1. Be honest.
Any issues you avoid, or truths you don’t want to acknowledge, will likely undermine your relationship. It’s better to face the truth squarely in the face right now and address it, rather than let it sabotage your relationship in the long run.
For that reason, be intentional and figure out the truth about your relationship. Think through all aspects of it—your feelings and thoughts, the other person’s feelings and thoughts, as well as their external context. If you notice yourself flinching away from a certain aspect of reality, this is the time to double down your focus and really get at the truth.
2. Avoid "failing at their mind."
One of the biggest dangers in close relationships is assuming the other person is exactly the same as you in their feelings and thoughts — in other words, "failing at their mind." At times, our emotional self just doesn’t want to accept that the person we’re so close to is actually different from us—sometimes very different. I know I've made this mistake, and it has cost me dearly in the past. So how do we avoid it?
3. Use Tell Culture.
Tell Culture is a communication strategy where you are open and honest with close people in your life about your feelings, thoughts, and what’s going on with you. This makes you more vulnerable and authentic. Tell them information about yourself that you think they'd want to know.
For example, if you want a hug, tell the other person that you'd enjoy a hug. However, in order for Tell Culture to work, it’s really important for you not to expect the other person to hug you. Rather, you are simply responsible for telling them about your needs and desires,. They are then free to act as they choose, based on their own needs and desires.
4. Remove communication barriers.
For open and honest communication to work, you need to remove communication barriers. Figure out your individual communication preferences and then compromise on something that works well for both of you.
5. Practice emotional attunement.
As you communicate with each other, don’t listen only to what the other person is saying, but also to the emotions underneath the words. Notice whether the other person seems stressed, frazzled, sad, frustrated, confused, pleased, glad, joyful, etc.
Pay attention to the tone of the voice, body language, and what is not being said, as well as the content of the words. Such emotional attunement will level up your ability to understand the other person and respond in ways that lead to happy, long-lasting relationships.
6. Check in on your relationships.
This is a magic-bullet solution to so many relationship problems! Schedule systematic meetings to talk about the state of your relationship and what can be improved.
For example, my wife and I have a relationship check-in every two weeks. We first talk about what we appreciated most about each other during the last two weeks. Then, we discuss what can be improved in our relationship, and how to do so. Finally, we finish up with gratitude to each other for doing the relationship check-in and have some delicious chocolate to reward ourselves. This has done wonders for improving our relationship!
7. Trust others.
All of these strategies will help you build up trust, which is key to having happy, lasting relationships. Always keep a personal evaluation of your relationship's level of trust in the back of your mind. How much do you trust the other person to act in ways that match your mental model of that person? How much do you trust that person to have your back?
If you want an intentional relationship, then do things to build trust and gather information about the other person’s trustworthiness. Exhibit vulnerability and openness, share secrets, and be generous in your offers to compromise. If the other person shows themselves trustworthy, then commit more to the relationship. If they do not, then re-evaluate your own level of commitment, as the relationship likely will not work in the long term.
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