Experts Say These Are the Relationship Skills You Should Never Stop Working On
If you thought navigating dating apps was all the work dating and relationships take, do we have news for you... Relationships take patience and work to maintain, so having a toolbox of relationship skills is crucial in strengthening your bond for the long haul.
Time, effort and commitment are all required for partnerships to flourish. And, once they do, factors like complacency and everyday stressors can make sustaining and deepening your love tough. But, hey, we promise it's worth it! To invest in your partnership, there are a few fundamental relationship skills that, according to experts, are necessary for success.
Practice these key relationship skills below so you're better equipped to build a healthy, long-lasting love.
Meet the Experts:
- Shan Boodram is a certified sexologist, host of the new Roku Original reality TV series The Marriage Pact, and author of The Game of Desire.
- Dr. Judy is a clinical psychologist, relationship therapist and the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dating and The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Healthy Relationship.
- Minaa B., MSW, LMSW, is an eHarmony relationship expert and licensed therapist-turned wellness coach.
8 Relationship Skills to Master
"Just like any other skill, you need to practice and work on your relationship skills to maintain a healthy, happy partnership," Minaa B. explains. By putting in the time, you'll build a foundation of intimacy and trust to help you navigate the ups and downs that are inevitable in any relationship.
In this article:
1. Empathy and Compassion
According to Boodram, "Sympathy is feeling for someone, empathy is feeling with someone and compassion is taking action to support the person." It's these last two that are especially vital in creating a space of trust and understanding within your relationship.
Dr. Judy further emphasizes the importance of empathy, noting, "If you're in a relationship, your strength as a unit depends on your ability to pull your partner up when they're down and vice versa... Too many people are wrapped up in their own perspective and aren't able to truly understand and appreciate their partner's."
How to Strengthen Empathy and Compassion:
The next time your partner begins to vent, slow down and listen carefully. Then, instead of thinking about your to-do list or how their challenge might impact you, imagine how they're feeling. Ask yourself what you'd want them to say and do for you if the roles were reversed. Finally, take that very action.
To help your partner build these skills, ask them to predict how you'll feel about a specific scenario, suggests Dr. Judy. This will nudge them to consider your perspective more often.
2. Active Listening
Listening intently when your partner is speaking shows you're interested in them and what they have to say, explains Minaa B. It's a sign of engagement and respect. Plus, to best support them and respond to their needs, you need to be aware of their true thoughts and feelings.
How to Strengthen Active Listening:
When your partner confides in you, put down your phone, be still and make eye contact. Focus entirely on what they're saying—without interrupting. "Be patient and quiet instead of trying to prove your point," Dr. Judy urges.
After they've finished speaking, repeat the gist of what they've expressed, asking if you've understood them correctly. Then, give them a chance to respond. If they correct you, try not to become defensive. Instead, aim to remain open and curious. Afterwards, it's your turn to voice your feelings. When you do, use "I" rather than "you" statements to avoid blaming or criticizing your partner, adds Minaa B.
3. Emotional Regulation
Managing emotions is critical, emphasizes Boodram. "Just because you feel it doesn't mean you have to emote it." Putting a buffer between what you feel in the moment and what you do next can reduce conflict and promote self-discipline, she explains.
How to Strengthen Emotional Regulation:
The next time you experience an emotion, sit with it. Try to identify what you're feeling, then pause and take a few deep breaths. Once you've calmed down a bit, reflect on whether you should share these thoughts with your partner. You might decide doing so could hurt them.
Respect your partner and try to avoid hurting their feelings, counsels Dr. Judy. To understand kindness, consider abuse—which is its dangerous, criminal opposite, she explains. "Less than abusive is mean, and less than mean is being critical constantly."
How to Strengthen Kindness:
Becoming kinder starts with assessing where you fall on the continuum, says Dr. Judy. Usually, how you act stems from how you were treated as a child. If the wounds from your past are deep, consider working with a therapist to process them. Then, try to become more aware of your behavior. Since it can be difficult to judge ourselves objectively, ask your partner to tell you when you're being less than kind.
Basically, "if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours," explains Boodram. By practicing generosity, you'll both feel cared about and supported by one other.
How to Strengthen Mutuality:
If your partner is generous with you, treat them in a similar way, coaches Dr. Judy. Each time they do something for you, immediately pause and contemplate what you can do for them. Over time, generosity should become second nature.
6. Conflict Resolution
How to Strengthen Conflict Resolution:
Approach conflicts from a problem-solving mindset, suggests Minaa B. Listen to your partner's perspective and work together to find a mutually acceptable solution. In the process, avoid using negative communication styles, such as stonewalling, blaming or criticizing.
Nobody is always right and there are two sides to every story, says Dr, Judy. Always hear each other out and then come to an agreement. Remember that compromise involves balancing each other's needs.
How to Strengthen Compromise:
Try the compassionate-assertiveness approach: a conversational style emphasizing that both of your needs are important. Begin with active listening. After your partner has spoken and you've repeated back what you've heard, voice your desires. While you do so, aim for compassion and keep in mind what your partner just expressed.
Appreciating your partner's strengths is particularly important in trying moments, like when they forgot to walk the dog (for the tenth time). Show them how much you value them, counsels Minaa B. Not only will doing so boost their happiness; it will also increase their security in your relationship.
How to Strengthen Gratitude:
Start a daily gratitude practice by contemplating and recording aspects of your life that you appreciate—such as your partner's masterful omelets. Then, express positive feelings towards them regularly, suggests Minaa B. "This can be through small gestures like saying 'thank you,' or bigger gestures, like planning a special date."