Five secrets of successful relationships
I’ve recently been reading articles and books about relationships; not necessarily the romantic kind (although they’re included) but any person (or animal according to one writer) with whom we have a connection. This could be at home, at work, during sport, when we’re doing a hobby, etc. The writings were about everything from how to have a good relationship, to what to do if one isn’t working and you want to leave.
One of the articles that struck home with me was about how to spot a good relationship and how to maintain it. It’s widely recognised, I think you’ll agree, that to keep a relationship healthy, we have to work at it. Without that time and effort, things can, at best, go stale, and, at worst, fall apart. Relationships are a very common topic in coaching, although unfortunately they’re often only discussed when things are going wrong, not when they’re going well!
Five things to keep relationships working well
1. Bank accounts. Those relationship bank accounts are important; sometimes people think about this in terms of loyalty too. I know it sounds a bit mercenary, but if you don’t invest in the other person, you’re going to get very low on credit, so that when you need to call on them, they may have less time and energy for you than you would expect. Now, this isn’t about keeping score - I’ve rung you twice, and you’ve not contacted me at all. It’s also not about simply giving and giving, but getting nothing in return (that becomes abusive). But, generally, you’ll get back what you give out, so if you value a relationship, be prepared to put yourself out sometimes - go to the café you’re not that keen on because your partner likes it; stick to 'dry January' to support your friend who is doing it for health reasons.
2. Keep talking. An old chestnut, I know, but still true! I know that when you get to know someone well, you don’t need to exchange the 'who am I' information so much, but it’s still important that we remain open and share thoughts and feelings. Even if you think the other person won’t agree with you, being open is so important, as it doesn’t take long for people to start to feel isolated from each other. One way you can do this is to take turns talking - especially if there are many of you! Sometimes, even having something like a 'talking stick' helps - something significant that you hand round the group so everyone gets a chance to speak.
3. Have time apart. This one sort of links to number two in that if you have time apart, you’ll have things to talk about when you’re back together again. I think this is just as valid for relationships with a partner, child, or best friend. It also means that you’ll be exposed to other views and experiences which help you to grow as a person. Many people say that it’s not possible to get everything we need in life from one person, no matter how significant.
4. Be yourself. A relationship where I can be myself is the only one worth having, I think. I need to trust that the other person sees the real me and that it’s all OK. There’s no doubt that we might play a different role in relationships - friend, daughter, colleague, coach, mentor - but fundamentally, being able to be true to our beliefs and values has to be the healthiest way to be. If you’re having to pretend or push your beliefs to one side, then there might be a serious question about whether or not that relationship is a good one for you to be in. If you’re not being yourself, some might say you’re being dishonest, and that’s not a good foundation for being with someone either.
5. Compromise. As above, not to the point where you can’t stick to your values, or you feel you can’t be yourself, but there are bound to be times when you don’t see eye to eye about something and can agree to disagree. This could be over something as simple as where to eat, or something more fundamental as whether to have children (or how many). The key here is to talk it all out, with both sides deciding where they can make concessions and where they really can’t. If you compromise on something that you feel very strongly about, you might end up feeling resentful, so try and find a way around it that feels OK for you.
What do you do when relationships seem to be coming to an end?
Some endings happen dramatically, and others just seem to happen without us noticing. Perhaps someone has done something that just doesn’t sit well with your values? Maybe lives change to the extent that we don’t have enough in common with the other person to sustain a relationship? Or, sometimes, we decide that spending time with this person is no longer good for our mental health and well-being? Again, clients raise this issue in coaching, and the answers seem to be as unique as they and their relationships are. If the actions above are no longer sufficient to make things work, a good coach can help you untangle things in a dignified way, allowing you to move on to make new connections elsewhere.
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