By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Close relationships can get complicated, and there is no rulebook that can tell you exactly how to navigate them. But there are ways to keep them mostly on track. Here are six basic rules to help you keep your relationships close and healthy:
Rule 1: Treat your inner circle of supportive family and friends as the treasures that they are. They provide you with a safe, secure home base that needs to be tended to. Be kind. Be respectful. Spend some of your precious time with them. Care about what is going on in their lives and how you can help them. Do what you can to enhance their lives and your relationship with them.
Rule 2: You are the MOST precious person in your inner circle. No matter how much you love or appreciate others, you cannot have a healthy relationship with them, or be there fully for them, unless you take care of you. The healthier you are in mind and body, the more you will have to offer others.
Rule 3: Communicate as clearly as you can. There are an infinite number of ways at an infinite number of times that miscommunications or misunderstandings can happen. So do what you can to clearly state what you are thinking and restate it whenever necessary.
Rule 4: Do the painful work of relationships. Calmly expose problems and talk them through with an open mind and an open heart.
Problems sometimes work themselves out spontaneously, but just as often (or, perhaps, even more often), they go underground and cause more problems later. By directly addressing issues, you can often enhance and deepen relationships.
If you generally believe that family and friends really do have your best interests at heart, then give them the benefit of the doubt when problems arise. It is easy to take offense at a meaning (interpreted from words or behaviors) that was never intended. Rather than just assuming that they meant to upset you or don’t care how you feel, give them and your relationship a chance. Explain how you feel, what you would like to see them do differently, and how you will respond if they make those changes.
Rule 5: Be humble. Acknowledge to yourself and others that you do not have all the answers and may be wrong. More often than not, there are many ways to view any particular situation, and there are drawbacks or inaccuracies to any particular view.
To help you acknowledge your possible mistakes or limited perspective, ask yourself whether it is more important to be right or to have a close relationship. Humility, when embraced, can feel freeing and empowering.
Rule 6: If you make a mistake, say you’re sorry. A heartfelt apology also includes caring about how your mistake affected the other person. So, if they feel the need to express this, truly listen. Trying to move on too quickly is a sign that you are not really interested in making amends, but rather just want to brush past the incident. It will leave the other person feeling dissatisfied with your apology and will put distance in your relationship. On the other hand, really listening to their distress and caring about how they feel will help to heal your relationship.
If you feel that your mistakes are unrelentingly held against you despite sincere efforts to apologize and make amends, then you need to talk this through with the other person. Ultimately, close relationships must be forgiving ones.
Do you follow these rules in your relationships? If so, how well do they work to keep your relationships going well? Are there times when they backfire and make your relationships worse?
If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.