Relationships define our lives. From the early connections with our caregivers to the complex and varied social networks we form as we grow, relationships inform how we see ourselves, others and the world around us.
As social beings, these relationships are vital. We are all part of a vast, interconnected ecosystem and naturally thrive on love, support, sharing and understanding. At their best, healthy relationships are nourishing and life-affirming, putting us in touch with the beauty of being alive.
Yet relationships can also be challenging and difficult to navigate. We may not have been cared for in ways that support our inner balance and provide a healthy foundation for connection. And we don’t always learn the skills of relating well as we grow up.
The good news is that these skills can be learnt at any age. From intimate relationships with our partners to connections with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and people in our community and wider circles, we can learn to develop relational intelligence, nurturing and improving the connections in our lives.
Developing relational intelligence
Relationships are complex and there’s no fit-all approach. Yet the following principles can all be useful as points of guidance, reflection and inspiration. With practice, these tools can support us to create healthier connections and navigate all of our relationships with greater ease, peace and harmony.
Start with yourself
Our relationship with ourselves provides the foundation for every other relationship in our lives. Learning to love, understand and care for ourselves sets a bar and helps us to define how we want to be treated. It also equips us to meet others with greater love, emotional awareness and compassion. Take time to cultivate intimacy with yourself – your thoughts, feelings and passions – and commit to doing the inner work that’s needed to bring you happiness and balance. From this inner alignment, all of our external relationships improve immeasurably.
Know your needs and boundaries
Honouring our needs and boundaries is vital for a healthy relationship with ourselves and others. What feels good to you? What doesn’t? Where are your internal and external limits, and how can you best respect these? Being clear on these needs and boundaries helps us to stay balanced. Understanding and communicating these isn’t always easy – especially if we weren’t taught to do this as children – but with practice, we can learn to put parameters in place that support healthy connection.
Practice full presence
How often are you fully present for yourself and others? So often we move through our lives and relate on autopilot. We accumulate assumptions, projections and automatic ways of responding to others that don’t allow for fresh ways of connecting. Learning to truly listen, to hold space and be there for ourselves and others enhances the quality of our relationships. Practice presence and full attention in your daily life. And be curious – each person is a complex being who holds a world inside them. Attuning to this opens up incredible insights and possibilities for deeper connection.
Find a fresh approach to conflict
Conflict is a part of life – and can provide positive opportunities for learning and growth when it’s managed well. Healthy relationships aren’t about avoiding conflict altogether. Relationships, especially intimate ones, that seemingly have no conflict may be simmering with unspoken tensions and resentments. By learning to navigate conflict in a healthy way, we build resilience through the natural rhythm of rupture and repair. Some of the tools that can help us to do this include holding our centre, taking responsibility for our own feelings and wellbeing, communicating in a non-violent way, promoting mutual empowerment, and treating the other person with compassion and respect.
Cherish your relationships
Relationships are living dynamics. They thrive on quality of input. Each relationship has different needs and facets and brings us varied gifts. By practising gratitude for our relationships and paying attention to what supports them, we nurture and enrich them. Be intentional in your relationships. From spending quality time together to sharing things you love, supporting and encouraging each other, showing appreciation and cultivating joy, there are so many wonderful ways to foster healthy connection.