5 steps to a better relationship

Five easy tips to improving your relationships, by Anamaya psychotherapist Veronica Preteltand and life coach Suncica Getter


5 steps to a better relationship

Express your gratitude

A great way to strengthen the bond with your partner, family member or friend is to express gratitude – and we are not talking about an exercise of politeness, where you say 'thank you' for something someone has done for you, or something that has been given to you. True gratitude lies on the heartfelt recognition of your appreciation for the other. It is when you can say to the other person how grateful you are for the things they do for you.

When you express gratitude and appreciation, you are conveying that you are not taking them for granted. You are recognising the ways in which they positively contribute to your wellbeing and happiness. Think about it as a platform to highlight the other person's qualities.

Implement a 5:1 ratio of positive vs negative interactions.

Researcher John Gottman tells us that for a relationship to flourish and better navigate the waters of life, we need to increase positive contributions so that we have a 5:1 ratio of positive versus negative interactions. This means that for every negative interaction you have with your partner, family member or friend, you need another five positive ones to help your relationship flourish. When you infuse your relationship with positivity, you make it more resilient to life’s challenges. So start thinking of small things you can do to infuse your relationship with a positivity boost.

Use empathy as a way to connect.

Empathy is when we are able to shift our perspective in order to adopt that of another so that we can see and experience the world like they do; empathy is the engine that fuels the bond in our relationships. It allows us to put ourselves in the other person's shoes so that we can feel more connected to them.

Think about one thing you could do for them to convey that you understand what life is like for them. How do you think this will make them feel? What difference will it make in their life? Put your empathy into action, and through an act of love, let them know that you understand what things are like for them.

Let go of assumptions.

We all walk into our relationships with numerous assumptions about life, children, money, home etc, that we often take for the only truth, and forget to check with the other person if we share the same view. A lot of conflicts between couples and friends are the consequence of unspoken assumptions that clash. One of the key points to creating an easy flowing relationship is to have open, honest conversations about all the beliefs, assumptions and expectations that each of you is bringing into the relationship, then to choose together which ones you let go, which ones you want to keep and which new ones you want to create.

The beauty of a relationship is that each one is a whole new universe, and together with your friend or partner, you get to shape it. Spend time understanding yourself, your partner or friend and how you want your relationship to be.

Have skilful conflicts.

The quality of our conflicts is very important for the quality of our relationships. Successful, fulfilling relationships are not those where people have no conflicts or avoid them, but those where conflicts are navigated in a skilful manner, so that relationships are stronger for them. Remember that behind every complaint there is a request, so communicate the request rather than the complaint.

For example, instead of saying: “You are always late”, say “Can we please leave at 7:30 tonight? It would mean a lot to me.” Sprinkle your conflicts with humour – couples that do that have longer-lasting and more fulfilling relationships. And finally, be willing to listen. Take the time to hear what the other person is saying.

Photograph: Corbis

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