Simply put, we are relational beings. Countless studies show that what makes us human is our need to connect with others. If you’re looking to learn more about these studies, I recommend starting with the “belongingness hypothesis,” summarized superbly here. This study shows the human need to form close relationships by examining things like infant attachment, our reluctance to end relationships even in the face of abuse, and evolutionary patterns in human connectedness.
Relationships Lengthen Our Lives
Studies even show that we live longer when we are in close relationships. Human connectedness translates to more success in life, healthier choices, and happiness. I believe that among the many other benefits to relationships, having someone to validate and affirm us is one of the most important keys to happiness. I like to call these healthy, meaningful relationships packed with super powers my “life-giving relationships.”
Relationships Feed Our Brains
One of the emerging areas of research into relationships that is particularly fascinating is the relationship between the brain and connectedness. A book on this topic by Matthew Lieberman explains how the biggest predictor of a species’ brain size is its ability to connect. Life-giving relationships nurture our brain and then increase our ability to perform at higher levels of output. In other words: Connecting socially and healthfully with co-workers, friends, neighbors, spouses and family members helps our brains work better, making us better workers and leaders.
Don’t Ignore the Need to Connect
I’m not saying that finding those healthy, intimate, validating relationships is an easy task. I’ve written about the difficulties that relationships pose, and we all know how much work they require. Over time, we may become conditioned to ignore or dismiss our desires for meaningful relationships, especially when relationships start to require more effort to obtain and retain. Instead, we settle for what comes easy, even to the point of replacing meaningful relationships with ones that lack the essence of a life-giving relationship such as shared values, goals, aspirations, and respect.
The Elements of Life-Giving Relationships
It would be far too easy for me to list the reasons some relationships are easy, and why others don’t work out. We can all probably come up with numerous complaints against difficult or unhealthy relationships. But what are the elements that allow true life-giving relationships to flourish? Researchers have spent a lot of time surveying partners, and studying relationships to identify the keys to the healthiest connections. I’ve combined some of those observations with my own experiences to compile this list of traits for getting the most out of your relationships.
In life-giving relationships, both parties…
- Are able to let go of the past without letting it define their future. We often hear that the past defines the future. I am here to attest that it does not, or at least it does not have to. You can make different choices.
- Communicate authentically through practicing in a safe and accepting space that each person works on creating for the other.
- Release false assumptions or expectations about the other party.
- Create a space to have fun in the relationship.
- Accept who they are for what they are. Self care and love are powerful in allowing us to feel secure enough to risk and yet feel the safety of being secure.
- Create the space to freely and authentically love and forgive, as that is the foundation of the best relationships.
- Understand the day to day balance between giving and receiving love and care, even in the face of tight timelines and hectic schedules.
Here’s one example of how these traits can play out in a real-life relationship. One of my closest friends has a great way of keeping our relationship balanced, even when we only have 20 minutes to chat on the phone. He will say to me, “I know you have some things to share and so do I. Let’s start the stopwatch.” Then he’ll share for ten minutes, and I will go next. It’s a simple, mechanical way to acknowledge that we’re both important. It puts us both at ease that our part will be heard and allows us to fully listen, receive, and respond to the other. Imagine if we could balance this well intuitively (minus the stopwatch) in all of our relationships? What that would look like?
Can you relate to any part of the dialogue above? Are you in a truly beneficial relationship? Today you can choose to be different in the giving and receiving of authentic and loving relationships.