Relationships Don’t Come With Instructions

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Relationships are of primary importance to everyone.  Some people have a need for a high number of relationships while others prefer a few select ones and no matter which type you are we are all social beings.  We need others to survive.  And not just in infancy! 

With something so intrinsically important to the whole population, one would assume that society would have intensive training on how to build relationships, how to maintain them, and how to dissolve them amiably.  Nothing could be further from the reality. 

We grow up learning how to relate to others by how those in our environment relate to us and how they relate to one another.  If those in our environment have strong relationship skills, we learn to relate well.  If those in our families, schools, churches, and playing fields are disrespectful, do not know how to communicate effectively, or do not know how to be caring and supportive, we simply grow up recreating those poor relationship patterns.   We are neither born with the relationship skills we need nor are we formally taught how to be in effective relationships.  As a culture, we assume that we will just know how.

It is possible to build and maintain good relationships; caring, supportive, and respectful, with family members, friends, and co-workers.  We can learn effective relationship skills regardless of how old we are or how ineffective we have been.  Relationships are resiliency assets or social capital.

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back, to recover relatively quickly, from adversity or stress in a way that promotes health, wellness, and results in an increased ability to constructively respond to future stress or adversity.  Our social network is the most important asset in our level of resilience.  Good relationships are good for our health.  The higher our social capital, the more successful, productive, and happy we are.  When we have effective relationships at work, we have higher self-confidence and are better able to plan, meet goals, and deal with challenges.

Effective relationships happen between individuals who are each willing and able to take responsibility for themselves and be responsible to the other and who know how to set boundaries for themselves and how to respect those of the other person.  Individuals who are willing and know how to be open, honest, and direct in their communication and know how to actively listen and respect what others have to offer.  Healthy communication fosters connection, trust, intimacy, and respect.  It’s about knowing and being known.  It’s about sharing what we think, feel, and want while being open to and respectful of what the other thinks, feels, and wants.

Other important skills to contribute to the development of healthy relationships are conflict resolution and negotiation.  Conflicts are bound to happen in every relationship and if we don’t know how to resolve them, how to negotiate mutually satisfying solutions, both sides will build resentments, frustration, and anger.  Unless these emotions are resolved they become toxic to the relationship.

I was in my early thirties when I recognized, after much resisting, that it was my responsibility to create the kinds of relationships that I wanted.  However, I didn’t know where to begin or how to go about it.  By accessing the resources available in my community I learned more effective skills.  I learned that if I want the right to be who I am I must respect the right of others to be who they are whether they are children, parents, friends, or coworkers. Through taking courses and workshops I built a network of support with others on the same journey.

Some characteristics of healthy relationships are mutuality, respect, open and honest communication, each party willing to dedicate time and effort to the development of the relationship, laughter, and the ability and willingness to give and accept feedback.

For information on community resources contact Family Enrichment by calling 458-8211 or email

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