Have you ever made silly mistakes that ruined great relationships? I can’t be the only one, can I? Well, since then, I’ve read a lot more about the science on how to have happy and long-lasting relationships, whether with romantic partners or family and friends. My wife and I have been together for 18 years, over half my life, and I have a wonderful circle of close friends. I want to share these science-based tips with you to help you avoid those silly mistakes and help your relationships flourish!
1. Be intentional
Be intentional and figure out the truth about your relationship. Think through all aspects of your relationship—your feelings and thoughts, the other person’s feelings and thoughts, and the external context. If you notice yourself flinching away from a certain aspect of reality, this is the time to double down your focus and really get at the truth. The things you flinch away from, the truths you don’t want to acknowledge to yourself, are likely to be the ones that will most undermine your relationship in the future. It’s better to face the truth squarely in the face right now and address it rather than let it sabotage your relationship in the long run.
2. Avoid failing at their mind
One of the biggest dangers in close relationships is assuming the other person is exactly the same as you in their feelings and thoughts, and thus failing at their mind. This is something that’s so easy to flinch away from, as our emotional self just doesn’t want to accept that the person we’re so close to is actually different from us—sometimes very different. I know I made this mistake, and it cost me dearly in the past. So how to avoid it?
3. Use Tell Culture
Use Tell Culture! Tell Culture is a communication strategy where you are open and honest with close people in your life about your feelings and thoughts, about what’s going on with you, lowering your private barrier and being vulnerable and authentic. Tell them information about yourself that you think they would want to know.
For example, if you want a hug, you should tell the other person that you would enjoy a hug. However, for Tell Culture to work, it’s really important for you not to expect that the other person will hug you. You are responsible for telling them about your needs and desires, and they are then free to act as they choose based on their own needs and desires.
4. Remove communication barriers
For open and honest communication to work, you need to remove communication barriers. Figure out your individual communication preferences and then compromise on something that works well for both of you.
5. Practice emotional attunement
As you communicate with each other, don’t listen only to what the other person is saying, also listen to the emotions underneath the words. Notice whether the other person seems stressed, frazzled, sad, frustrated, confused, pleased, glad, joyful, etc.
Pay attention to the tone of the voice, body language, and what is not being said as well as the content of the words. Such emotional attunement will level up your ability to understand the other person, and respond in ways that lead to happy and long-lasting relationships.
6. Check in on your relationships
This is a magic-bullet solution to so many relationship problems! Schedule systematic meetings to talk about the state of your relationship and what can be improved. For the process, you can follow this science-based questionnaire or come up with your own approach to the relationship check-in.
For example, my wife and I have a relationship check-in every two weeks. We first talk about what we appreciated most about each other during the last two weeks. Then we discuss what can be improved in our relationship, and how to do so. We then finish up with gratitude to each other for doing the relationship check-in and have some delicious chocolate to reward ourselves. It’s done wonders for improving our relationship!
(To be continued...)