Building Better Relationships

IGS-00075550-001By: Maureen Croken, Family Service PEI

We know that relationships are important and contribute to our well being .We also  know that having a good support system in our life is one of the determinants of good health, and in particular good mental health. How do we achieve this?  We learn skills early on in our family, school and community that inform us how to interact with others. Sometimes however to improve the quality of our relationships we need to improve these skills and there are many resources available to us in the form of books, lectures, blogs, and therapists to name a few. Some skills that will be helpful are communication skills, listening skills, problem solving skills and mindfulness skills. Learning these skills takes work and practice and for many of us is an ongoing process.

We are all unique but also similar in that we have a need to have a connection with others, to belong and ideally to have acceptance by others of our most authentic self. In view of this we need to establish relationships with others and more importantly maintain them. There are some who say our resilience is rooted in our ability to form close relationships.

Relationships can range from deep friendships to more superficial acquaintances. Both play a role in our life and the latter, in some cases, may lead to a deeper friendship.

Establishing Relationships:

Taking risks:

We do need to remember it does take two people to establish a relationship. Individuals have different needs and interests at different stages of the life cycle. A relationship may not work out because of time, because of other commitments and priorities or lack of common interests. It is important to remember, that in most situations it has nothing to do with you. This work of connecting with others can cause anxiety, in some cases fear and for others it is remarkably easy and natural. We need to over come our fear of rejection, a common fear for many of us.

We need to accept that our attempts at establishing relationships will not always work out; in fact we need to plan on it. For example, you think you might like to be a friend with a certain person and for example, arrange to have lunch. You soon realize this is going to be a long lunch .Your lunch partner is talking about sports or some other topic in which you absolutely have no interest .They have no interest in what you have to say. Another scenario could be completely different. You have lots on common and lunch is over before you know it. You are surprized when your lunch partner does not want to schedule lunch again. That may have nothing to do with you. Your lunch partner may be overwhelmed with other commitments and responsibilities.

Be Yourself:

Being yourself gives others a chance to see if there is compatibility and if they have anything in common with you. At the same time, pace the level of self-disclosure…too much too soon can scare people away. Have you ever met someone who disclosed their life history without even asking you, your name?

Interests

You meet people sharing common interests. You need to identify your interests and be able to discuss them with others, such as reading, cooking, gardening, sports, bird watching, just to name a few. If you do not have any interests you need to develop some. This may involve trying many different things until you find something you love to do. It is fun to share with others and this becomes a win win situation.

Social Activities   

You are more likely to meet people if you attend events and activities. Some people are fearful of attending some event on their own, yet others see it as an opportunity to meet someone. In fact, many people travel on their own for this reason.

Social Media

There is great potential for connecting with others through social media. You have to use the same judgement and caution as you do in the offline world.

Maintaining and Improving Relationships

Know Yourself

There needs to be a balance between healthy relationships and feeling secure and satisfied with ourselves. Are you aware of your values, beliefs, interests and feelings? Are you able to say no to something makes you feel uncomfortable? Do you sometimes go along with a request and then feel resentful? Are you able to take time for yourself and know that you deserve it? The better you feel about yourself, the easier it will be to care for others.

Give and take

Recognize what is important to the other. This involves being there for the other as well as your expectation that they be there for you. Relationships are a two way street. Give importance to the needs of the other. Develop the skill of both giving and receiving emotional support.

Learn to Listen.

Do you ever find when some one is talking you are waiting for your turn to talk, and tell your own story or you may interrupt without hearing what was actually said. Most of us do this at some time and we miss out. You may need to practice this skill of focusing on what the other person is saying. This becomes even more difficult when the topic triggers negative or uncomfortable feelings within. For example, imagine you are discussing the subjects of vaccines with someone and they have a strong opinion that is different than yours. You are convinced that they are wrong and shut down before they have had a chance to state their position.

Expectations

Be realistic about what to expect. When we have a relationship with someone, it usually comes with a set of expectations. Keep in mind that we all have our own habits, personalities, beliefs, values and experiences. Your definition of a friend or friendship may be different than that of another individual.  Many of us expect our friends to be mind readers and know what we want. We are disappointed when our friend or friends fail to meet our expectations. Be clear about what you want. For example, you may want your friend to be available by text, email or phone more often then they would like or are able. Check with your friend what works for them. You may need to adjust your expectations or come up with some kind of compromise.

In conclusion building better relationship takes work, practice of specific skills and involves risks. Your life will be richer and more meaningful. As mentioned previously, there are many resources available to assist you in this process.