The Key to Really Good Relationships (When Winter Brings You Back Inside)

The [forced] time together has just moved past the 9-month mark. Summer weather gave us the chance to get a little more space from each other, but now that colder weather is back, we’re all back inside and many people are struggling in their relationships.

Though we are social creatures, we don’t really do relationships all that well. Think about it: when things are going well, relationships seem to thrive. But when we get stressed by something like today’s pandemic, our worst behaviors come out, putting strain on every relationship we have. I don’t think it’s uncommon to observe that time spent with each other can start to look and sound more like professional wrestling than a loving household.

So, knowing winter will keep many of us in a tighter space with each other for the next several months, how do we relish our relationships instead of retreat from them? As a coach and a passionate believer in the power of relationships, here are four ideas to building and sustaining great relationships.

  1. Manage your emotions. The key to any great relationships is being able to stay calm even when situations around you are aggravating, frustrating or even irritating. Though you can’t control every situation or other people, you must be able to control and manage yourself. Staying calm lets you to access your best thinking and helps you see things more clearly because you’re not automatically looking for a fight. When you’re in that calmer frame of mind, the small things don’t get to you and the big things seem more manageable because you can sort through them and develop options to solve them. We find the best way to manage your emotions really starts with understanding the things or people that trigger your anger, fear, anxiety or frustration, among others. We call these unproductive emotions. Then, develop a particular technique to stay calm when confronted by these triggers, like focused breathing, writing in a gratitude journal, chatting with a friend, reading something inspirational or spending time with a hobby. These are distraction techniques that help you to not react to the trigger. Being aware of the trigger and then having a plan to deal with it is a great way to start managing your emotions.
  2. Tell the truth. All great relationships require a solid foundation – trust. Trust is built by listening to each other, showing mutual respect, being considerate, being dependable and being supportive. And when you have trust in a relationship, the people involved are able to talk to each other to do more of what works and improve the things that don’t work well. As a suggestion, have a conversation with those you are in relationship with and assess the level of trust in the relationship. Discuss ways to increase it to build a stronger foundation and a more lasting relationship. Remember to manage your emotions so you can stay calm and present in your conversations.
  3. Help others be their best selves. So many relationships require each other to be who the other needs them to be – not who they are. To be in a real relationship with someone is to want to help them discover, develop and live their potential – to find their way, to be who they really are and to live their best life. This can’t happen if we continually direct or control them into our version of a great life for them. I have realized in my many years of coaching and my own self-discovery process that finding my way is up to me but getting support from those who care about me is essential. Their support helps me stay focused and encouraged because the process of being yourself in a world that is so quick to tell you who to be is hard work. Knowing we have people who care about us encouraging, guiding and supporting builds a relationship.
  4. Always be kind. You don’t have to agree with each other to be in a good relationship, but how you disagree is what builds or destroys the relationship. The one clear rule that belongs in a relationship is to always be kind. Be kind in how you act and in what you say. Even difficult news is better received when it is delivered with kindness. Kindness is about the feelings behind the interaction. It is possible to be disappointed with a friend, client or partner and share that disappointment in a loving and kind way. After all, you are likely disappointed with a behavior or an action, not with the person. Without kindness, you can unintentionally trigger each other, launching into a battle of unproductive emotions. 

Relationships don’t have to be a challenge, despite what we’ve seen in movies and tv shows. Turn off the drama and focus on building or rebuilding the important relationships in your life. They start with you. They need you to be able to manage your emotions, tell the truth, be kind and support others. As you do this, others will learn, follow and return the behaviors.

The new year is just around the corner. This is a perfect time to rebuild or repair some damaged relationships that may have been a casualty of the election, or of being quarantined for the past few months. Regardless, the greatest gift in life is the gift of relationships. But like everything that is really valuable, they take work and effort. What helps in this is understanding what to do and how to do it. From there, all things are possible.  

Take Action
Think about the people you have a relationship with. Choose one where the relationship is not where you’d like it to be. Visualize how you want the relationship to be and do the following:

  1. Get calm by managing your emotions. What emotions are you feeling when it comes to that relationship? What is triggering those emotions? Are they productive or unproductive?
  2. Assess the level of trust and your behavior in the relationship. It’s important to remember that there are two parts to every story, and the same goes for relationships. Be aware of your role and behavior in the relationship, and be honest with yourself. What’s working? What’s not working?
  3. In a loving and kind way, invite the other person to rebuild or repair the relationship by sharing the work you’ve done so far to identify areas that are working well and areas that could be better. Engage in a conversation, not an argument. Manage your emotions.

By following these steps, you’ll see the quality of life improve for both of you.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Don’t Go Back to Normal. Instead, Focus on Becoming Better

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