The Best-Kept Secret to a Long Life: How to Maintain Strong Relationships
As life became disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining connections with friends and family may have fallen to the wayside. But maintaining strong relationships is one of the best things you can do for yourself! Connecting with our loved ones doesn’t just make us happy: numerous studies have shown that people with strong social connections live longer and healthier lives. So, as things begin to re-open, it’s a great opportunity to improve and strengthen the relationships in your life.
Get creative about keeping in touch
In an ideal world, we would get together with friends and family regularly, spending time over shared meals and mutual hobbies. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made glaringly obvious, however, sometimes we can’t count on frequent face-to-face interactions. While technology can’t take the place of being with our loved ones in person, it does provide us with a slew of other ways to keep in touch. From quick group texts to keep up with old friends to email updates to let your relatives know what you’ve been up to, it’s easier than ever before to reach out to our loved ones. Even tagging a friend in a funny video on social media can let them know you’re thinking about them.
If you, like so many of us these days, are experiencing screen fatigue, take it off-line! Pick up the phone and call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Send someone flowers or a thoughtful card, just because. You can even strike up a pen pal-style correspondence with an older relative and exchange regular letters.
Listen to – and acknowledge – others’ feelings and opinions
As humans, we all tend to get a little self-centered at times. But any kind of healthy relationship requires some give-and-take. Make sure that conversations don’t just center on your life. Take the time to ask about your loved ones’ lives, their opinions on things, and what’s important to them in life, and really listen to the answers. And remember to respect their right to their feelings and opinions, even if you disagree. Strong relationships depend on people feeling safe to express themselves openly.
Of course, this can’t be one-sided. If you find your own feelings or needs are consistently dismissed in a certain relationship, it may be time to have an honest conversation with that person or to reevaluate what role the relationship plays in your life.
Tell people what you appreciate about them
Over time, it can become easy to take a relationship for granted. Sometimes this is especially true of our most important relationships – think your partner or your best friend. When people have been in our lives for a long time, we can get comfortable and start to assume that they’ll always be there.
One way to fight this tendency is to go out of your way to tell your loved ones just why you appreciate having them in your life. You don’t need to make an embarrassingly grand gesture. It can be as simple as telling your partner how much you enjoy their sense of humor or thanking a parent for teaching you a family recipe. This will not only make your loved ones feel appreciated and loved – it will also help you slow down and look at the relationship from the lens of gratitude.
Of course, relationships aren’t all roses. Even the strongest relationships go through ups and downs and hit moments of misunderstanding and conflict. The key to overcoming these moments and bouncing back even stronger is having the ability to be honest with one another. If a loved one has hurt you, be honest with them and explain how you feel. At the same token, if you are the one who has made a mistake, own up to it and apologize. While these kinds of conversations can be uncomfortable, they’re crucial for healthy, long-lasting relationships that go beyond the superficial.
And remember to balance honesty with kindness. It’s important, and completely possible, to communicate honestly without being judgmental or belittling. If you need to, take some time to cool off before having a tough conversation so that you can approach it in a healthy way.
Make the time – and the effort
At the end of the day, building and maintaining strong relationships comes down to putting in the effort. None of us want to spend time with people who view us as an afterthought. So find ways to prioritize the people you love. Mark birthdays and anniversaries on your calendar so you remember to reach out on important dates. Set a reminder in your phone to wish a friend good luck before an important interview or medical appointment. When an old friend or family member crosses your mind, make it a habit to send them a text or an email while you’re thinking of them. Be open to compromise and let your partner pick the activity for your next date night, even if it’s not something you’d pick yourself.
We all understand that to get stronger in the gym, we need to commit to working out. We can think of building our relationships in the same way. Put in the work now to build that relationship muscle, and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.
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