Rarely do we seek to understand and do better in our relationships, until we hit a hurdle, roadblock or experience a relational bomb blast like infidelity, work conflict or a marriage breakdown.
The problem is most of us don’t truly know what it takes or how to build a good relationship.
I’m not just talking about fuzzy warm relationships (although they are included), successful relationships come in all shapes, sizes and varieties; mentor-ships, sports team, acquaintances, family, workplace & customers or neighbours, and all successful relationships have common components.
If you Google ‘how to build a relationship’ you will find pages of; The 5 best ways to.., six ideas to…., top 10…, 20 questions to …, the fastest way to.. etc, But in essence they’re all general tips; accept and celebrate differences, listen effectively, communicate clearly, be kind etc.
We don’t need tips. We need to understand the basics and then we’d be in a better position to improve and excel.
BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL RELATIONSHIP 101
The essential ingredients for a relationship are: 2 humans, purpose, trust & emotion.
The simplest truth about how we build relationships is that we learn about each other through communication. I learn about you; you learn about me, and if there’s a match in our needs or desire to create or maintain ongoing connectedness a relationship is born.
Communication is the method through which we start, build, maintain and cease relationships with other people. Through communication we seek to find a match that will fulfill our relational wants and needs.
Perhaps it is this obvious and simple truth which lulls us into a false sense of ability i.e. If we can communicate, we can build successful relationships.
A successful relationship is a relational experience which satisfies both parties.
PART ONE — LAY THE FOUNDATION
To build a successful relationship we need to be cognizant of communication which establishes the 3 must-have foundational elements; purpose, trust & emotion.
Note: Step 1, 2 & 3 are not linear and do not happen in neat sequential order.
Human behavior and the environment impact how these 3 elements might occur. It may take years and many revisions, but they are critical.
1. Step 1 — Agreeing On Purpose
Every successful relationship must have agreement and clarity around what the purpose is and how the relationship will meet that purpose for each person e.g. What are my/your intentions for this relationship? What are our roles & responsibilities? How often will this relationship take place? Where will it take place? What are the boundaries and expectations? What is your commitment? What is my commitment?
A successful relationship must satisfy both parties, and we can only seek to meet these wants and needs if we understand what they are. The more certainty and agreement we can arrive at, the greater the potential for success.
Tip# You must have clarity and certainty around what your needs and wants are before you can communicate and find fit with others.
2. Step 2 — Establishing Trust
Trust is the ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.’ to uphold their role (established in Step 1) in the relationship. The sense of trust, allows us to have confidence in the other person, which in turn imbues us with confidence and commitment to uphold our role.
There are 2 main types of trust;
Affective trust — this is cognitive trust based on associations and cultural norms e.g. A person in a police uniform can be trusted to uphold their role to protect us from harm. The postman we trust to pick up and deliver our mail and our doctor we trust their advice to look after our health.
Emotional trust — the gut feeling of trust as sensed by our emotions.
Tip# We trust people like us.
3. Step 3 — Discovering Emotion Engagement
Emotion is an internal force that compels us to behave in a way to meet our needs and wants. Emotions and feelings are a physical and/or mental reaction to events that helps drive and guide our behaviour. In relationships a positive emotion creates a sense of the potential and/or desire for building or strengthening a connection e.g. appreciation, admiration, respect, empathy or fondness etc. etc.
Tip# We like people like us.
The more important the similarity, the stronger the emotional attachment. E.g. we both like food, but we wouldn’t emotionally bond over it unless we were passionate foodies.
Emotions have the potential to take relationships from good to great.
Important Note : Emotions are very powerful drivers of behaviour and have a significant impact on a relationship. It would not be uncommon for our emotions to overpower and dominate logical decisions regardless of the presence (or absence) of purpose or trust. E.e I don’t trust you, but I love you so let’s continue to be together OR I trust you to do your job, but I don’t like you so I’m not going to cooperate.
PART TWO — BUILD, MAINTAIN OR CEASE
Step 4 — Understand and find common spaces where each other’s wants and needs are met.
We are all guided by many internal and external factors that shape our feelings, views and actions. However there are 3 guiding principles that should remain true for every relationship.
1. Relationships are unique — every relationship is built, maintained and ceases for its own set of reasons unique to the 2 people involved e.g. a marriage based on passionate love vs an arranged marriage based on cultural values, a friendship based on shared interests vs convenience, a working relationship based on admiration vs respect etc.
2. Relationships are dynamic and ever changing — people and the environment are ever changing. The goal posts may change also. What got you from A to B, might not be what’s needed to get you from B to C. Communication is the key to keeping up to date with each other and checking in ‘Does this relationship continue to meet each others needs?’
3. Relationships are a negotiation of 2 equals — each party is entitled to seek to meet their own needs. Neither is right. The ‘right’ option is somewhere in the middle or wherever the 2 parties can agree it is.
Relationships will make you happy, and you deserve to be happy.
Relationships are everything. You owe it to yourself to understand them more deeply, so that you can reach the heights of successful, enriching and purposeful relational experiences.