When you spend 20 years as a marriage counselor and relationship coach, you come in contact with a lot of different theories about what makes relationships work better. I have been collecting these ideas for most of my career.
These are my four favorite relationship ‘tools’. There are really concepts that create the foundation of a healthy relationship. Although I present them in alphabetical order, the first one is my favorite because it may very well be the most important thing you can do in your relationships that is 100% guaranteed to improve your relationships.
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ACCEPTANCE – Most problems in relationships stem from wanting people to be or act differently than they currently are. How successful have you been at getting your partner to change or do things the way you want them to? Sometimes we can get our partner (or child or boss or friend, etc.) to change but at what cost? When you ask someone to change, you are telling them, “I don’t accept you the way you are”. Even if you don’t say it that way, the person will feel some level of rejection and there is often a price for that. Sometimes the price is damage to trust or closeness; sometimes it is resentment.
BOUNDARIES – When we are clear on what is MY business and what is YOUR business, we have healthier relationships. And after we get clear, we take responsibility for what is our business. We have to be willing to clean up our own messes and stop blaming. If people spent half the energy taking care of their own stuff that they spend blaming their partner, they would be much better off. The final (but extremely important) component of boundaries is effectively communicating ‘what I am not willing to tolerate’ and ‘this is what I will do if it continues’. Notice that there is nothing in there about what ‘you’ need to change. For example:
I will not tolerate being yelled at and if you continue to yell, I will not continue this discussion
YOU better stop yelling at me!
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LISTENING – Men and women both want to be heard, but did you know that it is the single most important way that a woman feels loved? When you love someone, you often want to meet their needs and contribute to making them feel good. You cannot do this if you don’t take the time and make the effort to really listen to them. Most people practice Level One Listening, where you tune in and out, are more focused on yourself and what you are going to say next. At Level Two Listening, you are deeply paying attention. You are focusing effort on understanding the other person.
SUPPORT – The fourth powerful tool in having awesome relationships is to be supportive of the other person. Make it clear that you are on ‘their side’. Not by passively agreeing all the time, but by showing your support. One way to do this is to send the message “I believe in you”. What are some ways you can deliver that message to someone you love?