The Basics of Relating
BY ANITA MARTIN
People spend the majority of their lives relating to others. But, how do we learn positive relationship skills? What are the fundamentals of healthy interactions? For many of us, we rely on what we may have learned from our parents, other family members, or friends. At times, observing the relationships of others can be valuable, but it may also be incomplete.
Eventually, we also learn from personal experience. Individual experience is likely our best instructor, but can be costly in many ways. Over time, experiences build knowledge. They help us learn about ourselves, our needs, and our values. They increase our understanding of others and the kinds of people with whom we relate well.
In a quote by Mama Zara, she writes:
"A healthy relationship, whether it’s romantic, brotherly, or friendly, is when each person is allowed room to grow unjudged and still loved."
Time is another valuable teacher. Intentionally slowing the pace of a relationship’s progression offers both individuals time to assess its benefits. Time allows the opportunity to examine key areas of the interaction and determine whether it is a healthy, positive, and supportive relationship. So, if time and experience are the most effective ways to learn relationship skills, what are the basics of relating?
Acceptance: We all need and want to feel accepted in our relationships. Acceptance is an interesting concept in this context. In the dictionary, it’s defined as “being received as adequate or suitable.” Still, I often hear stories of couples where one constantly highlights his or her partner’s inadequacies. While we all have areas of weakness, it is unrealistic to enter a relationship knowing that your partner does not have certain qualities you may need. And, it establishes a pattern of dissatisfaction for one partner and unending frustration for the other.
Communication: Often, listening may be considered a passive skill. However, listening is a key area of relating well. It’s your opportunity to hear your partner on a deeper level. It offers you the chance to understand intent, to ask questions, and to clarify what your partner may be trying to share. Developing your ability to truly hear your partner creates space for deepening intimacy, but this skill requires time, attention, and acceptance. If you want to improve your listening skills, set aside uninterrupted time with your partner and yes, that includes tuning out technology!
Attentiveness: In a relationship’s early stages, both individuals are typically highly attuned to a new partner, his or her needs, responses, and more. Over time, we may become quite comfortable. Life may replace the relationship as the main priority as more pressing issues are addressed. However, this is risky. Inattentiveness can develop into more serious concerns. And, we’ve all heard stories of how a woman’s husband no longer notices her hair or her changing style. Maybe his wife no longer observes that he is attractive or has endearing qualities. Most of us change over the course of a long-term relationship. It’s important to stay attuned to our partner’s growth. Notice who they are now and reflect on who they were when your journey together began. Then, share your observations with one another. It will say to your partner, “I haven’t forgotten who you were when we began and I appreciate and love the ways in which you’ve changed.” This type of attentiveness will demonstrate your continued engagement in him or her and the relationship.