5 Ways to Cultivate Better Relationships
“Happiness” is an elusive topic that has been studied and contemplated by many throughout history.
As an Imago relationship therapist and someone who specializes in helping my clients achieve happy and healthy relationships, I have come to view much of happiness through a relational lens.
It’s no coincidence that online dating world and the wedding industry is full of extremely successful businesses. Human beings seek and crave close and intimate relationships.
When we feel loved and connected we feel “whole.”
However, romantic relationships are not the only – or even primary – source of relational happiness. Friendships and family relationships can be just as important, if not more so. When someone in therapy is going through a difficult time, a psychotherapist may often ask, “who is your support network?” This is such an important question because the stronger the support network, the easier the recovery.
Because relationships are so powerful, it’s important to know how to cultivate fulfilling relationships. Throughout our lives no one teaches us how to be in relationships. There are no classes in school that tell us how to have healthy and happy relationships. We’re often just left navigating them on our own and learning as we go.
Here are 5 key tips for how to cultivate healthy relationships:
The most successful relationship dynamics exist when each person involved in the relationship has a strong sense of empathy. Empathy basically means that you are consciously thinking about how another person might feel and acting respectfully and thoughtfully accordingly.
I’ve seen many relationships end because of the narcissism, selfishness, or entitlement of one person. If you want to develop a real sense of intimacy and closeness with another person, you must be able to put yourself in their shoes. I believe that empathy is the foundation and core of any successful relationship.
Thoughtfulness and generosity
When I use the word “generosity” I don’t mean that you should be buying your friends and family expensive gifts. I’m referring to emotional generosity. My grandfather died recently and some friends of mine wrote me really thoughtful cards which meant the world to me and made me feel really lucky.
Even something as simple as checking in with someone on a regular basis to show you care is a sign of thoughtfulness and generosity. Showing appreciation through words, gift-giving, verbal appreciation, or any gesture that shows someone you are thinking of them is also a form of thoughtfulness.
Consistency and follow-through
I was raised with the mantra: “If you tell someone you’re going to do something, you do it.” Nobody likes someone who regularly bails, doesn’t follow through, or makes empty promises. You can only get away with flaky behavior for so long before people stop putting up with it.
Compromise and fairness
All relationships should have some feeling of reciprocity. This doesn’t mean being totally transactional, but it means both parties in the relationship do not feel like the relationship is one-sided or uneven. All strong relationships require a degree of compromise and fairness. People who take and take, and just expect people to bend over backwards for them without lifting a finger are people who don’t have many friends or any friendships of real substance.
If you find yourself in a friendship or romantic relationship with someone who has little or no empathy, is not thoughtful or emotionally generous, is flaky, does not compromise or only asks for things of you when they need something from you (or if any one of these things bothers you a great deal), put up a boundary and either distance yourself from the person or end the relationship entirely.
There is no point in having relationships that make you feel bad, drain you and leave you resentful. You don’t owe them anything.
Feeling loved and supported by a “tribe” is often essential to how happy we are. In fact, research has long established the mental and physical benefits of friendships.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, relationships also have the power to make us extremely unhappy. Being in the wrong relationship or being surrounded by people who don’t make us feel good, or take advantage of us can drain us emotionally. Positive relationships enhance our happiness but negative relationships have an enormous power to make us unhappy.
Take steps today to nurture the relationships that give you life, and put up healthy boundaries with those that drain you.
Lena Derhally is a licensed and Imago certified psychotherapist, a published writer, motivational speaker and podcaster. Her specialties include working with individual adults and couples in their 20’s-40’s on a wide range of relationship issues, workplace issues and trauma and difficult life transitions. She is also an expert on treating anxiety and panic attacks using cognitive behavioral, acceptance and commitment and solution focused therapy. Lena also offers relationship coaching and anxiety coaching plans in addition to her psychotherapy services.
As a working parent with young children in a transient city, Lena is passionate about helping her clients find inner peace, self-confidence and balance in their lives. She believes in empowering her clients and giving them the tools to make healthy choices for themselves in all aspects of their lives.
Previously, Lena has worked in hospital settings in oncology and palliative care and with the homeless and mentally ill. In her spare time, Lena is an anti-war and social justice activist and devotes her time to advocating and raising money for the disenfranchised and survivors of war. She is also a former improv comedienne and hip hop DJ.