Sometimes when the world bombards us with difficult news, we may wonder how we’ll ever cope. How can we help each other when everyone around us may be stressed out too? By learning what others are going through, we may find we’re not alone. Building connection is one of the best relationship skills to help ourselves and each other.
Here are 3 relationship skills that help us find strength by helping each other. They can help you build more comforting, meaningful connections in your life.
- Kindness and compassion
A basic definition of attachment is a deep emotional connection with another person for protection and comfort. It’s a sense of support and presence that can exist across space and time.
Research on attachment styles explains a lot about how people deal with relationships the way they do.
We know that parent-child relationships have a huge impact on how we learn to relate.
Infants naturally seek someone to attach to for safety and soothing. So do adults.
That first bond shapes our relationship skills and expectations. We learn we can either 1) feel secure, 2) avoid closeness, 3) reject emotional needs, or 4) expect chaos. The path we take most often becomes our attachment style; secure, avoidant, rejecting or disorganized.
It turns out that only about 60% of children grow up with strong emotional bonds, says a Princeton University report of attachment research. The other 40% had poorly attuned, less responsive care. These children often learn to avoid feeling emotions — especially the painful ones. They may also struggle with emotional needs in relationships as adults.
Most Adults Stick With Their Childhood Style of Attachment
Children who find warmth and comfort through attachment can more readily form warmer, responsive relationships as adults.
These children can become well-attached partners who “tune in” to each other emotionally. As lovers and parents they seek to know and soothe a loved one’s distress in caring ways.
Other children learn they can’t depend on an important person to feel safe, accepted, and cared for. As adults, they may prefer to avoid their own emotions, tune out a partner’s needs for comfort, or seek relationships like the one they knew growing up.
It’s not your fault if you haven’t learned about different ways to relate yet. Some people who learned to avoid emotions as children may not seem at all concerned about it as adults. But others might want to try new ways to connect.
If you experience difficult relationships, at home or at work, you might want to learn about other attachment styles. If you’re open to exploring your emotions, secure attachment is learnable, and there are so many wonderful things to learn.
Do you know your partner’s favorite source of comfort? Do you know your loved one’s greatest fears or stresses? Do you know if your child would like a new storybook, or to read to you for a change?
When you ask to find out, you’re building a map of your loved one’s emotional world. Building a love map is one of the most powerful relationship skills to deepen connection and security.
Researchers including Dr. Stan Tatkin and Dr. John Gottman discovered that couples who felt especially secure were also experts on each other. They kept up an intimate knowledge of each other’s goals, worries, hopes, and dreams.
Affection grows as you get more familiar with your partner’s inner world. Friendship is the strongest factor — by 70% — of a couple’s satisfaction together, found Gottman.
Sometimes we must keep some distance from those we care about. That’s when touch-free ways to build connection (like these) are especially important.
Do you wonder how to go beyond “How was your day?” Some ideas to try:
- Tell me something that made you glad today.
- What is your favorite way of taking time for yourself?
- What feeling is hardest for you to deal with right now?
Touch-free ways to nurture affection include eye contact, kind words and small deeds. You don’t need grand ideas to build a sense of support and affection.
Gottman’s Love Map exercise can help with more suggestions. It’s a series of questions you can ask each other. There’s a good chance this will surprise you and be fun.
3) Kindness and Compassion
Do you wish you were a better parent? Did you disappoint your partner by working too late or forgetting something important? Did something go wrong in your circle of friends, and you’re involved?
To err is human. When you make a mistake, you can feel so bad, it can impact how you function in your job or personal life.
Some people unleash a harsh self-critic when they mess up. They berate themselves for being “weak” or “stupid.” Their self-esteem takes a big hit.
Other people get defensive when involved in a mishap. If a loved one gets upset about a problem, the partner may take it as an attack on their character or worth.
It’s natural to want to defend yourself. But we know that both criticism and defensiveness are toxic to our close relationships.
Start with Self-Compassion
Compassion is a powerful relationship skill. It’s a chosen mindset that puts kindness first in addressing hardship. It works particularly well when you use it on yourself.
Self-compassion has three components, says researcher Dr. Kristin Neff:
- Self-kindness rather than self-judgment (showing care and kindness when you suffer)
- Sensing common humanity rather than isolation (believing your flaws make you human — join the club)
- Mindfulness rather than over-identification (recognizing hurt and letting it pass, rather than becoming consumed by it)
Not only is self-compassion a more soothing path to repair mistakes. Self-compassion also promotes healthier relationships.
People who treat themselves kindly are more inclined to treat a partner kindly too. Self-compassion supports self-awareness, helping partners to be authentic and earn trust.
Learning Relationship Skills Is a Process
These are just three of many relationship skills that help us make more meaningful connections.
You may want to better manage your emotions, soothe anxiety and stress, and develop romantic relationships. But with so much information, where do you begin? Random acts of hugging may not produce what you want. Learning new ways to relate takes time and practice.
Therapy is a place to “tune in” to yourself emotionally. It’s a place to become more fully present to yourself, and safely try new ideas before using them in the real world. When you can respond to your own emotional needs first, you’ll find more satisfying ways to respond to others, too.
We are here to help you.
You and your relationships can thrive on actions you can learn. Talk with one of our skilled therapists in Alexandria Virginia.