There are so many points of view on this topic, however, we believe there are some common threads that are required to build and maintain healthy relationships.
The primary ones, in no particular order, are communication, trust, empathy, conscious intimacy, compromise, compassion, humour, forgiveness, adventure, and the pursuit of common interests. There are other key factors that could be added to this list such as: sensitivity, awareness, tolerance, and humility. This is not meant to be the ultimate declaration on healthy relationships but those who pursue these principles will find that whatever issues do prevail can be surmounted when these virtues and qualities are present. These 5 are a good place from which to start this conversation.
This is about open and honest dialogue and is arguably the greatest evidence of love. Through open and honest communication, the bridges of understanding, trust and respect can be built. Unless we dare to step into another person’s reality, we are left standing on the platform of assumption. Sometimes our assumptions will be accurate, but often they will merely reflect our own projections. Healthy communication is built on respect and kindness. It avoids conflict in the name of resolution. What this looks like in practice is finding the earliest point in time to express your concerns but ensuring you do not do that from a place of anger.
Reactive communication is rarely productive. It serves to hurt the heart of the other person and whatever message is being conveyed is generally lost. Those who invest regularly in communicating sensitively and from the heart, remembering that the other person’s point of view is as valid and valuable as their own, can see the bigger picture. As a result, both parties feel heard and valued, which is important because so many arguments and disagreements are about not feeling heard and valued by the other.
Make time regularly to share your innermost thoughts and feelings with those you are closest to. One needs to feel safe when taking this kind of risk, so it’s important to ensure that the other person also shares these values or is at least willing to entertain them.
This is a wonderful companion of communication. If we want to truly connect with another person, we need to make a conscious effort to step away from our own point of view. Empathy demands that we look at the issue from the other person’s perspective. It asks us to put to one side our view of reality and dare to examine the world with another pair of eyes. This kind of empathy is not easily attained. It requires practice. However, when we do look at the world through the other person’s eyes our own view of reality is significantly enhanced.
Empathy makes both parties better. If I have the humility to consider I may well be wrong and cannot see the whole picture, then empathy will fill in some if not all the gaps.
When you’re next communicating with someone you love, or someone you’re trying to build a relationship with, consider their argument from their point of view. That way when you offer your own perspective there’s more likely to be understanding which makes compromises much easier to achieve.
Intimacy can take on so many forms – kind words and deeds, stroking, embracing, expressing interest, and exhibiting warmth. Intimacy is not exclusively about romance and sexual relationships. What we mean by conscious intimacy is making time regularly to show interest in the other person, making time to enquire about their inner world, their day, their challenges, hopes and dreams. It costs us very little to make another person feel valuable. Use touch mindfully. Connect with another person in ways that say, ‘I’m here’, ‘I’m interested’ and ‘I’m listening’ and this will enrich the quality and the nature of the connection and dialogue.
Our attitude whilst communicating with others, including the way we use our voices, influences the bonds of trust we can develop. When we feel that others care about us, not only do we in turn care more about them, we also risk sharing our vulnerabilities. It all depends on creating an environment that is safe and secure. Conscious intimacy enables a relationship to find safe and common ground. From there, all parties flourish.
It has been repeatedly and wisely stated that laughter is the shortest distance between two people. It’s amazing how humour can connect people and enable the most difficult of discussions to take place in a more amicable way.
The ability to laugh at oneself is so empowering because it offers us a third person perspective. Some useful research conducted in 2016 with Waterloo and Yale universities demonstrated that adopting a third person perspective when looking at romantic relationships was a valuable way to look at difficult issues. The emotional distance and perspective offered can help the person to better see themselves, the other person’s perspective and examine differences and conflicts. This more detached view of a problem or issue enabled couples to have a better handle on fixing what was wrong.
Humour has a way of moving us out of our own self-absorption into a more empathic position. The Waterloo and Yale research, by Alex Huynh and Daniel Yang, which encouraged the adoption of a third person perspective, although not focused on humour but rather on the value of distancing ourselves from challenges in relationships, found that if we could project ourselves into the future and view the problem from there, we could often find better solutions. This is the value that comes from changing one’s perspective and we’ve found that humour offers us this advantage, bringing us closer to loving detachment.
For a relationship of any kind to flourish there needs to be a shared experience. It is difficult to build dialogue and intimacy without sharing our time, energy, thoughts, and feelings – and so it’s vital to build a language that both parties understand.
Very few things do this better than developing a shared interest. It doesn’t matter what this is. It could be walking, playing chess, salsa dancing, abseiling, cooking, being part of a book club… whatever brings both hearts joy will work.
When building a relationship, you may need to engage in something that initially you’re not interested in. Building a common language often requires experimentation, a willingness to compromise and putting to one side preconceived ideas and prejudices. Bear this in mind when thinking of compromise, it is the willingness to suspend your promise (to yourself or to your beliefs) in order that the other person can find and fulfil their promise (their potential).
When we dare to engage in something that helps us to build a bond with another person, not only are they enhanced by the experience, we can also discover uncharted territories and find new loves that we didn’t know existed.
So, when exploring common interests be prepared to go on an adventure if that is what is required, because building and consolidating relationships is life’s ultimate thrill. In the end it’s the nature and the quality of the relationships we have built that gives us the greatest sense of safety, security, and joy.