this shot of moral energy to the people we love.
Encouragement tells people that we believe in them; it is meant to applaud their effort, even if they do not achieve the desired result. It gives a reminder of their qualities or strengths.
How many times our partner, children or relatives tell us about their dreams or goals with joy (you can see it in the sparkle of their eyes) and we answer with tragic statistics. Please stop, the world is full enough of dreams killers.
Practice: listen to the people that matter to you without judgment, and give encouragement. If they ask for our opinion, give it to them without discrediting their ideas.
# 3 Give support
“Accept me at my strongest. Support me at my weakest.”
If you ask for help, I am here for you. That’s support. The first person to whom we must give support is ourselves. I cannot give what I do not have.
When I wanted to buy my first car, my income was not high enough to get a loan, according to my bank. I knew I could afford it. I think at the time I was more disciplined than now and I was willing to pay the price because it was a useful tool to advance my career.
I went to my dad, who was a banker, to ask for guidance and he told me that with a co-debtor, it could work. I asked him if he could be my co-debtor and he accepted. Thanks to his support, I was able to acquire my first car. I paid every cent of my debt, and I even canceled it before the deadline.
I assumed my share of responsibility but it was wonderful to feel supported. He only signed some papers, and of course, he was taking a risk but, I felt like my dad trusted me and my ability to achieve this goal.
Practice: tell the people you love about those areas where you can provide support if they require it. I know that it is the patient who goes to the doctor, but many times, it’s important to know that the person is willing to support you.
# 4 Respect myself and others
“Most good relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.”
However obvious this may sound, I’ve seen many seemingly strong relationships that have been broken by small and repetitive acts of disrespect. Respect implies consideration and attention, which may not always be easy to award to our loved ones.
So ask this of yourself: When I’ am making a meaningful decision, do I take into account both my needs and those of the people I love? Or do I just focus on me?
If I continuously act only considering my own point of view, I am not promoting the mutual respect that a mature relationship requires. It’s a win-lose situation.
Respect also means accepting that others can have different paradigms and that there will be many instances when we disagree.
Practice: talk with the people closest to you and ask them if they have felt disrespected by you recently — and in what situation. Sometimes we act thinking our approach is the best one and do not realize that our actions might disrespect others.
# 5 Accept them as they are
“Girl you are amazing, just the way you are”.
– Bruno Mars.
We all have our virtues and shortcomings, strengths and weaknesses. Then why only focus on what we like least in others, highlighting their faults and correcting them instead of looking more at their qualities?
They are human beings just like you and me, trying to overcome their own share of challenges with grace while enjoying the ride.
If you have read about the fact that the people closest to us are our best mirrors, you will understand that our lack of acceptance towards them is linked to our lack of acceptance of many aspects of ourselves.
Accepting is the first step to begin to value our differences, and recognize the inherent individuality of the human being. It is also an act of respect that you owe your loved ones.
Practice: always start with yourself. Do I accept myself as I am? Or I am very hard with myself? Do I continually criticize others and focus on what I consider their weaknesses or easily see their strengths?
To the extent that I am able to accept myself, I expand my ability to accept and appreciate others.
Listening, encouraging with kindness, giving support, respecting, and accepting your loved ones as they are. These are the five simple and meaningful practice that, if applied consistently, will strengthen every important relationship you have, starting with the relationship with yourself.