“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
– Carl Jung
Our connection to others is the glue that holds our stressful lives together. We are in contact with people, whether intimately or superficially, and everything in between, on a daily basis. How people react to us can make the day feel like a celebration or complete drudgery. The fact is, we need others to help us out, enrich our lives, show us new perspectives, challenge us, excite us, love us, support us, and make life all the more interesting. We are interdependent on each other.
My parents are octogenarians. They live in a wonderful retirement community in Lakewood, New Jersey, which is always bustling with activity. They are busier now than when they were still working! The community is keeping them healthy, happy and thriving. They have a great marriage, lots of friends, newsletters to edit, dart tournaments, bowling leagues, book clubs, and many other interests. They function effectively and live each day with purpose. My mother always reminds me "make sure you always have friends, they will keep you young."
Friends are important, but so are coworkers, neighbors, siblings, personal trainers, teachers, fellow students, dog groomers, massage therapists, business partners, lovers, social media contacts, and of course, spouses. Since these relationships are part of our lives, how can we make them better? What makes a relationship thrive?
“A loving relationship is one in which the loved one is free to be himself — to laugh with me, but never at me; to cry with me, but never because of me; to love life, to love himself, to love being loved. Such a relationship is based upon freedom and can never grow in a jealous heart.”
– Leo F. Buscaglia
In my work with people, and in my personal life, I've paid attention to what behaviors seem to improve relationships and what behaviors interfere with interpersonal communication. My last blog covered interfering behaviors in relationships. To balance the scale, here are my five go-to habits that can keep relationships going well in your life.
Spontaneity - Nothing makes a relationship more alive than spontaneity. It freshens, renews, inspires and attracts. When you say or do something that other people don't expect, it takes them by surprise, they get out of their predictable little bubble and immediately enter the present moment with you. You help others get out of their head and into the now.
Playfulness - There is nothing more disempowering and challenging than spending time with an overly serious person. Seriousness can make the energy drop in a room faster than an elevator with a broken cable. A playful attitude lightens the mood, loosens rigidity, and makes people smile. To brighten someone's day in this problematic world is one of the greatest gifts to share with others.
Compliments - A long time ago I was taught when giving feedback, always start with a positive. Tell the person what they did well before you explain what needs improvement. Everyone likes to hear something good about themselves. As long as it is offered politely in good taste, tell someone something you like about them. This is especially true for romantic relationships and marriages: compliment each other every single day.
Validation - The cousin to complimenting is offering validation, and is equally important. When someone tells you a problem they are having, an emotional issue, a stressful circumstance or they just need to vent, listen with understanding. Even if you can't relate to the situation, you definitely can remember feeling that way at some time in your life. People usually don't want someone to offer suggestions to fix the problem, they just want someone to listen and tell them they understand.
Random Acts of Kindness - Have you ever surprised someone, whether you know them or not, with a kind gesture, unexpected gift or selfless favor? Isn't it fun? Random acts of kindness not only help the recipient, but also the giver. Even if you can't offer something tangible, wishing someone well in your mind has more impact than you would realize.
Enjoy trying out some of these habits or continue to do more with them. Life is fulfilling and enjoyable if the moment to moment experiences you have are filled with freshness and creativity. Regular practice of these habits can improve your marriage, heal conflicts in your family, strengthen your relationships at work and even enliven your presence on social media. Let relationships thrive, instead of just survive.
“If you would be loved, love, and be lovable.”
— Benjamin Franklin