By Pat Blumenthal, PsyD, licensed psychologist at The Portland Clinic.
We humans are social creatures, and our relationships are at the heart of our emotional well-being. If we are feeling unhappy, empty or angry, it is often because of some disconnect in our relationships. Healing or strengthening our relationships can be the key to brightening our emotions and finding greater happiness in life.
Here are 10 things you can do to improve your relationships:
1. Be kind
Research has demonstrated that the marriages that last are the ones in which both partners show kindness toward each other. This can be extended to all relationships. Nurture your relationships by being thoughtful. Ask people how they are doing. Show them that you’re interested in their lives.
2. If you don’t want anyone to find out, don’t do it
This is a good rule of thumb in any relationship. If you’re embarrassed or ashamed of a particular behavior, it’s probably something that can — and will — create problems for you in the long run. Examine your behaviors and work on those that you’re not particularly proud of.
3. Be honest about how you’re feeling
Some days, we just feel grouchy, moody or overly sensitive. Try to be aware of your moods, and let your friends and loved ones know when you’re having one of those days. Cuing them in will help avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings, and will give them a heads-up that you may need some space or a kind word.
4. Acknowledge milestones
Don’t minimize the importance of big dates. Birthdays and anniversaries should always be acknowledged — and better yet, celebrated. Send cards, emails or text messages to the people you love on their big days. Attend bridal showers, baby showers and funerals, even if they are inconvenient for you. People will remember that you cared enough to be there for them, and will reciprocate when you want or need to be surrounded by loved ones.
5. Stay connected with faraway friends
In our mobile society, people often leave home and make multiple moves throughout their lives. But the friends and family members who are left behind are just as important as the new relationships we build in new places. Fortunately, there are many ways to reach out nowadays when you can’t be there in person.
6. Don’t believe everything you think
Sometimes we assume that our friends and loved ones are being difficult or lazy on purpose, which leads to conflict and resentment. But could it be something else? Are you ever purposely difficult? Probably not, right? So challenge your assumptions when you think this of other people, and try to figure out what could be contributing to their difficulties.
7. Don’t live in the past
If you are still worrying about something that happened years ago, or even months ago, you have some work to do. It’s not easy to let go of past hurts and disappointments, but they have to be dealt with in order to move forward. Ask an impartial friend whom you respect to be a sounding board, or seek professional help to get past old wounds.
8. Deal with issues as they come up
If something is eating at you, try not to suppress it or pretend that it doesn’t matter. Bring it up. Otherwise, resentments pile up and you end up carrying a lot of emotional baggage over the years. It may not always be easy to confront issues, but it’s important, and your feelings do matter.
9. Act according to your values
How do you want to be remembered? As a good parent? A steadfast friend? A beloved partner? Act in a way that is consistent with those desires. Whatever you say or do, ask yourself whether or not it is consistent with your values.
10. Seek professional help when you need it
Seeking therapy is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is a strength to know when you need a professional’s insights. Therapy can be a short-term intervention that helps you set the course for a positive future.