Build stronger bonds for lasting connections.
During the holidays, you may spend more time with family and friends. That makes it an ideal time to learn science-backed tips that can help you improve your relationships. After all, healthy relationships can have you feeling happier, more connected, and better supported.
We should always be striving to improve our relationships. And in these isolated times, working on our connections to loved ones is more important than ever. Research tells us that when we are thriving in our relationships, we’ll experience more positives in our physical health, mental health, and overall happiness.
“I know for sure that love saves me and that it is here to save us all.”
—Dr. Maya Angelou
Putting effort into your relationships doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or energy. With these 10 tips, your improved connections can spark joy in other areas of your life too.
1. Know your emotional triggers
We all have our own baggage and triggers that we bring into new relationships and friendships, but it’s important to not let those triggers derail you. Behaviors that might seem insignificant or minor to someone else could instantly trigger a reaction for you.
It’s important to remember that your loved ones are likely not pushing your buttons on purpose. Taking stock of your emotional triggers will help you identify when you need to take a break, calm down, and decide whether your instinctive reaction is appropriate to the situation. Accepting your emotional triggers is key to intentionally choosing future behaviors and responses, and how you want to communicate in your relationships.
2. Ask questions, be curious
You don’t need to be able to read the mind of those you love in order to have a strong bond. In fact, no one expects you to know them better than they know themselves. In addition, you don’t want to get stuck in a narrative you may have created from past relationships, since that can lead to false assumptions.
That’s why curiosity is key to nurturing your relationships. It shows that you’re truly interested in others’ lives. Asking questions and researching their interests is also a great way to understand the people in your life. Taking a little bit of time to ask your partner how their work presentation went, listening to the band that your friend won’t stop talking about, or following up with kind text messages when a loved one is in distress can help to strengthen your relationships. These are simple ways to create a sense of trust, safety, and being kept in the mind of the other person.
3. Show compassion
“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.”
―Daniel J. Siegel
Compassion is key in healthy relationships; it shows you understand why someone is feeling the way they do. It’s easy to talk about being compassionate, but when life gets stressful or when you are at the height of an argument, it can be difficult to see where someone else is coming from. Paying attention and being kind when someone else is expressing their point of view can help you to understand that person better. When in doubt, try assuming the best and giving the benefit of the doubt to people closest to you.
4. Learn how to have difficult conversations
“If one by one we counted people out, for the least sin, it wouldn’t take long to get so we had no one left to live with. For to be social is to be forgiving.”
If you are tired, hungry, stressed, or simply having one of those days, try to avoid getting into difficult discussions with someone you care about. But ultimately, disagreements are a part of life, especially in close relationships.
To make your relationships better, don’t avoid fights, but learn how to fight fairly. Make sure to: focus on the positive (i.e., what you want to be better at rather than what someone else is doing wrong), repeat back what you are hearing to be sure you are understanding the other person’s viewpoint, stay away from bringing past problems into the issue, not raise your voice, and stay focused on solutions, understanding, and compromise. If you or the other person becomes emotionally escalated or dysregulated, take a break from the conversation; set a time to come back to it later.
“You cannot save people, you can just love them.”
Listening is not a passive or optional skill. It is the active process of being present and invested in the experience of the person who is speaking. Lending an ear is nonnegotiable when it comes to strengthening your relationships. Making an effort to listen to your friend’s, partner’s, or loved one’s concerns, news, or general chit-chat is part of what makes friendship and companionship satisfying. But it doesn’t end there. Once you have really heard what another person has shared, you can bring it up later to connect better with future experiences. Research has found that having a partner listen to stresses and concerns can help that person to cope better.
6. Know when to back down or show up
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
Are you a thunderstorm when something is bothering you? Or are you more like a swan who shows grace and calm on the outside, but underneath you are working hard to keep your distress hidden from others?
Know your pattern of handling problems. While coming into a difficult conversation tense is not helpful, trying to avoid confrontation altogether is not effective either. A disagreement can become a power struggle. One person may distance, while the other leans in. Or it may not be clear when to back down or when to show up.
In order to avoid damaging arguments and increase better communication, sometimes both of you will need to pause and take time to decide whether or when the argument is worth having.
7. Make time for quality time
Quality time is necessary if you want a relationship to flourish. Taking your partner on a date, going out to dinner with a friend, or calling your sibling allows you to focus on one another, bond, and deepen your relationship. It’s also a key way to let your friends and loved ones know that you care and value spending time together. In this way, actions speak louder than words. Stay soft, creative, and open with people in your close interpersonal circle.
8. Be vulnerable
“Being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure.”
Vulnerability can be scary, but it’s the only way for your loved ones to really get to know you and understand what hurts you. Even after many years in a relationship, there are probably things you have yet to share. Doing so can lead you to feel even closer. Research has found that being vulnerable can have an important impact on interpersonal relationships and can help you build intimacy and grow stronger bonds.
9. Understand boundaries
Boundaries are key to healthy relationships; they help you to reduce conflict and let your loved ones know what is acceptable to you and what isn’t. No matter how close we are with someone, our childhood norms, temperaments, preferences, and traits make us very different when it comes to what makes us feel loved and how we care for ourselves. When our boundaries are crossed, we can feel taken advantage of or disrespected, which can obviously be damaging for relationships.
Whether it’s the way you want to be spoken to, the dimensions of your personal space, or the subject of money, letting your loved ones know your boundaries will help set up your relationships for success. Remember to accept and respect the boundaries other people set too.
10. Take care of yourself
“Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”
In any relationship, it’s important to look after your own needs. That means you have to be honest with yourself when it comes to changes in who you are becoming and what you are wanting more or less of. When you’re happy, healthy, and flourishing, your relationships are more likely to be happy, healthy, and flourishing. Therapy, meditation, self-care practices, or just a bit of time for yourself can do wonders for your mental health and leave you in a better mindset for your relationships.
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Nandi, A., & Platt, L. (2017). Are there differences in responses to social identity questions in face-to-face versus telephone interviews? Results of an experiment on a longitudinal survey. International Journal of Social Research Methodology: Theory & Practice, 20(2), 151–166. https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2016.1165495
Rimé, B., Bouchat, P., Paquot, L., & Giglio, L. (2020). Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social outcomes of the social sharing of emotion. Current Opinion in Psychology, 31, 127–134. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.08.024
University of New Hampshire. (2021) What triggers your emotional and behavioral reactions? Psychological and Counseling Services. https://www.unh.edu/pacs/what-triggers-your-emotional-behavioral-reactionsAll Blogs