Blog Short #117: 2 Things That Help Relationships Flourish
Photo by franckreporter, Courtesy of iStock Photo
Many things nurture relationships, but two stand out. These are appreciation and interest. Regardless of the type of relationship or level of intimacy, these two things, when done right, create ongoing positive regard, deepen connections, and maintain the desire to keep going.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to take our close relationships for granted over time. We have this built-in tendency, or maybe even an unconscious belief, that our relationships should grow and flourish in the background while other undertakings such as work, managing our homes, parenting, and social activities get our dedicated time and attention.
When we do pay attention, it’s often because something has gone wrong, and then we have a lot to say, most of which is negative.
Problem-solving is good and necessary for building a relationship, but nourishing it is just as important, if not more.
Today, I’d like to give you some strategies for showing appreciation and interest to help your relationships flourish and grow, especially your close ones.
1. Focus on behavior instead of personal characterizations.
When you verbalize appreciation for something, focus on the specific behavior. For example, I might say to my partner,
“I really appreciated the way you listened to me rant about my experience at the car dealer today,”
as opposed to
“You’re such a good listener.”
Why? Doesn’t telling someone they’re a good listener feel good to that person? It probably does. But it also sets a bar that has to be maintained. If you’re a “good listener,” you must live up to that title and always be a “good listener.”
Whereas if you helped someone because you listened intently and empathetically to them, you could draw your own conclusions about being a good listener without feeling like you now have a bar set you always need to reach.
It’s a subtle difference, but it keeps the appreciation from becoming a regular expectation. It’s easier for the person to repeat that behavior of their own accord.
2. Use this 3-pronged format when expressing verbal appreciation.
- Describe the behavior
- Described how it’s helped you
- Verbalize gratitude
Going to our example above, here’s a complete expression of it using this format:
“I really appreciated the way you listened to me rant about my experience at the car dealer today. I felt so taken advantage of and dismissed while talking to the mechanic, but you validated that I was sizing up the situation correctly, and I feel relieved. Your insights and empathy were helpful, and I know better what to do next time. Thank you!”
You can see the difference between a statement like this and a simple one like “Thanks for listening!” The first statement feels much more appreciative and leaves the other person feeling good about being able to assist because you’ve outlined what that assistance was.
3. Always acknowledge the other person with warmth and sincere pleasure when you see them.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get complacent with partners or our kids or people we see all the time.
Your spouse comes home from work after you, and you’re already absorbed in evening activities. When he walks in the door, you keep doing what you’re doing and maybe give him a “Hi” or “Hello,” but your acknowledgment has no real emotional connection attached to it.
If you’re close and the relationship is in good shape, maybe you don’t feel it’s necessary. However, all relationships need consistent nurturing to thrive.
If you saw a friend in the grocery store, you would likely be much more demonstrative and happy to see them because you don’t see them all the time.
With partners and people you spend a lot of time and live with, make an effort to emotionally connect when you see each other. Look up, make eye contact, and show interest. Ask how they are and take a moment to give your full attention to their responses.
Warm acknowledgment is an expression of appreciation for both the person and the relationship.
If you find this difficult to do because the relationship is not doing well or is rocky, don’t ignore the problems, but try anyway because it can positively impact your ability to resolve the issues that need work.
4. Offer help when asked or needed.
Offering help willingly and cheerfully is a back-handed form of appreciation. It’s basically an expression of “I’ve got your back,” which means “I care. I’m there for you. I want to ease your way.” All of those intentions are felt when you help someone.
To successfully do this, several things are required:
- Your attitude should be one of openness, willingness, patience, and calm.
- There should be no strings attached to the help.
- The motivation should be to provide relief and ease for the other person by helping them with what they need.
- If, for some reason, you’re being asked too often and too much for something, then say what you can and can’t do and proceed with what you can do with the same attitude I’ve described.
You don’t want to be taken advantage of, but you also don’t want to withhold your help because you’re afraid of being taken advantage of.
Just be straight up and dive in with what you can do with a caring attitude.
5. Balance the scale on the good side.
Do your best to verbalize appreciation more than focusing on problems. Dealing with issues is totally necessary. You should never let that go because they snowball over time. But making sure you notice what’s going right, at least as much, will keep the relationship moving in a positive direction.
That doesn’t mean you should stay in a toxic relationship. That’s not what expressing appreciation is intended to encourage or support.
It works in relationships with a basic foundation to build from, and it can have some healing effects on a relationship that’s been neglected and distance has crept in, or negative feelings have taken up residence.
Try expressing more appreciation with sincerity and see what happens.
Keep these three things in mind.
When expressing appreciation of any kind, these three things are essential.
- Be authentic. Make sure that everything you say is true and something you value. Don’t come up with things that don’t mean something to you.
- Give appreciation fully and without any ulterior motive. Showing appreciation should not be part of a bartering system. You can reinforce behavior you value by commenting on it, but only if what you say is true and something you would say regardless of the situation. Being appreciative only to get something you want is manipulation. Doing it to enhance a relationship is not manipulation because you have real positive regard for the other person. It’s a fine line, but an important one.
- Don’t fake it. Saying something just to make someone feel better isn’t helpful. You might have good intentions, but people can usually tell when someone’s not genuine. Stick to what’s accurate and true.
One Last Great Thing
Verbalizing appreciation works in all kinds of relationships, whether intimate or casual. It also has a transformative effect on you. The more you do it, the better you feel and appreciate yourself.
That’s all for today!
Have a great week!
All my best,