Five things you can do to improve your relationships now:
Updated: Jul 20, 2019
When individuals seek counseling, regardless of the particular struggle they are facing, there are almost always other people involved. Most of us don't live completely isolated from the world. We have relationships in our personal and professional lives that are directly or indirectly affected. Counseling can help with an objective point of view and tools that can help build communication and understanding between people. It takes time to break patterns of behavior that can develop over years, especially if these patterns develop as a result of past disappointment, but it's not necessary to wait years to make changes that will begin to improve relationships right away:
Learn to listen non-judgmentally. You cannot force another person to change but many people try to. The more you push the more they resist. You might even be able to compel the other person to change, for you, for someone else, or for a secondary gain (such avoiding a breakup) but the truth is, lasting change will only come from an internal transformation.
The renowned psychologist Carl Rogers founder of the "person centered approach" to understanding personality, proposed that all individuals have a concept of the person they should be, what he called the “ideal self”. Given the right environment they will grow toward that “ideal self”. In the wrong environment, that "ideal" is something that they see as continually out of reach.
When a individual doesn't feel valued by others they tend to devalue themselves as well. They can become defensive and resistant to change. That does not imply that they need others to approve of their behavior, but rather that others listen and try to understand their perspective.
Listening means giving the other person your full attention. Rogers believed that most people know what they need to change, but the truth often hurts, which is why they tend to push back when pressured. When someone feels valued as a person they are more likely to accept the possibility of change without being pressured.
Don’t spend the time another person is speaking formulating your response: Just try listening. If you’re thinking of what you’re going to say next, you’re not really listening. You may hear them talking but you are subconsciously dismissing their words. You might even assume that you know what they’re going to say next (mind reading), or go after their motivation (“why are you bringing this up now?).
Reacting in this way is essentially ignoring the message and attacking the messenger. Thus, healthy communication stops and the conversation becomes a battle of words, with each party defending themselves and attacking the other. At this point the whole point of the conversation may be lost. “What were we talking about actually?”
Listen fully. Allow the other person to communicate their point of view. Show that you get what they are saying by “reflecting”, restating what they said in your own words to show you were listening: “What you are saying that you feel unappreciated?”.
Not every statement requires a response. Don’t “one up” others with your similar or more terrible experience. Learn to be comfortable with silence. Silence gives power to a person’s words. It can encourage the other person to continue talking or go deeper. It implies that what they said matters. It can also give power to hurtful words when they are directed toward you. Silence can be more effective at showing someone their words hurt you than a verbal retort that hits back.
Speak using “I” statements. Statements prefaced by "You" tend to be confrontational and critical. For example, “You don't care about me” is more confrontational than
“It feels to me as if you don't care". The first accuses another of being an uncaring person. The second reflects ones own feelings. There is a difference. You statements tend to cause defensiveness. I statements are more effective at keeping lines of communication open.
Share power. This doesn’t require much explanation. A healthy relationship involves sharing power. People who continually demand their way usually end up in frequent unsuccessful relationships.