When I was younger, I had this idyllic vision of what I thought adulthood looked like. And at the crux of that imaginative world was that the protagonist (a poised, confident and emotionally well-adjusted young woman) lived a life of thriving relationships. She had a group of girlfriends who never let her down and appeared at a whim, her family was this perfect beacon of unconditional love, and her partner? Well, he was obviously prince charming.
Fast forward 20+ years and that vision is a bit comical—I was clearly the kind of kid that hung onto every word during bedtime stories.
Childhood naivety aside, I was on to something. Harvard recently put out a study concluding that our relationships and connections are one of the biggest factors in our long-term happiness and health.
And now, as an adult, I’m trying to build a life as close to that imaginary world as possible. I realize that as incredible as it is to have a thriving career, to be financially well, or to be physically fit, I crave connection the most.
You know those intimate conversations that spill into the morning hours, those chance connections that turn out to be soul-deep, or those little moments of love between two people? That’s what makes life so beautiful.
So, when you couple that intention of better relationships with my obsession for reading and love for self-development, you end up with a few years of active learning on the topic of relationships and connections (with no finish line in sight).
Those who come from families in which healthy relationships were not only taught but led by example are lucky. They have the benefit of generational wisdom.
For the rest of us though, there’s no better time than now to start. We may not have had the teachings shared to us through familial units, but we can absolutely share it with another.
I’ll start. Here are some of the best resources I’ve come across to help harbour better relationships, both platonic and romantic.
How To Build Better (Lasting) Friendships
With some relationships, like the ones that span entirely at the water cooler, there’s really no need to transcend the realm of small talk — but bettering our relationships with our friends, families and peers has the power to better our everyday life.
The first thing I had to teach myself to better my relationship with friends and peers was how to listen. When I ditched the script in my mind and instead practised real listening – a combination of presence and acknowledgement – my relationships thrived. Conversations that would have otherwise been about mundane things flourished with meaning. Phone calls (which previously felt draining to receive) were met with enthusiasm.
The 5 levels of listening are: for the gist, to rebut, for logic, for emotion and for point of view. The intention is to always listen for point of view, which requires you to get curious about their worldview and to employ empathy.
And make no mistake, progress only ever comes from this fifth level, which I personally aspire to be able to operate from more and more frequently.
The next breakthrough I made with my relationships, specifically my friends, came after discovering Dr. Brene Brown’s work on the anatomy of trust.
Prior to discovering her work, I found that friendships were unpredictable. Sometimes they would work, other times they wouldn’t. I chalked it up to chance.
When I had to finally walk away from a friend after years of feeling uneasy, it wasn’t until after I read the work that I finally had the vocabulary to make sense of what didn’t work for me in that friendship.
Dr. Brene Brown coined the acronym B.R.A.V.I.N.G (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgement, Generosity) to explain the various pieces that go into building trust between two people.
Since I’ve become acquainted with the acronym I’ve become better at ending friendships that haven’t worked for me and building new ones that do.
How To Build Better Relationships In The Family
Family is one of those words that has a drastically different connotation depending on your experience. For some, family is anchored to feelings of comfort, safety, and love. For others, it’s anchored with a lack of those things.
Regardless of where you are on that scale, family is one of the most influential factors in shaping who we are as adults.
With that said, I’ve always loved the phrase, ‘even if the wound is not your fault, the healing is.’ I think it’s empowering. It’s a form of self-love.
As I began my path of self-development, one theme that continuously came up was to grow through healing. I couldn’t get ahead if I didn’t first acknowledge where I already was. With that in mind, I found it incredibly helpful to take the time to self-reflect on my familial relationships, not only the ones I shared with my family members, but also the ones they shared with one another.
From that reflection of the relationships that shaped me came massive breakthroughs. I learned of my attachment style and how that pattern, learned in childhood, perpetuated itself through my adult relationships.
I also gained clarity about the beliefs I held about myself and the world around me, ones that weren’t mine but were given to me by my family. This was by far the hardest self-work I ever took on, but it also continues to pay the most dividends in my life.
To do this work, I used books like, ‘Healing the Wounds of Childhood,’ as a guide. And afterwards, I used ‘Unconditional Forgiveness’ to transition from a place of self-growth to a place focused on bettering my relationships.
As a final note on family relationships, I will say this: not all relationships are meant to last, and sometimes your own evolution will end those relationships. When it’s a family relationship you’re ending, it’s especially hard. If you find that it needs to be done out of self-love, not everyone will understand or validate your feelings, but I want you to know that I do.
Better Romantic Relationships
Imagine my shock when I found that a side effect of a healthy, loving relationship triggered the greatest internal spiritual revolution I had ever known. And like all revolutions, this one was loud, messy, and demanding change.
See, what I didn’t know was that love is the greatest catalyst for change. Sure, it changes some cute things, like a glow in your skin, more giggling, and a bounce in your step, but it also brings to the surface some of your greatest areas of opportunity.
I was shaken to my core. That’s how I knew it was a good love. We both had to grow through it. We had to reconsider our upbringings, things we thought we knew to be true, our purpose, our goals, our personalities, our conflict management, and everything in between.
We didn’t settle. I’m not the settling type. I didn’t want to just meet in the middle. I wanted something epic. I wanted us both to commit to evolving and meet each other there.
So we focused inwards. Outside of meditating and journaling, we read. Books like Getting the Love you Want and The Argument-Free Marriage showed us different and better models of love than the ones we knew. Other books like 12 Rules for Life and Extreme Ownership motivated us to build better lives — apart and together.
And I think that’s been it for us. Just this desire to build an original relationship (rather than reverting to the script we know that’s based solely on the relationships we’ve been exposed to), and then the discipline to actively better ourselves independently to get there.
All of this to say, if there’s one thing that I know builds healthy relationships, it’s self-awareness. Sometimes your romantic relationship will inspire or provoke you to get there, but it is equally powerful to set the intention yourself and get to work. It will show in both of you separately and as a couple.
One day, I hope that through my own self-work, I’ll have the tools to actually have the incredible relationships I once imagined as a child with everyone in my life.
In the meantime, I’m holding on to my sporadic but beautiful moments of deep connection. I’ll be grateful for them and nurture them until one day I grow old with the joys of intimate, strong relationships all around me. I think that will be the greatest marker of a successful life. I wish the same for you, too.