Relationships come in all forms and sizes, positive and negative. Think about family—spouse, children, parents, crazy Aunt Sally, or boring Uncle Bob, friends, co-workers, school-mates, neighbors, people you’re church or clubs, teachers, the list goes on and on. There are close personal ties and distant peripheral acquaintances. But all come together in our lives to influence us one way or another and vice versa, we influence them. Close relationships help to form who we are and who we become. When they are safe, intimate, healthy relationships, both persons are encouraged to grow into who God created them to be. What are some characteristics of such a relationship? How do we foster these? How do we impact those around us?
First of all, we must create a climate of trust that helps others feel emotionally connected. Demonstrate signs of interest and support in what others are saying and doing by actively engaging in the conversation, be fully present. We all have the option of responding either by turning toward or turning away. Body language speaks volumes for us without saying a word. An example of this is by putting down the phone while the other person is talking to us so we actively engage rather than continuing the text message.
So much of our relationships come down to the spirit that people bring to the relationship. Are we kind, thoughtful and generous or do we bring criticism, contempt and hostility? How we approach others and what attitude we bring to the relationship makes a huge difference. What is the first thing you say when you walk thru the door? Is it kind and considerate or critical because something wasn’t put away or you had a bad day? The first five minutes after you get home often sets the mood for the evening. Be thoughtful about how to work together and be generous with your time and attention.
Look for things to appreciate in others rather than looking for things to criticize. Say thank you often. This purposefully builds a culture of respect and appreciation. Compliments build others up and encourages them to keep trying or to improve. Scanning the environment for others mistakes only erodes trust. Be generous with true compliments to build relationships. Kindness makes each person feel cared for, understood and validated, hence feeling loved. This also translates into our physical health. Studies have shown criticism and contempt diminish the body’s ability to fight off viruses and disease. Conversely, showing appreciation and love help to boost the immune system and keep us healthy physically and emotionally.
The more often people witness kindness, the more likely they are to practice it themselves. This leads to an upward spiral of love, appreciation and generosity in a relationship. Think of kindness as a relationship muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.
Show genuine interest and concern for the other person. Neglect on the other hand, will slowly wear away your relationships. It creates distance and breeds resentment in the one who is being ignored. However genuine concern and interest will help them feel validated and loved. It is also important to interpret the other person’s intentions and actions as charitable. This can soften a sharp edge of conflict. We often receive what we expect because that’s how we interpret certain actions. Show grace and consideration instead of expecting a slight or meanness.
If you truly want to have healthy vibrant relationships, exercise kindness early and often. Savor the joy, be thoughtful of others, offer a helping hand generously when you can. Seek peace and pursue it as far as you are able. Believe in others and remember: the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself as love.