Protect your relationship with friendship habits
The following ideas come from a workbook I use with many of my clients*. Here I summarize the main points about the 4 friendship habits, which compliment the 6 disagreement-related habits to protect your relationship and help it flourish.
A relationship without a firm basis in friendship will falter once the chemistry fades or challenges arise. While recovering skillfully from disagreements is essential, successful couples do way more than fixing things that go wrong. They create a relationship that’s too compelling to leave. Successful couples build great relationships on these friendship habits.
- Showing curiosity about your partner’s world
- Noticing and acknowledging positives
- Pursuing shared meaning
- Making and responding to bids for connection
Habit 7. Showing curiosity about your partner’s world
Relationships succeed or fail based on your understanding of each other. That doesn't mean you can recite or predict the other person’s behaviors. It does mean you actively demonstrate you are concerned with what they care about, worry about, and feel motivated about right now, not just when you first fell in love.
If you remember the first time you visited your partner at work or met their best friend, you know the feeling of renewed interest you get from seeing someone you love in a new light. Your partner changes every day. Don’t miss the chance to keep learning about them as they evolve. People in really successful relationships maintain a sense of mystery, wonder, and awe. So to succeed, don’t assume you already know all there is to know.
Studies show that when couples have children, those who do best stay well connected after the child arrives and their roles and experiences change. It’s not just about sharing responsibilities; it’s about learning what it feels like to be in the other person’s shoes while you're taking on different duties under the same roof.
Continually finding the answers to simple but not trivial, questions like these will build your friendship and vaccinate it against stress:
- What are they looking forward to this week?
- What’s the most challenging part of their weekly routine?
- What are they worried about lately?
- What are they disappointed by?
- What would they most like fix around your home?
- What has someone complimented them on lately?
- Who do they consider an ally? A rival?
- What would they jump at the chance to do, if they had time?
Habit 8. Noticing and acknowledging positive things
People who succeed in their relationships are more attuned to good things. They also see positives more often. They express gratitude for small things their partners do, things other’s might not bring up. If you’ve ever gone to a film with someone who was in a bad mood, you know how bad it feels to hear negative things about a movie you enjoyed or to be with someone who can't seem to appreciate something you just shared.
People who succeed notice, remember, bring up positive things from the past. It makes them feel better about the relationship to remember this way. In relationships that are about to end, people’ s memories are more bad than good, leading that perception to color how they feel about each other.
Habit 9. Pursuing shared meaning
Roommates, colleagues, and friends can get along well, but couples who succeed feel they are creating something meaningful together. They are loyal and committed to the interests, viewpoints, dreams, and goals they share. A sense of shared purpose is one of the things that helps couples through tough times. Skillful couples create a culture that’s unique to them, with practices, mores, and rituals that only make sense to them, Without sacrificing their individuality, they let the other person rub off on them and create a shared identity.
Habit 10. Making and responding to bids for connection
People who succeed are more responsive to invitations to connect. They also make and respond to many more attempts to connect, in ways that less successful people miss. These bids for connection can be very small, such as mentioning you heard about a new restaurant to go to together, or that you read an article you think they would find interesting.
Partners who succeed will pick up on those cues and respond in kind. Early in relationships, people are usually very attentive teach other, wanting to know everything about the other person, giving everything they learn significance.
Yet when people start sharing their day-to-day lives, they miss opportunities to connect. In relationships that are destined to fail, it feels like the other person doesn’t care about what you are doing or how you spend your time. So, when your partner says they need new shoes or have been thinking about calling an old friend, and you ask them more about it, you are solidifying your connection.
If you’ve ever watched a couple talking animatedly about what seems like nothing, you’ve seen a couple that knows how to made and respond to bids for connection. People who are good at this do it seamlessly throughout the day. They send each other pictures, inside jokes, articles. They bring up things to do and share, pick up the other each’s favorite snack, (or laundry). They ask specific questions about friends, family or hobbies that show they were listening.
Think about a parent who is skilled at keeping track of the minutiae of their children's lives, or a family member who was there for you when you were growing up. It’s likely you felt they got you from the way they kept track of what you were doing with friends or learning in school.
When you remember to ask your partner about something they mentioned they would be doing that day, you are building a connection. In these and many other small but meaningful ways, skillful couples share each other’s worlds. They feel like they are together throughout the day, whether they are physically together or not.
How friendship and disagreement related habits work together
When people have a solid base of connectedness, they perceive that most of the time, that the other person gets them and is on their side. That makes them more willing and able to resolve conflicts that come up. They've built up enough goodwill to create what’s called a "positive sentiment override", which t means that when someone you feel happy with upsets you, you're more likely to them slack. If you enter a conflict with resentment, you're less likely to see as a resolvable and will be less willing to try.
just like drops of water will eventually wear down a rock, small doses of positivity create lasting positive feelings that vaccinate against upsets the way a dozen roses after a big fight never will.
* Brent Atkinson's Developing Habits for Relationship Success