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Tools for Nurturing Relationships
Cathy Morton, Ph.D.
Staff Psychologist
Samaritan Counseling Centers of the Mid-South

Relationships are fragile things and do not blossom and grow without work. There are a number of basic principles which, if applied, will strengthen any relationship. These include making time for each other, good communication, willingness to listen, compromise, and mutual respect.

Nothing can replace time for nurturing a relationship. Making time for another demonstrates that the relationship is significant to you. Although this seems like a simple principle, finding time in a busy schedule can often be difficult. When you make time for another, whether a friend or spouse, it shows that you value the relationship. You are placing time with another person as a priority over other activities. The quality of the time is also important. When you spend time with another person, give them your whole attention and focus. Do not let distractions divide your attention. If you devote quality time to the relationship, the other person will feel valued. Beyond this, trust increases with time spent, and trust is integral to a close bond.

Proper communication will help you feel heard and will circumvent misunderstandings. There is an easy formula to basic communication, especially in conflict. The first step is to own your feelings by saying, "I feel… (angry, frustrated, etc.) ." When you state how you feel, rather than pointing your finger at another, you get a load off your chest and you avoid putting someone else on the defensive. This makes them more open to hearing and responding to you. The next step is to name the problem by putting your finger on the issue that is at the root of your feelings. The final step is to suggest a solution, preferably one that meets your needs and the needs of the other person. Thus the whole phrase is, "I feel…when…, and I would prefer…" This may sound a little stilted, and it certainly can be elaborated upon, but when you are at a loss, this formula can come in very handy. Remember, you can also use it to share positive feelings, as in, "I feel happy when you help me around the house, and I would really love it if you would help me in the future."

Listening is the reciprocal of good communication, and really listening is harder than you may think. It is not just allowing the words to come into your ears and awareness. Good listening is about paying attention and hearing the feeling behind the words. For example, if someone says, "I'm sick of this house always being filthy!" it sounds, on the surface, as if they are referring to housekeeping. Underneath, however, they really may be talking about feeling tired, unappreciated, and overwhelmed. If you can pinpoint the feelings behind a statement-- saying, "You must feel tired (or frustrated, or overwhelmed)"-- you can make the other person feel heard.

Compromise is at the heart of any good relationship. This is because any relationship involves more than one entity. No one can have their way all the time, and no relationship is perfectly divided in the area of compromise. Sometimes it is 50/50; sometimes it is 90/10. If you enjoy the benefits of the support of another, then you must be willing to be supportive.

It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone you do not respect. Sooner or later, it will show. Respecting another person does not mean that you must believe the same things; it means that you do not try to change those differences. Being in a relationship with another also means that you respect boundaries and privacy, and that you offer support but do not press too hard.

Following these guidelines does not guarantee that you will have successful relationships. It does mean that the relationships will be better and more fulfilling. If you have read this and recognize that one of these elements is missing from an important relationship in your life, try adding that element. You may surprise yourself.

Find out more about pastoral counseling.



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