I started reflecting yesterday on what this last decade of working with couples and relationships has taught me about creating successful friendships.
Three tools quickly surfaced. Simple, powerful and effective for creating the kind of closeness and connection that each of us desire in our relationships.
1. Invest. I love the analogy that Stephen Covey uses in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” as he equates relationships to bank accounts. He points out that much like bank accounts, we are asked to take a risk and make an investment before we can make a withdrawal of capital.
Investing relational capital has many forms: call a friend out of the blue to see how they are doing, let someone you really appreciate know it, or surprise a pal with flowers. Then, when you need to withdraw on that relational capital—a favor or a listening ear, you’ve got a friend who will be there. And much like financial capital, the ability to withdraw increases as the friendship is matured through time and ongoing investments.
2. Choose them. One of my mentors, also a couple’s therapist of 30+ years, once shared with me that the primary thing that successful couples do is choose one another. Conversely, she has noticed that the ones who stop choosing one another begin to fall apart, and experience so much pain and heartache in the process.
So, in moments when one partner would rather do an alternative activity (i.e. eat at some other restaurant or not bother with the dishes), they choose instead to do what their partner has requested. In doing so, their chosen partner feels like a priority and the relationship is provided the nourishment it needs to continue thriving.
Platonic relationships are incredibly parallel. A dear friend of mine comes to mind who consistently makes me a priority. He answers the phone when I call, or if he can’t, texts me right away to let me know he will call back soon. I love that. He is always game for my favorite type of food—Northern Indian, by the way—even though it’s not the top one on his list. If he tells me he will be there for a get-together that I’m having he always is, regardless of other demands on his schedule. I feel constantly chosen by him and in turn I choose him back. Herein lies the success of our relationship.
3. Altruism. This is one of my favorite practices, and comes from psychologist and relationship master John Gottman. As a way to increase intimacy and reduce conflict in relationships, he suggests that couples look at what their partner is doing through an altruistic lens.
In other words, we choose to believe that the intention of their action was intending good rather than harm. In day to day living, this altruistic lens sees our friend’s lateness as a result of bad traffic rather than because we are not a priority to them. It sees a forgotten birthday because our friend had a busy day and it simply slipped their mind. When they forget to pick up the ice we requested for the party, we choose to believe they just spaced and forgot instead of believing that the oversight means we don’t matter to them.
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Looking for the quick summary? Here you go:
Invest in friends so that they will be there for you in the future, choose your friends so that they know they are a priority and watch those friendships flourish, see everything your friends do–even things that you initially perceive as hurtful–through a lens of altruism and kindness, and you will experience less hurt and more joy in your relationships.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Used with Permission