Have you ever made silly mistakes that ruined great relationships? (I can’t be the only one, can I?)
Since making my own mistakes in the past, I’ve read a lot about the science of how to have happy and long-lasting relationships—whether it’s with romantic partners, family, or friends. Below, I’d like to share 12 science-based tips to help you avoid disconnection and make your relationships flourish!
1. Be honest.
Any issues you avoid, or truths you don’t want to acknowledge, will likely undermine your relationship. 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.
For that reason, be intentional and figure out the truth about your relationship. Think through all aspects of it—your feelings and thoughts, the other person’s feelings and thoughts, as well as their 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.
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 — in other words, “failing at their mind.” At times, 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’ve made this mistake, and it has cost me dearly in the past. So how do we avoid it?
3. Use Tell Culture.
Tell Culture is a communication strategy where you are open and honest with close people in your life about your feelings, thoughts, and what’s going on with you. This makes you more vulnerable and authentic. Tell them information about yourself that you think they’d want to know.
For example, if you want a hug, tell the other person that you’d enjoy a hug. However, in order for Tell Culture to work, it’s really important for you not to expect the other person to hug you. Rather, you are simply responsible for telling them about your needs and desires,. 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, but also 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, 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 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. Finally, we finish up with gratitude to each other for doing the relationship check-in and have some delicious chocolate to reward ourselves. This has done wonders for improving our relationship!
7. Trust others.
All of these strategies will help you build up trust, which is key to having happy, lasting relationships. Always keep a personal evaluation of your relationship’s level of trust in the back of your mind. How much do you trust the other person to act in ways that match your mental model of that person? How much do you trust that person to have your back?
If you want an intentional relationship, then do things to build trust and gather information about the other person’s trustworthiness. Exhibit vulnerability and openness, share secrets, and be generous in your offers to compromise. If the other person shows themselves trustworthy, then commit more to the relationship. If they do not, then re-evaluate your own level of commitment, as the relationship likely will not work in the long term.
8. Respect boundaries and privacy.
Technological developments make it so easy for us to track each other and to be in constant communication. However, permitting each other to have privacy, as well as not pushing the other person to do things they’d prefer not to do, helps increase happiness in relationships, since it builds up mutual trust.
9. Have healthy conflicts.
Surprise—conflicts can be healthy in relationships! If you go into a relationship expecting never to fight, then your first fight could very well lead to the end of the relationship. Instead, learn strategies for healthy conflict resolution, and talk about them with the other person beforehand.
Also, when a conflict does arise, start by highlighting how much you care about the other person and the relationship. Talk about both the facts and how you feel about them. Avoid the blame game, and instead be as generous as possible when interpreting the other person’s actions. Be open to changing your mind if you discover you made the mistake, and apologize quickly and profusely. Avoid focusing on the past and instead orient toward better behavior in the future. At the end of any conflict, focus on reconnecting and rebuilding emotional bonds strained by the conflict. My wife and I have found these techniques to be so helpful in resolving tensions between us!
10. Meet your own goals.
Remember that you are in the relationship for yourself, not the other person. So, meet your own goals first in any relationship. Be intentional and consider what you want from the relationship when you evaluate it in your own mind and heart. Don’t allow the other person’s needs and desires to overwhelm yours. Play by the rules of Tell Culture: Be honest and open with the other person about your needs and desires, and encourage that person to be honest and open with you. Otherwise, you both risk building up resentment and frustration, which decreases the possibility of a happy and long-lasting relationship.
Today’s society emphasizes individuality, but for any relationship to work, we need to get out of the self-centered shell and put ourselves in the shoes of the other person. This means we must understand their perspective, thoughts, and feelings.
However, be sure to balance your own needs with the other person’s needs. Seek a mutually beneficial compromise on any areas of disagreement. My wife and I make compromises for each other all the time—big and small—and that’s how we keep our relationship strong.
12. Don’t fight against change or diversity.
People and relationships change all the time. This is not something to mourn; it’s just a fact of life, to be acknowledged and celebrated. Sometimes, a relationship needs to become more diverse for both people to remain happy. So, consider the possibilities of non-traditional relationships such as polyamory and others. At other times, people who were once right for each other are no longer compatible. To ensure mutual happiness, it’s important to let each other go at that stage. The key is to be intentional and pursue your own goals in any relationship you are in.