Personal relationships take hard work. They don't just happen; they require attention. Couples seem to take center stage in February, but all relationships can benefit from a little extra attention.
People often think that being married for a long time, or having a life-long friend, means little effort and work goes into that relationship. But, meaningful relationships require continual attention. "Strong friendships" are important in our lives, and they are especially important in marriages. However, keeping a friendship going in a marriage -- or with another family member -- can sometimes be more difficult and take more time and attention than with a friend.
Sometimes people have to consciously practice how to communicate with another person with whom they want to build or maintain a good relationship. Listening is often more difficult than talking. It's important to let the other person know you are listening. Focus on that person by:
* Maintaining eye contact in a manner which is culturally appropriate for you;
* Leaning forward;
* Making non-verbal gestures like nodding your head; giving simple and positive responses; not interrupting even when you disagree or have something to share; and
* Showing positive expressions, such as reaching out and gently touching the other person on the arm in a non-invasive, comfortable and supportive way.
The second part to listening is making sure you understand the message correctly. Simply say to the other person, "Now, let me tell you what I heard you saying, and the feelings you seemed to be expressing. Am I correct?"
If not, the speaker can repeat the message with different words until the listener has correctly understood the message and the feelings attached to the message. This is not easy to do if you disagree with the message you heard. It takes patience and determination to hold your opinion until you reverse roles and have the opportunity to be heard.
Healthy relationships thrive in an atmosphere where each person feels comfortable in talking honestly and openly about important things. In this way, minor issues can be talked about before they become larger issues that can damage the relationship. Just as importantly, a satisfying relationship is about creating shared meaning and having a sense of connection to the other person. It is about spending time with the other person and honoring each other's hopes and dreams. Everyday ways of respectfully talking and interacting with each other make a difference, too.
William Doherty, from the University of Minnesota, emphasizes the importance of establishing rituals that connect family members to each other. It can be as simple as saying goodbye in a special way in the morning as family members go their separate ways or making time for each other to share the day's events after the evening meal. Likewise, friends can establish their own rituals that create a bonding and lasting relationship. Satisfying relationships help create unity among families, friends and communities.
To learn more about building or maintaining a satisfying relationship, go to the K-State Research and Extension website at www.ksre.ksu.edu and search for "People TALK" a publication by Extension Specialist, Charlotte Shoup Olsen.