Happier together: the secrets of authentic relationships
07 Jul 2011 | Sarah Abell
Relationships can be the source of great joy and happiness but
as I know from my own life and also from the many letters I have
received as an Agony Aunt, they can also bring great stress, hurt
Relating is, after all, a risky business; Every time we reach
out to another we risk being rejected, hurt or misunderstood. But,
in my opinion, it is a risk worth taking because there is nothing
more fulfilling than building strong and authentic relationships
with others. It is one of the most rewarding adventures we can
In terms of relationships, I believe that true happiness comes
from forming deep connections, shared memories and from
reciprocation - the ability to both give and to receive. It is
about investing your time, energy and focus on those people who are
most important to you.
I'd like to share ten ways you could invest in your
relationships starting from today. Try just one or all ten, and I'm
certain that you will see healthy returns from your efforts.
1. Work out your priorities. Do you find
yourself spending time on the urgent at the expense of the
important? Psychologists reckon that we can only maintain 10-15
close relationships at any one time. Any more and we are in danger
of overloading. Why not decide which relationships are the most
important to you and make sure that they are getting the attention
they need? It may sound contrived, but booking in time in your
diary with your favourite people is the only way to make sure that
the days or weeks don't pass without you spending quality time
2. Increase your amount of 'face-to-face' time.
Next time you are tempted to email your work colleague at the next
desk or text your friend who lives around the corner, resolve to
talk to them in person. And when you do spend time with people,
give them your complete focus. That means switching off the phone,
turning off the computer or TV and being present in the moment with
3. Get emotionally naked. Deep connection with
others requires vulnerability. It means allowing someone to get to
know what is really going on inside of you - your hopes, dreams,
fears, feelings and desires. To do that you will need to find
people you can trust but it will also involve a certain amount of
risk on your part - the risk of being rejected, hurt or
misunderstood. If you want to be truly known and to truly know
others then that is a risk worth taking.
4. Practise being a good listener. When you
really listen to another person, you offer them a great gift. It
demonstrates that you want to understand them better. If someone
tells you something important, try to refrain from interrupting,
giving advice or bringing the topic back to 'you'.
5. Take responsibility for your actions. When
relationships go wrong, it can be tempting to blame the other
person and to focus on all the ways that they need to change. The
truth is you cannot make another person change, but you can alter
your own reactions and behaviour. It only takes one to change the
dynamic in a relationship.
6. Be prepared to say, 'I'm sorry' - and mean
it. It can be a hard to admit being wrong, but doing so
opens the door to healing in relationships and also gives them
7. Show appreciation. No ones likes to be taken
for granted and most people can't mind-read, so if you are thankful
that someone is in your life or for the things they have done for
you, tell them. Even better write them a proper letter so that they
can keep it and re-read it.
8. Take the initiative. Whatever change you
want to see in your relationships, start by taking the initiative.
If you want your partner to love you better, then show them love in
the way they would like to receive it. If you are single and want
to go on a date, ask someone out. If you are lonely, reach out to
someone else who also might be feeling lonely. In other words,
treat others, as you would like to be treated.
9. Let your 'no' be 'no' and your 'yes' be
'yes'. If you say, 'yes' to something - to helping out, to
keeping a confidence or to taking the rubbish out - keep your word.
And if you are someone who says 'yes' when you really mean 'no',
then don't give an answer under pressure. Tell the person that
you'll think about it and then get back to them. Too many
relationships suffer and too many people become stressed because
they cannot say 'no'.
10. Pick up the golden threads. Every day of
your life you have an opportunity to build connections with those
around you. Each time you help a friend, stop to play with a child,
smile at a stranger, celebrate in someone's success, overlook a
grievance, choose to love, make someone laugh, cheer someone up,
offer encouragement or extend yourself for the sake of another, you
pick up a golden thread. Each of those golden threads is woven into
the tapestry that is your life - a tapestry that will hopefully
bring you and those you love great happiness and joy.
Sarah Abell is a freelance writer, broadcaster and relationships
coach. She recently worked as the Agony Aunt for The Daily
Telegraph and is the author of Inside Out - how to have authentic
relationships with everyone in your life (Hodder and Stougton).
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