Relationships and loving others are one of the most commonly reported things that people find bring meaning into their lives. Ironically it is also these same relationships that can also bring us much pain. Learning how to develop meaningful relationships is fundamental to our happiness levels. Essential to developing relationships is understanding the true meaning of love for others. It is also vital to develop strong skills in relating to others.

Listening

Sometimes in relationships it can be hard to listen: we often spend time in our heads coming up with responses rather than really mindfully listening without judging or problem solving. Listening is the most important of the communication skills as it is the basis for truly understanding the person you are in a relationship with. When listening you need to be able to put aside your own interests and needs for long enough to be able to put yourself in this person’s shoes. Sometimes this can be hard if a person is attacking us about something we have done as often we get defensive and need to prove we were right. We need to identify blocks to our listening skills. Are we daydreaming? Problem solving? Judging? Mind reading? Proving we are always right?

To engage in active listening we need to be able to paraphrase the person, clarify what they are discussing and give feedback. It is helpful to be able to enhance your empathy to help understand the person’s position more clearly; consider that all the negative, inconsiderate and stupid things that we do are all fuelled by our desire to maximise our own happiness or minimise our own pain. We are all the same in this regards. Once we understand our own desire for happiness and avoidance of pain, we can understand better the behaviours of others and have more empathy.

Asserting oneself and expressing feelings

We need to be able to clearly express what we are feeling in relationships in a why that isn’t too passive or aggressive. Being assertive is important in relationships and both people need to be able to express their needs in a clear way without being shut down. We cannot control how another person will express their needs to us, but we can control how we respond as well as how we express our own needs. We need to make sure that we don’t respond to people who want to start arguments or who are aggressive with our own arguments or aggression. Shouting back louder than the other person rarely results in positive results. In these situations we need helpful rather than harmful responses, especially if we wish to salvage the relationship rather than dig it into a hole it can never recover from. When expressing your feelings it is helpful to express the precise emotion, the intensity, duration, as well as the cause/context. For example, rather than saying “I am so angry that you are inconsiderate of me” you could say “I have been quite upset the last week that you have been coming home late every night because I have prepared dinner and I feel that you don’t care about the time I have spent”. It is important to remember that both people in a relationship are looking to get their needs met, and your needs are not necessarily their priority. You have a right to ask for something, but don’t necessarily believe that this means you are entitled to get everything you ask for. It may be that your two needs are in conflict. For example, you may want to spend more time together and the other person may want to spend more time at work trying to get an upcoming promotion. compromise is often essential to resolving conflicting needs. We can only expect someone to change their behaviour, we can’t expect them to change their values or nature. It is unfair to ask someone to be more intelligent or less ambitious at work, and asking for these things is unhelpful. Make sure when asserting yourself you are asking the person to engage in observable behaviour. Also don’t bombard the person with numerous behavioural changes at one time: a shopping list of changes will make them run for the hills.