How to Build Healthy Relationships?

Have the courage to commit, communicate, understand, and allow imperfection.
Relationships are never easy and keeping them up takes effort, but we need them. Good relationships make us mentally stronger and happier, research shows. So what is a healthy relationship and how do we best nurture them?
People need each other to learn, grow, and thrive in life. We are profoundly social beings, and research shows that good relationships lead to less stress, more happiness, and a stronger sense of meaning. Some of us have experienced healthy relationships up close, and some us have not been as fortunate. No matter our previous experiences, we can all work on improving how we relate to others.

According to Jacqueline Levi, a psychologist at 29k, three important aspects that create a strong foundation for relationships are understanding our own and the other person's values and needs, communication and commitment. So, let's look at these three aspects to get a better understanding of how we can strengthen our relationships.
Values - knowing our values helps us approach our relationships with confidence.
Our values reflect how we want to be as humans and what is meaningful and vital to us in life. Once we pinpoint them, we can use them as a compass in our lives. Values can't be ticked off, goals on the other hand are specific and measurable steps we can take that stem from what we value in life. Therefore, knowing your values helps to set meaningful goals. For example, we might value being a caring or trustworthy person in our relationships or showing supportiveness in difficult situations.

"If you're trying to get a better understanding of your values, you may start by asking yourself "What kind of person do I wish to be". It can also be helpful to think about what you value in other people, as that might give you leads about what's important to you," says Jacqueline.

Once you've established your values, you can decide what you can do to be this kind of person. What actions can you take to be respectful, kind or loving, if that's what you value? Jacqueline recommends starting by listing different behaviors that you could do to align with your values. Could it be calling someone who's important to you once a day and giving them your full focus during that time even if it's just for ten minutes?

It's not easy knowing your values, and it often takes some courage. Sometimes you will have to make difficult decisions about who you don't want to spend time with to give more time to those you do wish to invest in. In these cases, it helps to approach yourself with curiosity. It's all about finding steps that move you in the right direction. And you don't have to take huge steps all the time.

"It requires some work in the process of getting to know yourself in relationships. Tune in and trust yourself. Sometimes, we don't set boundaries because we don't know what we want. But it's never too late to find out." - Jacqueline Levi
Communication is… creating a safe space together for sharing and expressing ourselves.
"Communication is at the heart of all healthy relationships," says Jacqueline. Good communication helps us navigate through life together and build trust and understanding between each other. Part of this is about communicating our boundaries in a respectful way to the other. Having healthy boundaries means respecting and valuing our own needs just as much as we value others' needs.

Building trust helps us feel safe to talk about what we want and need with the other person. When we are vulnerable to the other person, we create space for the other person to also be vulnerable, feel safe and trust us. It goes both ways, which is good to realise if you're hesitating over taking the first step towards the other person.
How do we build up the courage to be more open towards others?
It is good to be aware and to recognise that sometimes when we open up to others we won't be met the way we hoped and wished for. That can hurt, but it is a risk we must be willing to take if we want our relationships to deepen.

"We need to trust that the other person will meet us. Mutual trust builds when we take small steps. It's less risky not to be vulnerable in a relationship but then you're also missing out on chances to express yourself," says Jacqueline.
Jacqueline Levi's communication tips:
1. Be clear and explicit.
When you talk about your needs and how you wish for them to be met with the other person, don't assume they will intuitively understand. Instead of expecting the other person to be a mind reader, try to convey as much information as possible about how you are thinking and feeling.
2. Bridge communication gaps with care.
If you notice a mismatch between what you want and what the other person wants and needs, try bringing it up with the person in a calm and non-accusatory way. Try not to make assumptions about the other person because you never know what's going on in their life.
3. Validate the other person by communicating that we hear them and that their experience makes sense.
When someone else is sharing something that they find difficult with us, it helps them if we validate their experience by asking questions like "What do you need?" and "How can I help?". You can also say "This seems hard for you" or ask them "Can you tell me more on how that makes you feel?" Often there is no fixing needed, just asking those questions shows that you care.
Commitment is… choosing to stay through the ups and downs.
When two people are committed to one another, they both value the relationship as important. Commitment means that partners have actively chosen the relationship and invest in it with their time, energy, care and love - whether it's a friendship, a romantic or a family relationship. When hard times come, the stronger the commitment both sides make, the higher drive there will be to keep going and working on the relationship. "Ask yourself, why is this relationship significant to me? Am I committed to making this work?" says Jacqueline.

Having the awareness that no relationship is smooth sailing can help us set realistic expectations for what a good relationship is and what commitment looks like, says Jacqueline. It can also give us the courage and willingness to stick through and do our best to be present through both the good times and the rough patches. Jacqueline likens building relationships to going to the gym, is it always fun? Probably not, but just like dedicated training makes us healthy and builds our muscles, when you put in the work during times when it feels fun, easy and natural and even on the days you don't feel like it, the dedication builds the relationship in the long run. "All relationships go through ups and downs. What happens in life outside the relationship, like work stress, will also affect the relationship," says Jacqueline.
Think less and trust the process over time.
Remember, you don't have to evaluate your relationships daily. This may cause you to overthink and change your mind about someone based on what you feel at the moment. It's more helpful to reflect on your relationships over time.
About Jacqueline Levi
Over the past five years, Jacqueline Levi has run a popular Swedish psychology podcast called Psykologipodden. She's also worked within Swedish psychiatry helping people deal with depression and anxiety through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Depression, anxiety, and relationships are just a few topics she shares with the listeners of her podcast which has been downloaded over two million times.
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