By Kelly Rudolph for YourTango.com.
Romantic relationships complete with a great connection, love, honesty and communication top the list of wants and goals for most women — even strong, successful women who don’t need a man to take care of them. The benefits for both people in a healthy relationship are tremendous, and can improve all other aspects of their lives.
While we certainly refine our couples skills during relationships, it’s no secret that many breakups result from a lack of these skills. The good news is that we can sharpen our skills prior to entering our next romance — you don’t need to be in a relationship to learn how to have a healthy one! Here, we talk about some important qualities to look for in romantic relationships, and expand upon the many opportunities there are to hone our skills in everyday life, with family, friends and work associates.
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Have you ever asked people you know what they think your best qualities are? When I did this (it was an exercise with one of my coaches) I was pleasantly surprised at how other people saw me. I felt more confident, and realized most people don’t truly know how others see them. When I asked what I could improve upon, my eyes were opened again as people I trusted suggested things like “seeing from the other person’s perspective” or “thinking things through longer before commenting when I felt something could be done better.”
It is possible to create the life and relationships you want.
Practicing this exercise on my quality female friends, family and work associates was fun because I can see how differently things unfold now, thanks to my new insight, as opposed how I handled situations previously. I figured adjustments to these aspects of my own behavior could dramatically impact my future romantic relationships as well… and I was right. So with my best qualities spoken by those who care about me, and suggestions on rounding some sharp edges of my personality, I gained a tremendous amount of insight. Oddly enough, men I’d dated in the past had brought up some of the same things! I realized one or more of those relationships may have lasted longer if I’d had this insight sooner.
You can learn from my example and ask people who care about you and will be truthful. Be sure to appreciate and acknowledge their answers, even if they may sting a bit. It’s up to you to choose what you do with the information you receive, but if you hear common themes, you have a pretty good place to start.
Here are some important skills to practice with people in your life to improve your next romantic partnership. Have fun with this — the benefits are many.
Boundaries come into play in all relationships, and a lack of healthy ones is the cause of most breakups. Whether healthy boundaries needed to be established and enforced regarding things like time spent together and apart, clear communication, money, sex, respect of both self and significant other, or a host of other topics, most conflicts can be avoided with the use of healthy boundaries.
Practicing healthy boundaries with friends, family and work associates will improve your self-respect, confidence and self-esteem as a whole, translating into enhanced romantic pairings. Emotionally healthy men love emotionally healthy women with confidence.
Having boundaries means knowing what you want for yourself and how you want to be treated. You can’t enforce boundaries until you establish them, so take some time to really consider what’s important to you. Enforcing boundaries means having a clear plan to make your limits known, and determining what you will say or do when someone steps over the line — because eventually, someone will. You can adjust them as you get used to the process.
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A lack of boundaries leaves you living life by default. If you don’t have a game plan, you simply become part of someone else’s agenda. You know that feeling when someone visiting has outstayed their welcome? Or when a so-called friend threw you under the bus to make her feel better? Maybe a co-worker took credit for something you did and got the raise you earned. Feelings of injustice or being used can usually be solved; you don’t have to let them become vehicles for hurt, anger or bitterness. That bitterness is toxic, and will play a role in all of your relationships at some point whether another’s actions trigger a poor response in you, or you choose a victim’s role and accept mistreatment.
Let’s say honesty is one of your top values. You are honest, and expect it from others. So what do you do with a friend isn’t being truthful with you? Do you stay friends with her because then at least you’ll have someone to go out with? Or do you have a talk with her to let her know lying is unacceptable to you — and that your friendship will end if you find her being dishonest again? You can say it in words that feel right to you; just be sure to make your point clearly.
How does all this translate into a romantic relationship? If you are skilled at establishing how you choose to be treated and enforcing your boundaries by keeping your word to yourself — exiting a friendship or partnership if your healthy boundaries are not respected — not only will you attract a more respectful mate, but most likely also one who appreciates that you think enough of yourself to have boundaries. Most people don’t establish rules for themselves, fearing that others won’t like them if they enforce boundaries.
The friend who likes to lie and the co-worker who likes to make jokes at your expense will have to find someone else without self-respect to prey upon. If there are any people in your life who use you for their own gain, hope that they will change their tune but also prepare for the fact they may leave your life. This clarity is eye-opening, but also painful, and it is why most people don’t enforce boundaries.
Connection & Communication
Two vital components of love relationships are feeling connected to someone — being part of something bigger than ourselves — and healthy communication. Here, conflicts are managed with both parties feeling respected and heard. Both also play into our work, family and friend relationships as well, and are great practice fields for refining our skills.
Rather than destroy a potential relationship with poor communication skills, practice on other people in your life. You will see that in addition to feeling more qualified to be a part of a loving couple, you will enjoy your friendships and other relationships so much more! As a result, you will feel less stressed about finding the right guy. A romantic relationship is not the end-all, be-all if your communication skills stink. You would simply go from one to the next and wonder one of two things: what’s wrong with me? or why do all men have such issues? News flash! If more people understood the simple communication process I’m about to show you, there would be much less bitterness and anger surrounding relationships.
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A girlfriend tells you she’ll meet you at 5:30 to go to a concert. You’re there at 5:20 and very excited to see your favorite band. You wait. And you wait. Your friend is not answering her phone or your texts. Finally, she arrives at 6:10, forty minutes late. She’s so late for the concert that you may not get in. Any apology from her? No. Nothing. She acts as if everything is fine and completely disregards her tardiness. You, on the other hand, are upset. You feel angry, disrespected, hurt and now frantic fighting traffic and hoping you get in to see your favorite band. What began as a fun night out with a friend has turned sour. How do you bring this lack of respect up to her? So many ways and words may come to mind right now but let me show you a fair way that respects you both and is as pain-free as possible.
You say, “Sandy, when we planned to meet at 5:30 and you didn’t show up until 6:10, I felt disrespected and hurt. Did you mean for me to feel that way?”
Sandy may either say, “Yes,” (and show her true colors) or something along the lines of, “No. I was running late and got here as fast as I could. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
What you did was first state the context: “…when we planned to meet at 5:30 and you didn’t show up until 6:10.” Then you stated how you felt: “I felt disrespected and hurt.” You didn’t blame her for your feelings. Finally, you asked her a character question, “Did you mean for me to feel that way?” This gives her responsibility to show her character in her answer. Sandy passes the test in this scenario, but sometimes the other person will lash out and blame you for feeling hurt… and that shows their character.
Taking it further, to prevent this situation from happening again you can say, “If you know you’re going to be late meeting me, I would really appreciate a phone call or text so maybe I can go ahead to save seats, or we can schedule a new time to meet. Does that work for you?”
No one was blamed, and everyone was heard and respected. Can you see how powerful this can be in a romantic relationship? When our hearts are involved, it can be extra difficult to be calm before we discuss a painful situation, so it is better to take a short break to get some air or write down your thoughts before talking about it. Those breaks can be hard for the other person if their personality is one that wants things cleared up immediately. This is where your healthy boundaries come in.
Here’s an example of a healthy boundary around conflict in a relationship: When you’re in the getting to know each other stage, before any conflicts occur, talk about how you like to handle them. If you like to talk right away when trouble arises, and he likes to go to the gym for a couple hours, determine up front that you will take some time to cool off, think or write your thoughts, and blow off steam before your conversation. Then make it one of healthy communication, like the example above. This will likely prevent you feeling upset at his leaving after a disagreement because he already stated how he handles conflict.
Believe him. There is no need to make an issue bigger by reading into it. And he may agree to leave for one hour rather than two, so you can meet in the middle. This compromise could drastically improve a relationship on rocky ground. Think about all the times clear communication like this could have saved hurt feelings and tears, and practice on your friends and family so you’ll be tuned up for your next romance.
You can — and should — practice loving, appreciating, playing, laughing, and a host of other relationship skills with your family, friends and work associates. You’ll be having fun as you work toward setting yourself up for healthy success in your next romantic relationship.
If you liked this article, it likely resonated with you. For more tips on improving your relationship skills with everyone in your life, sign up for my free Positive Women Rock Tips and grab a couple of free bonuses while you’re there. Visit PositiveWomenRock.com and click on the “Gift” page.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: For Great Relationship Advice, Look At Your Friendships.