How to foster positive relationships

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I love this quote by Maya Angelou, as it’s the thing we remember most from our interactions with everyone we come into contact with.


Whether it’s at work, with a partner, friends, or children, we can sometimes find relationships difficult. We struggle to understand certain behaviours or get triggered by their actions. 

In this article, I'll share my thoughts about what drives people’s behaviour and how we can begin to improve certain relationships.

Why we behave in a particular way

All behaviour is goal-oriented rather than random, and every behaviour has the positive intention of meeting one of our core emotional needs. Our core emotional needs, buckets of love, certainty, and significance need to be kept at least 70% full for us to feel good, and we often turn to negative behaviours to meet these needs if they are not met through positive action. Someone else’s negative behaviour is often a sign that they are struggling to meet their own emotional needs. 

Everyday situations also affect our behaviour. When an event occurs, we automatically give meaning to it. This happens so fast that we are not even aware of it.

When a partner, friend or relative snaps at something that has been done or said, this is often an indicator that there is a trigger there for them. For example, someone who had controlling parents might give certain events the meaning that another person is trying to control them, and this will affect their behaviour. Quite often these triggers are based on our early experiences during childhood and can continue throughout our lives without us even being aware of the original cause. 

How we label people

It’s very easy to find ourselves labelling people, in both positive and negative ways. We might say they are ‘the jokey one’, or ‘the clever one’. Equally, we might find ourselves thinking that ‘they are controlling’, or ‘they are manipulative’. These labels happen all the time, based on our interactions with someone and the behaviours we observe. However, labels can be unhelpful, getting in the way of forming a good relationship with someone or repairing a poor one.

Once we have given someone a label, it seems to stick, and we find ourselves expecting this behaviour from them all the time. So much so that, often, we don’t see anything else, even if their behaviour is different. If someone who you labelled as ‘controlling’ asked you a question, your immediate reaction might be that they were trying to control what you did, rather than that they were simply being curious, or interested. This makes it difficult to see them through a different lens, can be stressful and create negative emotions.

People are not their behaviours. The experiences which have formed our views do not define their identity, purely how they are responding in a particular circumstance. Their own experiences have created their belief system and shaped their behaviour.

Happy people

What we can do to improve relationships?

Identify the small acts of kindness you can do which will help to meet their emotional needs. Decide which actions you are going to consciously do every day:

  • What makes them feel loved, or belong?
  • What helps them to feel certain and safe?
  • What makes them feel good?

Changing your behaviour, even if it is not reciprocated, becomes addictive. This means that behaving differently towards them will, most likely, result in a different behaviour from them over time and the beginnings of an improvement in the relationship. Notice what comes up and what is changing? Are they now more reciprocal, or are they doing things to test and push your meeting of their needs?

To change our view about their behaviour, we need to get into their shoes and see it from their perspective. Under what extreme circumstances would you behave in the same way? Although the scenarios might be extreme, you will likely be able to find some. Once you have, what would be a more accurate label for the person, based on how they might see the situation?

Not all situations are this straightforward and sometimes the breakdown of a relationship cannot be repaired. We might find ourselves in an abusive or toxic relationship, or one where you feel that no matter what you try, things are unlikely to improve. In these circumstances, finding the right help and support is essential to enable you to take care of yourself and heal. 

I offer a free 45-minute relationship coaching session that will enable you to share the challenges you are facing, define the changes you want to make and decide your next steps. Contact me to book your free session.

Take care.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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