People who know me may think the title of this post is a little funny, seeing as I’m not married. However, I would say the rest of my relationships are all pretty solid. And, as I have grown, I have learned a lot about how to strengthen relationships. I have talked about this with a few close friends and have really dialed in a few points I think are helpful to consider.
1. All people seek first to be understood. This is a KEY point to remember. No matter what, no matter who, all people want to be understood. This is why the skill of listening is in such high demand. Honestly, if you look at counseling, one of the most utilized techniques is “reframing”, where I listen to what you say and then say something like, “So what I hear you saying is…” And, people get excited because they feel like they are really being understood. Now, this is not just a counseling technique. I’m not saying you should start dropping that line on your loved ones, but that is a good way to think when you are listening. This is called active listening. Your only agenda when you’re listening to people should be to understand what they are saying. Sometimes, this understanding has nothing to do with the words that are coming out of their mouths. You must take into account everything that they are communicating and seek first to understand.
2. Add value to relationships. I keep wanting to say, “This is the most important point.” But, then I get to the next one and I’m like, “Wait, no, this is the most important.” Maybe they all are the most important. This one is huge though. Darren Hardy, in The Compound Effect, stated that in all relationships we should be 100/0. This means that we should give 100%, with 0% expectations of anything in return. This is REALLY difficult. The only way it will work, is if both people in the relationship are working to be 100/0. However, the goal to work toward is adding value in all your relationships without expecting anything in return. Now, will good things happen in your relationships if you do this? Yes, of course. People are going to be more willing to help you and want you to succeed if they know you feel the same way about them. And, this is just a better way to live. I am learning that I should try every day to make things better not just for myself, but for the people I care about too. Am I perfect? No way! I screw up all the time, but that doesn’t really matter if I’m making a sincere effort.
3. Make emotional deposits. This point is going to seem a bit odd. And, you have to understand the intent, more so than the actual analogy. But, with all of your close relationships, you should see it as a bank account. If you make regular deposits, when you make a withdrawal, what happens? Nothing, and in this case that’s a good thing. Because, if we do the opposite, and don’t make any deposits, what happens when we make withdrawals? Yikes! Relationships are the same way. Ladies stand up! You’re going to love me after this point, because I’m basically trying to tell all the fellas how to better understand you. You can thank me later. If we are seeking to make regular deposits into the emotional accounts of those people closest to us, then when we make an occasional withdrawal it’s not a big deal.
How do we accomplish this? Make a list. Write down 5 ways that you communicate that you care about the other person. Now, this isn’t what YOU think makes them feel important to you. This is what THEY think makes them important to you. If you don’t know, ask. The other person shouldn’t be offended or freaked out, they should be thankful you’re asking. If not, then maybe you’re expecting more out of the relationship than they are. But, keep that list handy and refer to it regularly. This is a good way to track your deposits. Now, are you making deposits so that when you screw up, it’s not as bad? I guess you could look at it like that, but I prefer to see it as a way to be showing these people how important they are to me. If you look at the list and realize you haven’t done any of those things in a while, get to work. Again, this is a personal deal for each individual. For example, some people I know like handwritten notes. To others, that would have very little value. So, if I’m writing a handwritten note to someone that doesn’t perceive value out of that, I’m not really making a deposit, even though it may seem that way to me. If we continue on our bank account analogy, it’s like depositing pesos in an American account. It’s just not going to work.
Here’s the beauty of this system. Let’s say you have been faithfully making deposits. These other important people in your life realize you care about them and feel important to you because of the work you’ve been doing. And then, you forget a birthday, or miss a meeting, or don’t acknowledge a new haircut. Those withdrawals are not the major situation they could have become because the account is full. My experience has been that if that emotional bank account is full, withdrawals have a much smaller impact. This is a healthy way to communicate. Constant tension and arguing in relationships is not good for anyone. Try this out and see what you think.
4. Keep a gratitude journal. This seems like a concept that is a little out there. Honestly, it sounds a lot more sophisticated than it really is. I have only been doing it for a few weeks, but it’s been huge. Basically, I just keep my journal by my bed, and when I wake up in the morning, I just think of the first two things that I’m thankful for and then I write them down. I also write down what I appreciate about them. If it is a person, I make sure to text them later that day and tell them what I wrote. I figured, if I’m thankful for them, why wouldn’t I let them know. The results have all been positive, but you can tell for some people it’s a real deposit, and for others it’s not. Either way, it’s just a good way for me to remember how lucky I am to have amazing people around me, and to communicate how important that is to me. I wrote a post for a similar idea here.