Healthy relationships are a crucial ingredient for our thriving lifestyle. Developing or growing them, however, can be an increasing challenge in our culture that isolates individuals through technology. In fact, the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has tripled in recent decades.  Thus, it is valuable to discuss how we can take action to grow old and new relationships.
First of all, there is wisdom in whom we choose to build a relationship. It is important that we can walk together in life--share interests and values--as well as respect and trust that individual. If we start with this foundation in a friendship, it will have greater opportunity to grow in a healthy fashion. However, regardless of the foundation, people aren’t perfect. Even people with whom we have built trust and found that we share common values in life will disappoint and hurt us. Regardless, we have a responsibility to be a friend. So, whether you are in a season of building new relationships or growing and mending old, there are actions to take.
The principles of friendship transcend all relationships from those in marriage, siblings, father/daughter, and coworkers, to neighborhood chums. In order to have the type of friendship you desire, you have to be that type of friend. This is exciting! Not only does it empower us to be a catalyst for change, but it takes the focus off of our needs to bless someone else. This is, after all, the “Golden Rule” with which most of us are familiar, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Below is a list of specific elements we can practice in our relationships:
Take the Initiative--It can be easy to continue a lifestyle lacking in intimate friendships if we look to others to “take the first move”. Rather than waiting for someone to reach out to us, it’s important for us to reach out to them. Sometimes life is just busy and it’s easy to neglect our investment in others. Also, feelings of insecurity, rejection, or complacency can paralyze us from pursuing companionship. Those lifestyles and perceptions need to shift if we want healthy relationships. Additionally, by being the initiator, we can often establish the type of relationship we grow. For example, if I wait to be invited to things, it may not be something of interest to me. However, if I invite someone to participate in an activity that I enjoy--and they join--we may discover a new level of compatibility in our friendship.
Commitment--Whether it’s a covenant established through marriage or a friendship pact, commitment is so valuable! Also, commitment is not to simply be friends (or spouses, etc.), but to grow and develop that relationship. I have friends with whom I have committed a certain day of the week or month to always spend together. This protects our time together even when life gets busy, and also establishes a level of security and stability between us.
Practice the Art of Listening--Listening takes patience, active participation, and sometimes even self-denial to overly express yourself. When we listen well, we not only learn a great deal about another, but we express value for them and their feelings.
Communication--If a challenge or issue arises within a relationship, communication is the key to resolution. Don’t share or complain to someone else about the issue, go to the person with whom you have the issue. Also, when we express disagreement, hurt feelings, or frustrations it is important to not assume the other individual intentionally caused the offense. Most conflicts are the result of miscommunication, like “he meant one thing but she took it another.” When we talk through conflict while trusting the other’s intentions or love for us, we will learn about each other and the relationship will be strengthened.
These principles are much easier to read about than they are to execute. However, as their benefits far outweigh the cost, we will not regret implementing or refreshing them within our relationships. Next week, we will conclude the topic of relationships with a deeper look at conflict resolution, and how that impacts our health. Meanwhile, determine how you can better initiate, commit, listen, or communicate to build healthy relationships.