Relationships are very special and unique to the people who are in them – and by working on our relationship skills, these relationships can flourish into beautiful partnerships that fulfill and excite us even further. By fostering some of our interpersonal skills and working on ourselves, the relationship we have with others, whether friendships, romantic relationships, or even relationships with family members, can grow stronger.
The idea of relationship skills might make you think of life hacks or pickup rules, when the truth is very different - relationship skills are actually simple guidelines for navigating love and intimacy. They’re parts of our inner lives that maybe we don’t necessarily think about on a regular basis and may be neglecting. They’re also methods of communication and expression as well as ways to check-in with ourselves, to make sure that we are in a healthy place.
By exploring and exercising our relationship skills, we can be intimate and true with our partners and with ourselves.
So now that we know the importance of these relationship skills – what are they?
One of the biggest foundations of developing strong relationship skills is communication. Communication isn’t just about what you talk about, it’s also about what you don’t talk about. Communication is about keeping an equal, loving channel open for people to share their thoughts and emotions with each other. By keeping that channel open, the relationship can grow strong and healthy.
Boundaries are essential to keeping a relationship going, and they’re dependent on a couple’s ability to maintain open communication with each other. Boundaries are not just a way to indicate what is off-limits in a relationship but also what your partner is really enthusiastic about. It’s like working with your partner to create a map that will show you the best way to have a wonderful relationship.
Respect is another one of the keystones that is essential to a strong and healthy relationship. It’s vital that you be in a relationship with someone who is someone whose principles you can respect, but it’s also important to remember that you owe respect to yourself. Respecting yourself is beyond words of affirmation, it’s also making sure that the choices you make are ones that help you thrive as a person.
Honesty is an integral part of any healthy relationship. By being honest with our partners, we cut down on misunderstandings and assumptions and deepen our intimacy. Being honest with our emotions can be scary, but if we avoid it then we miss out on not only our relationship growing but also our own self-development.
Empathy is the binding force that keeps human groups together, it’s what allows us to put ourselves in others’ shoes and make relationships work. Without empathy, we can never really be on the same team as our partner. Empathy is a skill like any other, and the only way to open yourself up to empathy is to learn to respect other people’s voices and stories.
A relationship without trust is a relationship that can’t feel comfortable or safe. Trust is a skill that requires you to not only maintain honesty and openness but also have faith in your partner — if they’ve given you no reasons to doubt them. Sometimes it can seem really difficult to find the balance between trusting your partner and still keeping eyes open for any relationship problems. Just remember that the lessons you’ve learned in the past are a tool for building your future, not a condemnation for all your future relationships.
As important as it is for anyone to open up about their thoughts and feelings, it is equally important that someone be listening to them. Active listening is when you’re not just letting the words wash over you, but instead focusing on what someone is saying – you’re giving them body language that encourages them to keep talking, you’re asking them questions, you’re making sure that you understand in an open and nonjudgmental way. Active listening is how we tell our partner that we think their words are important because we think they are important.
Sometimes when we think of an ideal relationship, we think that there must be no fights – in reality, no matter what, there are always going to be disagreements between you and the other person, but it doesn’t necessarily have to become a fight. A disagreement or conflict can be an opportunity for people to address anything in the relationship that can be improved. The most important step is that both parties take ownership of their actions and listen to what the other is saying.
Compromising is when you are able to meet your partner in the middle when you are having a disagreement. Compromise often gets a bad reputation – that it’s something to avoid, but actually, compromise is not only a good thing, it’s necessary. A healthy relationship takes care of the needs of each partner. The important thing is to make sure that where you’re making compromises doesn’t include your principles, your well-being, and your safety.
Intimacy is truly achieved when partners can be vulnerable with each other. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with a partner can be very rewarding, one of the ultimate signs that you both really are on the same team and are going to be there for each other. Keep in mind that vulnerability is something that can only happen if you are in a relationship that is primed with proven trust and mutual respect. And while opening yourself up emotionally can be scary, just remember that vulnerability is something to wade into slowly over time, with intention, and respect for your needs.
To have emotional intelligence is to understand what your emotions are, why you are feeling them, and how to manage their effect on your actions. It’s easy to see why this would be so important in any relationship, especially an intimate one. Emotional intelligence lets us control how we react to things and helps us treat others with respect even if you are having a disagreement. It also lets us check in with ourselves, to make sure that we are truly happy wherever we are.
Your ideal relationship is going to be one where partners can rely on each other and stay by each other’s side, but what you don’t want is a relationship that is stifled with co-dependence. By maintaining independence through spending time apart and keeping up with different interests, it relieves you and your partner from a lot of pressure. It can also enrich your life with experiences and friendships that you will appreciate.
These relationship skills are not simply things that someone is born with or without. Like any other skill, they’re areas that anyone can work on in order to achieve healthier and stronger relationships. Here are some tips that can help you if you’re interested in building up some of these skills:
Paying attention to the people in our lives starts with listening. By dedicating time and space to them, by practicing active listening and truly hearing them (rather than thinking about what we are about to say next), we can gain a great deal of insight into someone else’s life. But paying attention to others can go beyond these conversations – it can mean remembering what’s going on with your partner’s life, checking in when you haven’t heard about something in a while. By taking the time to truly see how your partner is doing, it can not only improve intimacy and trust but also clue you in to any potential weak spots in your partnership.
Paying attention to yourself is also very important in any type of relationship. It can seem easy to push down or ignore our emotions, but by exploring what we are feeling, we can also find out why we are feeling it, and whether it’s affecting our actions in ways that we haven’t been noticing. It can also let us know if something that happened in our past is still haunting us, or if there are patterns in our behavior that we want to change. Anyone can grow in self-awareness, but the first step is always going to be to pay attention to what you are feeling.
It’s also important to pay attention to how we’re presenting ourselves – does our body language line up with how we’re feeling? Do we express ourselves fully or do we hold back certain thoughts and emotions? The signals that we give the outside world is a really big part of our ability to communicate, and it’s always a good idea to check in with ourselves and our behavior.
When we are paying attention to our partner and to ourselves, we can use our empathy as a way to bridge the gap. It can help us avoid potential issues springing up by keeping our partner’s emotions in mind. It’s easy to get swept up in our own feelings, but when we feel an instinct telling us that our partner may be feeling some way, it likely comes from an understanding of the emotions of our partner. Empathy isn’t going to tell us what’s on our partner’s mind or what exactly our partner wants, but it can help us tune-in to our partner, we can communicate from a place that builds trust and understanding.
As important as it is to take your partner’s feelings into account, it is also important to remember that they are the ultimate authority on their own mind and emotions. This is why it’s so important that the channels of communication remain open. When we assume what our partner is thinking or feeling, we end up leaving them behind rather than working together as a team. This is especially true if you are having a disagreement, where it might be tempting to assume what your partner is thinking or feeling about the topic at hand.
Improving any relationship skills is going to require that people within the relationship take ownership of their actions and words. This can include cases where the actions or words were harmful, to either the partner or the relationship, as well as any actions that benefitted the relationship. Only by taking responsibility can we take an honest look at what we do and the results of those actions.
Especially when having an argument, it can be easy to get caught in the moment and lose sight of what you want. Ultimately your goal is to have a strong relationship with the person you love – that’s the reward for improving these relationship skills. If it’s feasible, try to have some part of your routine, whether it’s when you go to sleep or have dinner or go on a walk, line up with your partner’s schedule, as a regular affirmation that you two are in this together.
Changing any habits or adjusting your way of thinking in order to improve your relationship skills is always going to take time, not just that in terms that it won’t be short-term but also that you must set aside time for it. Whether it’s to have a check-in conversation with your partner, or going to see a mental health professional, or even meditating on your life and your choices, it’s going to require time and intention.
Best of luck to anyone who sets out to improve any of their relationship skills, whether it’s for a present partnership or to become a better partner overall. Remember that it’s perfectly human to have setbacks and struggles when it comes to any personal change, but if you have the determination and the patience, your relationship skills will improve.