Humans are hardwired for connection, but with connection often comes miscommunication, conflict, and self-protection. It’s a part of being flawed humans with reactive emotions that we don’t always know exactly how to express. But relationships and affection are vital for our wellbeing -- did you know babies can actually die if they don’t receive affection?
It’s in our DNA to create deep bonds with other humans, and there are certain practices to incorporate into our daily lives that will improve these various relationships, whether it’s a close friendship, familial bond, or marriage. If you’ve noticed a relationship (or a few) in your life has been a little rocky or not at its best, try to implement these tips and tools to develop stronger and more sincere relationships.
1. Let go of self-sabotaging ideas that the need for relationships makes you weak.
We live in an age of independence and self-sufficiency, but we are each born with the innate need to connect with others. It’s okay to be self-reliant but also accept the desire for close connection and pursue healthy relationships. Learning to understand and embrace this human necessity isn’t something to be ashamed of -- in fact, it shows strength, vulnerability, and maturity to lean into relationships without walls or holding yourself back.
2. Don’t ignore the pain from a hurtful interaction with a loved one.
When we’re upset or angry, it comes from two deeper emotions: sadness and fear. We often feel the pangs of rejection or fear or abandonment when there’s a pain point in a relationship, and these feelings actually trigger the same response in our brains as physical pain. And what do you do when you’re physically hurt? You move away from what’s hurting you.
Don’t ignore hurt feelings or try to put them aside, or worse, lash out in anger and retaliation. This only drives a deeper wedge. Instead, try to focus on the emotion the painful situation is triggering, and express that to your loved one. The hurt feelings won’t go away on their own, and it’s most often better to work and talk through them with the other person.
3. Accept your own imperfections, as well as others’ downfalls because no one’s got it all together.
It can be easy to react in snap judgment and overt disappointment when someone we love messes up, but this can seriously damage our relationships. Instead, remember that you also make mistakes, and no one is one-hundred percent perfect. The most important attribute of healthy relationships is emotional connection. If you’re upset, take a beat and acknowledge your feelings, and then extend a little grace, because that’s more powerful and connective than knocking someone down or berating them for their slip-up.
4. Don’t simmer over a fight or disagreement -- get it all out there.
There’s something to be said about taking a moment in a disagreement to collect your thoughts, but you don’t want a fight to fester over time. Rather than leaving the argument in a huff or serving up the silent treatment, communicate that you need a break by saying something like, “I’m going to take 5 minutes to take a breath and collect my thoughts.” That allows the other person to know you’re not abandoning them, and you will have a chance to gain perspective and not react strictly on emotions or say something you don’t mean.
Fights happen in every single relationship. The key isn’t to avoid fighting altogether -- in fact, it’s better to get the disagreements out on the table rather than let a wall build because both parties aren’t willing to connect emotionally on a topic that might cause an argument. Distance is much more dangerous in relationships than working through a conflict.
5. Accept each other’s quirks, differences, and varying approaches.
Everyone’s different. Your friend or partner won’t always approach cleaning or conversations or parenting the same way you do, and that’s okay. When we stop trying to control other and instead embrace mercy, respect, and love for those we’re in relationship with, it creates a sense of stability and safety. Changing someone else’s behavior is a whole lot more difficult and combative than simply accepting that they do things differently than you.
If you don’t feel like your own actions are accepted in relationships, you have the right to ask the other person to treat you kindly and respect your boundaries and how you approach life. The ability to communicate this well comes from a place of self-respect and confidence from within. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself if you feel like someone else’s words or actions are coming from a place of trying to control you, but you do need to remain constant and come from a place of love and connection. You can’t fix controllingness with more controllingness.
6. Openly show your appreciation and affection for those you love.
We think we’re protecting ourselves when we hold our cards close to us and refuse vulnerability, but actually, it’s diminishing the connection in relationships. If you love someone, tell them often and in many ways. It’s not always stating the three words -- sometimes it’s by doing them an unasked favor, going out of your way to brighten their day, leaving a kind note, or simply giving them a hug.
I often hear people say, “I’m just not an emotional person,” which just isn’t true! As humans, we’re all filled with emotions... It’s just a matter of how willing you are to share those emotions of love, joy, and appreciation for others (as well as the less fun emotions when appropriate, too). It’s not always easy, but that’s why it’s a practice. With time, it’ll become more natural, and you’ll feel the immense benefits of expressing yourself to those you love.