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 Monthly News

Tips for Nurturing Healthy Relationships

By Dr. Lisa Page

         Regardless of the stage of relationship you may be in, all relationships can benefit from occasional ‘check-in’s’ or adjustments from time-to-time. A good friend of mine once described relationships as “two imperfect people trying to have a perfect relationship.” When I work with couples I try to help them see that relationships are best treated in three parts: each individual trying to get his or her own needs met and the relationship being a 3rd entity. When looking at goals in a relationship, sometimes it is important to focus on each individual and sometimes it is most helpful to assess the needs of what is best for the relationship.

Most people recognize that communication is of utmost importance in a relationship. Yet communication is probably the most taken for granted attribute in a relationship. A very wise man, Dr. Bruce Bonecutter, once told me a quote from his grandmother (but I think it came from somewhere else originally), “you have two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you speak.”

Listening is more than not talking over someone when they are speaking. Listening is an art and an incredibly powerful tool. It is a source of intimacy that can bring people closer together. Listening requires more than your ears, but your eyes (to pay attention) and your body language to respond. It is providing someone a safe environment to share their innermost thoughts and feelings without judgment. Sometimes this means waiting until someone is done speaking and paraphrasing what they have said for clarification and understanding. When people feel understood, it can bring them closer together and help them to feel validated.

Don’t be afraid to say “I’m sorry.” Self-reflection is another art and a powerful tool. The ability to see how you may be contributing to a problem and to take responsibility for your behavior is a major attribute in a relationship. We all make mistakes. Being able to sincerely acknowledge them is another tool that can also help bring people closer together. Being able to apologize is a strength, not a weakness.

We live in a gray, gray, world. When communicating it is important to avoid the extremes – the “black and white” or the “good and bad.” Someone being told “you never help out around the house” for example may get defensive or discouraged from doing more work if they may actually be helpful in a lot of ways but maybe didn’t do something you had really hoped he or she would do. Communicating expectations clearly and specifically is most helpful in nurturing a healthy relationship rather than suggesting someone is “all” something or “nothing” that you wish they would be as most of what we experience is somewhere on a spectrum between the extremes. Emotions often weigh our thoughts down in one direction or another and make things feel exceptionally better or worse than they might actually be.

Pick your battles wisely; “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Identify what the issues are that are really important to you. If they are trivial and will go away, are they necessary to talk about? Do you have the ability to let go of them?

Just like in every “living” thing, relationships need to be nourished. Even if you are practicing ‘self-care,’ don’t forget to care for the relationship and treat it specially. Remember what brought you together. Remember the challenges you have overcome. Honor your relationship with celebrations and recognition of the challenges you have overcome as well as the good times you have had and are yet to come.



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