How to build healthy personal relationships?

Even when there are no major stressors occurring in our intimate relationships, they are still susceptible to the little rough spots of everyday life. In addition, neglect can starve a good relationship into nothing. There is no way around the fact that we are not perfect in our relationships. No two (or more) people can live together in eternal bliss. Knowing how to build and maintain a healthy relationship is a key ingredient in successful transitions. Consider the following guidelines:

Quiet the ego

When we allow our ego to dictate what we want from relationships, we make issues all about our needs and neglect to see that the other person’s needs are equally important. We manipulate, coerce and browbeat others into meeting our needs. When ego rules, intelligent, rational thinking goes out the window.

In intimate relationships, the choices we make as individuals must be examined for their effects on those close to us. Ego, being a very strong force in the personality, can lead one down a destructive path if allowed to get out of control. Healthy relationships balance ego with empathy, my need and your need too. This then becomes a win-win proposition for everyone.

Identify expectations

If expectations are hidden, unspoken for whatever reason, the other person cannot know about them. Verbalising and clarifying all expectations allows the relationship to boom in the light of awareness. Withholding your expectations can only harm the relationship.

Unmet expectations are great sources of hurt and discord. Identifying our own expectations to the point of being able to verbalise them is more difficult than it may seem. However, uncovering and voicing these expectations allows people to stay in close relationships.

Learn from mistakes

When we ignore consequences and fail to learn from them, we make the same mistakes again and again. The cure for repeating past mistakes is growth. The steps to ongoing growth are:

  1. Recognise the patterns or similarities in situations that yield undesirable outcomes.
  2. Ask yourself what outcome or situation with loved ones you want to create.
  3. Backtrack to determine what behaviour of yours contributed to the negative outcome.
  4. Focus on the specific behaviour to establish a new pattern. New behaviours evoke new responses.

This process can be very enlightening. Tracking down negative reactions helps you learn from the past. It gives you the potential to learn and create positive responses that are more in line with your goals of maintaining a healthy relationship.

Practice empathy

Developing the skill of empathy means that we think of what it is like to walk in the shoes of others. We not only observe what the other might need or think, but we directly ask what those needs and thoughts are. By asking questions we can begin the process of negotiation that will lead to a balance between our needs being met and the other person’s needs being met.

Empathy, though, is more than negotiating in an intimate relationship. It is both allowing and resecting the other person’s feelings or viewpoints if they are different from yours.

Accept responsibility

If we are to be in a relationship with others, we must become responsible for our part in making it good. This is an opportunity for personal growth, learning how to balance your needs and helping them grow to a mature and healthy level. One person alone cannot be responsible for a relationship. Both (or all) parties must accept responsibility for developing and improving the closeness and empathy that are so much a part of intimacy.

Operate from “now” thinking

Many of the relationships that have problems are ones that have at their core unmet childhood needs or conflicts that are transferred into the grown-up world. These unresolved issues reside in our unconscious and cause us to do things that we might never do if we thought carefully.

If this occurs at a level outside our logical awareness, how then can we make good choices in our relationships? The answer lies in our ability to:

  • Behave in a “now” manner
  • Think rather than let our unconscious programming take over
  • Ask for help from rational adults around us

“Now” thinking is using our intelligence to direct us in our relationships. It means that we do not have to act on every feeling we have. We can, instead, think, “is this feeling coming from the ‘now’ me or is it welling up from the ‘then’ me?”. Taking time to ask that question will help free from the damage that can be done by making unconscious choices that could be bad for you.

Adapted from

McKee, S.L. and Walters, B.L., 2002. Transition management: A practical approach to personal and professional development. Prentice Hall.

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