Relationship Skills

Most of my clients are either seeking to find a special love relationship or to improve the relationship that they are in. Relationship skills that are important for either seeking or improving a relationship are often learned in the family by watching our parents and how they treat each other. If we are fortunate enough to have parents in a strong marriage, then what we see and absorb will help us though we still must update some of it to work for our own generation. If our parents are single parents or are in unhappy relationships we either have a blank slate where the relationship modeling should be or we have an example that is the opposite of what we are seeking. Often the first step is to develop an idea of the skills we need to learn.

One possible source for this is the relationship research of Dr. John Gottman. He observed couples for 25 years and then noted the characteristics of happy and unhappy couples. His work has been published for the general public and is easily available in paperbacks. Knowing the skills we need is only the first step. The hardest part is learning to change old ways or develop the skills to begin with. This is the work …often uncomfortable and awkward at first…and without feedback hard to know if we have mastered it. If you are lucky enough to have a partner that you want to stay with, it would be best if both of you read the book and used the same theory. If you are still seeking a partner, you can practice these skills on close friendships and family relationships as they can apply to any intimate relationship.

Most of the skills have to do with how you talk to someone. If you have an issue with someone, learn how to bring it up “softly” rather than harshly. If you wait to bring up issues until you are furious and you use sarcasm and blame, this will be more difficult. You will not get a good response and are likely to get a defensive reaction, not a true listening and understanding. If you bring up issues based on your feelings and how you felt about something and are not acting in a superior manner in your presentation, you are likely to get a more positive response. It is hard to learn how to bring up things that are bothering you. Many people are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings.

There are different kinds of “hurt.” A negative type of hurt is done simply to punish someone or put them down..the useful kind of hurt is done to help the relationship, help someone become aware of themselves and helps them grow as a person. Try hard to practice what you want to say before you say it and imagine how you would feel if this were said to you. Then get your courage and arrange a special time to talk remembering that often the most feared words in a relationship are “we need to talk” and that sensitivities will be high. Assure your partner that you do not want to hurt them, you want to have a better relationship.

Then read Dr. Gottman again and again until it begins to feel more natural.