Thursday, April 1, 2010

Six Ways to Be Strong for Relationships

Whenever I think or write about personal strengths, I have dozens of specific strengths in mind. Today I was thinking about how relationships present special challenges. While you could make a case that all of the personal strengths play a role in building and maintaining relationships, these six have to be at the top.

Trust. You get real in a relationship. You share who you are. Will this information be respected and protected? You'll invest time and effort. Will it prove to be well-spent? Will the relationship last? 

The difficulty is that there are are no guarantees. But in order for the relationship to continue and grow, you have to trust the other person. 

"One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life." - E. M. Forster, British novelist (1879-1970)

"The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher (1803-1882)

Loyalty. Relationships are built on contracts, some unspoken, most unwritten. People agree to benefit each other, not hurt each other. People agree to honor trust. They expect the relationship to be considered important and given an appropriate precedence. 

Loyalty is gladly and freely given - until there's a conflict of loyalties.

“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” - Walter Winchell, American journalist (1897-1972)

“It’s easy to be loyal when you’re on top of the wave and things are going very well. The test is when they’re not.” - George Clooney, American actor (1961- )

Tolerance. In my opinion, people are a lot more different on the inside than they appear to be on the outside - personalities, personal histories, cultural backgrounds, skills, knowledge, values, attitudes, needs, interests, etc. Too many differences can pile up. Common ground is good for a relationship. But the overlaps are never all-encompassing. 

But there will always be differences, which is a good thing. It wouldn't be much of a party if both brought the same things to the table. The hard part is to avoid being surprised and irritated by the differences. The key is accepting them and affirming them. 

"What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature." - Francois Voltaire, French philosopher (1694-1778)

"How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these." - George Washington Carver, American scientist (1864-1943)

Forgiveness. No one you get close to will be perfect. They'll do things that bother you. Small things. Big things. 

The crisis comes when you feel hurt. You have to decide whether you can let it go. You have to decide whether the relationship matters more than what has happened. No relationship can withstand resentment. 

“Often we allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. We lose many irreplaceable hours brooding over grievances that, in a year's time, will be forgotten by us and by everybody. No, let us devote our life to worthwhile actions and feelings, to great thoughts, real affections and enduring undertakings.” - AndrĂ© Maurois, French author (1885-1967)

“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” - Booker T. Washington, American educator (1856-1915)
Compassion. None of the above is possible if you don't have feelings for the other person. To penetrate the barriers of separateness, the same kind of compassion that's extended to strangers is important for acquaintances, friendships and more intimate relationships. 

Compassion stops being easy when you're distressed with your own problems. 

"To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart." - Eleanor Roosevelt, American diplomat (1884-1962)

"Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured. They also produce their own image on men's souls, and a beautiful image it is." - Blaise Pascal, French scientist (1623-1662)

Generosity. Relationships are about giving. Making time to be with each other. Sharing the real you. Sharing your strengths and interests. Sharing what you have. Giving help when it's needed. Making sacrifices. Performing acts of kindness and consideration that show you care. 

“There is only one real deprivation, and that is not to be able to give one’s gifts to those one loves most.” - May Sarton, American poet (1912-1995)

“From the time that the mother binds the child’s head till the moment that some kind assistant wipes the brow of the dying, we cannot exist without mutual help.” - Walter Scott, Scottish novelist (1771-1832)

Some people tell me that friendships are the easiest thing in the world. I believe they can be if, when the time comes, you're willing to do the hard things.  

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., , Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Sean said...

Is it just me, or do these things come a lot easier when you're young? When I was a kid, people were a lot more ready to blindly give loyalty, trust, generosity, and so forth-- it was easy to make strong relationships with friends.

After college and into the workforce for a few years, people are less willing to do so. And then on towards the 30's and 40's, it just seems like people resist this idea even more.

I often wonder why. Is it because people have higher stakes? Is it because they've become more cynical? Or maybe their ties to church and family get in the way?

Meredith Bell said...

These are all critical to successful relationships, Denny. I like your description followed by relevant quotes. I'm glad you put TRUST at the top. It's the foundation of everything.

Denny Coates said...

I think your theory is right, Sean. But also, when we get older, the stakes are higher. 10-year-olds betray each other all the time, but they just shrug it off. If you do it as an adult, it can impact on marriage, career, and other weighty things. We invest more in relationships and it hurts more when it doesn't work out.

Lori Howard said...

wow. trust and relationship building seem to be the theme today. i just posted to my about how to establish trust. inspired by a tweet by @estherderby.

i agree that the stakes get higher as we get older. our awareness of impact on ourselves and others grows.