Good relationships are the very foundation of our overall well-being as humans! But what is a good relationship? What’s needed for a relationship to really thrive?
Since I’m facilitating Circling Workshops – spaces of authentic communication and skillful intimate relating – I started to get a very clear idea of what makes a good relationship. One that is nurturing both parties involved and also challenges them to grow and evolve.
Of course, the answer to the question of a good relationship will on one level be very personal and individual. It all comes down to what you want.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of underlying dynamics that make for a good relationship. What these are, I’m going to outline in this article!
Don't believe what you are being told!
Relationships are the center of so much attention. There’s already so much being said about relationships and what they should or should not be like. Adding to that there are the mostly unconscious cultural assumptions about relationships, which give us a certain framework on the topic. This framework often goes unquestioned and you might find yourself living unfulfilling relationships that do not truly meet your needs and desires. All because you try to live the relationship that culture has invented for you!
So the most important thing for having a good relationship is knowing what makes a good relationship for you!
That might mean letting go of ideas and concepts and finding your needs and desires for a relationship.
Maybe a good relationship for you is a romantic, monogamous one. Or it’s a relationship that focuses mainly on the personal growth of both partners. Maybe your ideal relationship is a spiritual one. Or a very casual relating. Maybe you need a different style of relationship with every person you meet.
The idea that I’m trying to get across is: Do not try to fit yourself into the given ideas of ‘a good relationship’ or ‘the right way to relate’. Instead, start to adapt your relationships to what is healthy for you!
This is easier said than done! Through our upbringing and socialization, we often get hooked so deeply into these cultural values, that we cannot even recognize them later on. This is especially painful when these learned values are going against your nature.
So unlearning a lot of these expectations that come towards relationships from society is an important step towards a truly good relationship. A relationship that is truly fulfilling for you!
That’s exactly what I’m exploring with participants in my Circling Workshops. When you come to a Workshop or have a Private Session with me, you are going to realize how many deep-seated believes we all carry, that keep us from truly relating in our natural and individual way!
5 Attitudes, that make a good Relationship
1. Understanding / Active Listening
One of the core desires, we most often get fulfilled in a relationship, is to be understood. Being understood and accepted for who we are by a person that is important to us is a basic need for all humans.
Making understanding each other a priority in a relationship, will lead to a healthy way of dealing with, well, everything!
Instead of focusing on what you think is right or needed, trying to ‘get’ the world of your partner or friend, will not only give them the space to fully express themselves and feel seen but also give you the possibility to understand them even more deeply and see whole new facets of them. Which is fascinating and enlivening for both of you!
There are times when keeping this openness is harder. For example when you are in a fight. Or when you have a blind spot about something and cannot see the fallacy in your way of thinking or being.
At times like these, it’s even more important, that both of the partners are engaged in active listening / wanting to understand!
When your partner tries to understand you and questions your line of thinking or your behavior without making it wrong, you get the chance to understand yourself better!
Trust is something that can grow and deepen within a relationship!
Most of the time, when we enter into a relationship with somebody, there is already a certain level of trust present in our connection. Over time, when we show more and more of ourselves and get to know each other ever more deeply, trust also grows and deepens.
But sometimes, you also have to give an advance of trust and just assume that your partner has the best intentions in mind.
This might be when showing a part of yourself that you haven’t yet shown to anybody. Or when your partner is doing something you cannot yet understand.
Again, through listening to and wanting to understand each other, you will find the positive motivation for whatever the behavior was.
And of course, this doesn’t mean not setting very clear boundaries and not tolerating actions that violate them.
Trust can grow through challenges that are met together, but only if they are met together and not playing against each other.
3. Embracing Challenges and Conflict
Challenges and conflicts are the potentials for growth shown to you through the relationship. They are always an invitation to embrace a bigger picture of yourself and others.
When you can master the skill of not wanting to be right, but instead trying to find out what is true, you are already well advanced towards embracing conflict. Truth can be found among people when everybody is willing to represent themselves fully, while not holding any claim for being right.
When you can move through a difficulty together, your trust and commitment will only deepen.
Being honest and speaking the truth is very important for healthy relationships. On the one hand, because it deepens the trust between you and your partner. On the other hand, because speaking the truth in itself will align yourself deeply with what matters most for you.
Speaking the truth isn’t always easy and sometimes we need to become whistleblowers on ourselves and name what we are doing or what is happening within us even if it feels really uncomfortable!
5. Communication Skills
Being able to talk about what is going on in you, is a crucial skill for relationships!
This is one of the main things I train people in when I do workshops, and it’s truly amazing to see how much this affects the relationships between people!
Being able to name what is present for me – on a physical, emotional, and mental level – gives people around me the possibility to see the real me for a moment. Because we are all ever-evolving processes and not fixed personalities, the only way to experience one another is in the present moment and by witnessing what is alive and moving within each of us.
Being able to bring into contact what is alive in me and being present with this is a huge gift of inviting vulnerability, that tells everyone around you ‘You can let your guards down as well. You can just be who you are right now!’
You can train this skill by using the mindfulness exercises outline in this article: 3 Best Mindfulness Exercises for Groups and Couples
Understanding Projections and Self-Responsibility
When we talk about relationships and especially intimate relationships, we have to address the topic of projections and self-responsibility.
Projections can be many things and there are many definitions of the word out there. For this article, when I say projection I mean the perceiving of a quality in another, that you cannot perceive within yourself. When you’re projecting, you are either seeing a quality within another person, that you need very much for yourself, or that you do not like at all and do not want for yourself. Projecting is a way to externalize qualities you cannot or do not want to see and access within yourself.
Why is understanding this important for having a good relationship?
Because intimate relationships are the perfect substrate for our most intense projections. In intimate relationships we can get very trusting, letting our guards down, showing ourselves how we really are, and becoming very vulnerable with each other. This also opens the door for a lot of projections and the resulting co-dependency, if this dynamic isn’t understood.
So first off: Projections are happening anyways and it is not about trying not to project. That’s impossible. And it’s not the point I want to make.
What I want to point out is that because intimate relationship are such a perfect place for our projections, if we do understand that this is happening and are willing to look at these dynamics, intimate relationships can become a place of incredible growth and learning!
Intimate relationships will bring up all the places within ourselves, in which we do not feel good about ourselves. Either because something is missing or there’s something there we wouldn’t want to be there.
If both people involved in the relationship can observe their behavior, are willing to set healthy boundaries, and also mirror back to the other person what they are perceiving, the relationship can become a vessel for understanding and knowing ourselves ever more deeply.
Through this you are growing as individuals, taking more responsibility for yourself and becoming more free, because you are starting to reintegrate the qualities within yourself, that you have tried to get from outside.
This might also interest you: What is Personal Growth and Development?
But this is not all: Through this a Trust and a Love so deep and moving can grow between people, that it moves you ever closer to an unconditional embrace of everything that is! Embracing yourself, the other and the world fully, while still remaining a clearly defined individual.
Self-Responsibility is the ability to see where you are projecting something on another person, acknowledging the expectation towards them to either give you something you need or to be different, and to just stay with this experience consciously without acting it out on the person. And then taking the steps you need, to integrate this quality you are seeking or avoiding within yourself.
This is not easy! And most of the time it needs training to be able to do this!
But it is very possible to master this skill!
Embracing what IS, instead of what could be
One last thing that I want to share about this topic of relationships is the following:
I often noticed myself thinking along the line of: ‘Maybe if I had another partner, it wouldn’t be as hard or difficult. Maybe I should just let this relationship go and open myself again for someone else.’
While there are times, where the end of a relationship is the best thing that can happen for all parties involved, more often than not I believe this way of thinking about a relationship comes up when there are things held back and unnamed within the connection.
Whenever I took full responsibility for my own experience and brought these doubts into contact with a partner, I started to see how there’s something completely different underlying this impulse to get out of the relationship.
To speak in Circling Lingo: Whenever I was honoring my ‘commitment to connection’ and was ‘owning my experience’, I was able to see through this top layer and realize the deeper patterns underneath. Often I met deep grief when I was able to show up with these doubts in the relationship because an unmet need was coming to the surface through the connection with my partner. Unconsciously believing that this unmet need was impossible to be met, the impulse to flee the relationship formed, because I didn’t want to feel the feelings connected to this unmet need.
Naming the doubts and being met with curiosity and openness in them, always allowed me to see the underlying needs and desires and connected me even more strongly with myself and my partner.
It’s a completely different movement to allowing all of yourself to show up in a relationship and be present with whatever comes to the surface through the healing capacity of a connection of trust, instead of seeking fulfillment outside of you, always looking for the person that can meet all your needs.
Embracing what IS, will leave you with richer and deeper relationships than running after what could be, or how you imagine it should be!
Living good Relationships
The main takeaways from this article are:
There is no perfect formula for relationships, it’s YOU creating the best relationships for yourself!
At the same time there are certain attitudes that make a relationship better for everybody: Listening to- and understanding each other, communicating honestly and openly, trusting each other and embracing challenges and conflict.
And lastly; There is so much potential in relationships. Relationships are the ground upon which your experience of life builds! They are central to human experience and therefore making our relationships central in live is actually improving our wellbeing in all areas of life.
What do you think about relationships? What makes a relationship good for you? Do you have any thoughts, questions, opinions on the matter?
Share them in the comments!
I’d love to discuss this with you!