In a month that’s all about love, it’s easy to make the focus about romantic relationships. After all, the hearts, the roses, the proposals that seem to stuff February full all have to do with amoré.
But while a romantic relationship in your life may feel like the most important one, several other relationships in your life certainly influence your world. Friendships, colleagues at work, immediate family, and extended family, these are the connections that can bring joy and happiness to your life or can be the center of a lot of conflict and hurt.
The research says that most people have between three and nine close relationships with people other than their spouses. Close friendships are associated with greater life satisfaction, a decrease in loneliness and depression, and an increase in happiness. In an article for the Mayo Clinic, staff writers disclose that “Friends also play a significant role in promoting your overall health. Adults with strong social connections have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). In fact, studies have found that older adults who have meaningful relationships and social support are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.”
While we often focus on gathering tools to strengthen our marriages and romances, we don’t seem to spend as much time making sure our other relationships are staying healthy as well. Check out the following ingredients for making all your relationships vibrant…and not just in February!
Communicate effectively: Good communication is key to maintaining healthy relationships. Make sure to actively listen to the other person, express yourself clearly, and be open to hearing their perspective. And here’s an interesting tidbit: there is a phenomenon in communication that sometimes happens when we are trying to create connection with someone. It’s called one-upmanship, and it can happen even when all you’re trying to do is show alignment with someone. Your friend tells a story about a coffee shop order gone awry, and then you tell about the time you went to the coffee shop, and not only did they get your order wrong, but they served you a cup that had a cockroach clinging to the lid. When you follow up your friend’s story with one of your own that is even more dramatic (or funnier or sadder), you’re unconsciously engaging in one-upmanship can make the other person feel sidelined or not listened to. In the complex world of human communication, try focusing on this element in your conversations over the next few weeks. What do you notice? Where can you improve?
Show appreciation and gratitude: With people you’re particularly close to, it can be easy to forget that everyone thrives with encouragement, even if you feel like you’ve expressed it before. Romans 15:2 says, “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” Take the time to show your loved ones that you appreciate and value them. Express your gratitude for what they do for you, and let them know that you notice their efforts.
Show respect and empathy: Maybe you’ve got that one friend who is the person you run to with all your challenges and worries. It’s amazing to have a friend like that. But are you also giving them time to talk about the issues in their life? First, respect their time: if the majority of your friendship seems to be you receiving counsel from them, it might be time to seek out a professional to help you with your issues instead of making your friendship all about that. (For Altrua HealthShare Members, you may have access to LifeWorks, a counseling service with lots of unique features, including access to 24/7 telecouseling and in-person options. This feature is included in many Altrua HealthShare memberships at no cost at time of service. If you’re not already an Altrua HealthShare Member, you can learn more about the health share and its customizable features by going to altruahealthshare.org). Treat others with respect and empathy, and be willing to put yourself in their shoes. Understand that everyone has their own unique experiences and perspectives, and try to be understanding and respectful of that.
Spend quantity AND quality time together: Being in the same room with someone is great. Hanging out for a whole weekend is awesome. But in addition to quantity of time, make sure the quality is there too. It’s all too easy to be in front of the television or at a movie and assume you’ve spent enough time together. Make sure there’s time in there for conversation, palying a game, doing a service project; your investment of quantity and quality time pays big relationships dividends.
Be honest and trustworthy: Show up when you say you’re going to. Do what you said you would. And be honest when you mess up and be honest with your feelings. So many relationships go sideways when we aren’t honest with our emotions and when we don’t hold confidences or are inconsistent with completing what we said we would. And be clear with yourself about your friendships; who in your group is honest and trustworthy? Is there someone you might need to reconsider in the friendship lane, as they are inconsistent, don’t hold your confiendentiality, or seems to cause a lot of drama? Honesty and trustworthiness are great measures of just how healthy your relationships are.
Offer support: Great relationships are a two-way street. There are times where you’ll be the recipient of care and love and there should also be times when you are showing up for your friends. Be there for your loved ones when they need support, whether it’s emotional, practical, or financial. Offer a listening ear or a helping hand when they need it, and be a reliable source of support for them.
Learn to forgive and let go: If you’re going to have close, real relationships in your life, then you’ll also need to exercise a lot of grace. Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Everyone makes mistakes and has flaws. It’s important to learn to forgive and let go of past hurt and resentment. Cultivate understanding and let go of the things that are not worth holding on to.
Take responsibility for your actions: If you make a mistake, apologize for it. When you take responsibility for your actions, it can help to build trust and respect in a relationship.
Cultivate patience and peace: Patience is an important virtue when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships. Being patient and understanding is important when others make mistakes or struggle with something. And evaluate the ‘climate’ of your relationships. Is there someone in your group who always seems to be in turmoil with someone or who turns a simple evening out into a whole drama? Consider that it may be time to invest in friendships that bring peace and support in your life, not stress. As Jim Rohn has famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
All relationships take work, even the ones where there seems to be instant connection and shared values and dreams. There will be friendships in your life that are for a season, and there are friendships that last a lifetime. They’re all important and have an important role to play in your life. Take a little time to think through who is speaking into your today, and make those relationships a priority. Your emotional well-being, your physical health, and your sense of community will thank you!