As a psychologist, I work with people every day who want to improve their relationships with friends, co-workers and family members. Here are ten things I recommend to everyone desiring healthy, more satisfying relationships:
1. LOVE WHO YOU ARE FROM THE INSIDE OUT. Remember Stuart Smalley of SNL fame? Stuart was famous for his sappy daily affirmation, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” You may not want to fall into that shallow facade of self-worth, but the truth is that many of the things people do to sabotage or undermine their relationships are fueled by low self-esteem and insecurity.
When you can honestly identify and genuinely appreciate your gifts, talents and abilities as well as acknowledge and work on your weaknesses you will be less inclined to compensate for your insecurities by finding fault in others, being self-absorbed and/or overly guarded and defensive. When you love and accept yourself it’s a lot easier to love, like, accept and relate well with others – flaws and all.
2. MAINTAIN A BALANCED LIFESTYLE. A balanced life will give you more emotional energy for healthy relationships. Your lifestyle includes a combination of finances, friendships, health, career, recreation, personal growth and spirituality, family, and physical environment. If you’re maintaining some of the areas but neglecting others, your life will be out of balance. Honestly assess each area of your life and rate your satisfaction in each one on a scale of 1 – 10. You will quickly see where you are healthy and where you need to improve.
3. DEVELOP A GRATEFUL ATTITUDE. It’s easy to find things to complain about these days – anyone can do that and many do. Try instead to deliberately focus on the people, situations and things that you are grateful for. Your attitude is the gatekeeper for most of the incoming thoughts and information you allow your mind to focus on. Gratitude creates optimism and a positive outlook, which helps you become more accepting and gracious when relating with others.
4. LET GO OF BITTERNESS and PRACTICE FORGIVENESS. It’s been said that bitterness is like drinking poison expecting the other person to die. Bitterness, like arsenic, will make you sick and eventually destroy you. Forgiveness is the antidote that relieves the pain and restores your health. Relinquishing your bitterness (even if the original anger was justified) and forgiving (giving up your desire for revenge) may not be easy, but the benefits to you and your relationships are guaranteed.
5. LIVE BY THE “GOLDEN RULE” – treating others the way you want to be treated. To be treated with respect and kindness is like a cool glass of water on a hot day – it’s refreshing! If you appreciate being addressed courteously, receiving a sincere compliment, or being included in a conversation, do the same for others. How you care for people will strongly influence how they care for you in return – so offer that cool glass of water everywhere you go.
6. STAY CONNECTED TO THE PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT. At the pace of life today it’s so easy to be relationally disconnected. If you opened a savings account and then never added another penny, you wouldn’t earn much interest. The same is true for relationships – the more you invest, the greater the dividend! Make a list of the people you care about most and get connected with a card, phone call, gift, cup of coffee, etc. – at least a text! Do this often and watch your emotional bank account grow!
7. PUT PEOPLE BEFORE THINGS. Money, possessions and accomplishments can pay the bills, provide entertainment and even result in fame and fortune, but relationships are the source of the purpose, connection and meaning most people crave. On your death bed you probably won’t be asking to review your portfolio, read your press releases or say good-bye to your Porsche one last time. The degree to which you find your relationships fulfilling and satisfying is in direct proportion to the amount of time, energy and effort you invest in them.
8. CARE ABOUT THINGS OTHER PEOPLE CARE ABOUT. Life offers an unlimited variety of things to care about – political causes, spiritual matters, creative pursuits, hobbies, you name it. What a person cares about is often a reflection of who they perceive themselves to be, so as you relate to the people around you, learn all you can about what they care about, and try to understand their passions, convictions and emotions. As you express interest in those things, you’re building bridges to greater closeness.
9. ALWAYS BE READY TO LISTEN. When couples are asked what qualities originally attracted them to their spouse one of the top responses is always, “He/She seemed to enjoy listening to me.” When you listen attentively to another person, they sense that you value them and care about what they have to say. This builds an atmosphere of trust – a key ingredient for all healthy relationships. Whether you want to strengthen a marriage, dating, parent/child or work relationship your willingness to sincerely listen to others will go a long way in helping to accomplish your goal.
10. BE APPROPRIATELY TRANSPARENT. It’s great to be a good listener, but at times it will be important for you to talk, too. People connect best through common experiences – including strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. Be open and courageous enough to appropriately share information about yourself and things that are important to you. The genuineness and closeness in your relationships is often directly proportionate to the depth of your own transparency.
With these suggestions in mind, you can begin today to improve the health and satisfaction of your relationships. What have you discovered to help improve a struggling relationship? Do you have any questions about these suggestions? Let us know in the comment section below!
Live, Work & Relate Well!
Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.