It doesn’t matter what type of relationship you’re talking about or thinking about – the key to health and happiness lies in your ability to build strong relationships with the people around you. That means having the ability to forge bonds with your family, friends, romantic interests, and even with your work colleagues.
Humans are social beings and even the introverts among us need strong social connections. We really walk a fine line when it comes to looking after our own health, so how can we even start to worry about our relationships with others?
One of the biggest issues with depression and other mental health issues is that people withdraw away from their loved ones. Although, in many cases, a lack of social network can trigger or worsen depression.
Even if you are desperately anti-social, you need strong relationships to lift you up in times of despair. What does that look like, though? You have probably known couples who seemed to be the perfect match and you felt a little devastated when they split up. If they can’t make it work who can?
Or, you’ve seen families become distant and fall apart. Perhaps you yourself had a friendship that seemed set to last forever and crumbled after a falling out you just couldn’t come back from.
How do others manage to sustain these strong relationships that span the decades? Let’s look at some of the characteristics of strong relationships. Remember, these apply to any kind of relationship.
13 Characteristics of Strong Relationships
1 – Love
This obviously doesn’t mean romantic love in every relationship, but the feeling of love for those around you does indicate a strong relationship (okay, you don’t have to love your work colleagues to build a strong relationship with them – you just have to like them).
The definition of love is hazy for a lot of people, but generally speaking, it’s more than just a feeling, it’s a commitment. It’s your commitment to treating that person with respect.
We experience love for those people who are closest to us, but it’s important that love goes beyond that feeling or spark and truly embraces the commitment side of it. For those strong relationships, out there – it most certainly does.
2 – Communication
Not just any communication, though, honest communication. When you learn how to communicate with your nearest and dearest, you are free to verbalize your inner turmoil and share it with others.
It builds stronger connections and makes you vulnerable, which in turn should see your loved one understanding exactly how you’re feeling about any situation.
Sounds perfect, right? It is, a lot of relations break down over hurt feelings and miscommunications. Learning how to communicate honestly, openly, and without judgment can radically change your life.
3 – Friendship
You know that old saying about catching more flies with honey? Well, it’s true when it comes to building healthy and strong relationships. Being cheerful and friendly with the people you love is going to get you further than responding harshly or shutting people out.
We all have our challenges in life, but social connections are an important part of getting through them. Therefore, when your friend hits you with heavy information respond appropriately. Remember, they’re just trying to see understanding and empathy in your eyes and wouldn’t you want the same if you were in a similar position?
4 – Patience
Everyone could use practice in the patience arena, it can be difficult to handle imperfection in others but the truth is – you have to allow others to fail because you fail, too. There’s no point putting a perfection complex onto others and expecting faultlessness every time. You need to offer patience so that you can receive it in return.
Many relationship breakdowns are down to a lack of patience and people giving up because they just can’t handle the other person’s faults anymore. The truth is, when you guide your relationships through turmoil you will come out stronger on the other side.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cut out someone who is abusive, though, so do be sure to differentiate.
5 – Loyalty
There’s nothing quite like knowing that someone else has always got your back. When you have the backs of others… well, they’ve got yours and that is one of the major characteristics of any strong relationship. It makes people feel secure in the relationship and it is powerful.
That doesn’t mean you should expect your friends to back you up when you are seriously wrong, but hopefully, they would do it in a way that doesn’t embarrass you in front of others.
6 – Common Values
Commonalities bring us together and bind us. Whether it’s politics, religion, sports, or a favorite TV show – long-lasting, strong relationships involve a common value or purpose. Something strong has created a spark between you and in pursuing that common goal, value, or purpose it creates a strong bond.
Finding those values in someone else can be exciting and you can use those commonalities to your advantage in forging strong relationships. Whether your new friend joins you in a local protest or is happy to paint their face to go to the game. Passion about a common purpose can trump everything.
7 – Fun
Every relationship should feature fun, however, that doesn’t always mean it should be raucous or loud fun! Even work relationships need some fun now and then. Fun equals enjoyment and that’s something that every relationship thrives on.
This is often forgotten in the romantic and familial relationships. When you first get started, there’s fun activities and spontaneity is the norm but this fade away and we often forget how important these things are.
There are so many ways you can arrange a bit of fun, no matter the type of relationship you’re trying to strengthen. For a romance consider planning a fun activity that you know your partner would love and have them do the same back.
For families, consider an inclusive outing that caters to everyone. Work colleagues love team building over drinks and so do friends, especially when there’s good food involved. You could maybe even join a community sports team or activity.
8 – Acceptance
There is no such thing as a perfect person, so no matter who you encounter and how much you love them they will probably have behaviors, traits, or qualities that drive you around the bend. You have to accept them, flaws and all. It really goes back to that first point about love being more than just a feeling, people come with warts, and it’s a package deal.
All we really want from life is to be accepted for who we are, right? Well, how would you feel if someone was constantly trying to change you? It wouldn’t feel good, so don’t try to do it to others. If someone is trying to do it to you, be brave enough to step up and tell him or her how you feel about it!
9 – Respect
In strong relationships, each person has a deep respect for the other. We see value in what they have to say, the way they behave, and in their actions. When there is a lack of respect present, it shows in word and deed.
This often results in one person bearing the brunt of responsibilities and the other demeaning them. How can you have a strong relationship where is such an imbalance?
Are you constantly late to meet someone? It gives off the impression that you don’t respect their time. It can be seen in little things like that and while you may not mean it as such, the other person may see it as a slight or a sign of disrespect.
10 – Vulnerability
How can you get what you need from your relationships if you aren’t willing to open yourself up and share what is happening in your life and within you? Many of us have made a habit of compartmentalizing feelings and bottling them up.
It doesn’t matter what you were told growing up, that isn’t the healthy way and you shouldn’t be afraid to open up to people – it’s the best way to build a strong relationship.
11 – Trust
Whether it’s a romantic relationship or not, trust plays a big role in building strong relationships. It takes practice and it is something that needs to be earned, but the strongest relationships have a deep element of trust. If your trust has been broken it may make it more difficult for you to trust again, but it can be repaired if you’re prepared to work for it.
12 – Honesty
It doesn’t matter how ugly the truth is, sometimes it’s more important that you share it. Think about how difficult you would find it if someone was keeping something from you or only telling half the story. You owe people the same respect back and in a strong relationship, honesty plays a massive role in strong relationships because no one wants to be around a liar.
A lack of honesty can fuel distrust, which can do serious damage to a relationship.
13 – Empathy
Being empathetic doesn’t mean that you have to fix everyone’s problems or concerns, it just means that you can sit and listen and understand how someone is feeling. It’s all about being there for others. Strong relationships are built on empathy and understanding.
Empathy should really be the easiest one of these to achieve because you don’t have to do anything, but listen and show your loved one respect and care.
The Importance of Strong Relationships
Have you ever been at some type of social gathering and upon meeting someone for the first time immediately hit it off? You immediately feel a spark and have no problem chatting the night away and you think about how incredible it is that you could vibe with someone so easily.
You end the night on a high because you find it incredible that you made such a connection so easily. That’s the beauty of humans, we are seriously social creatures, and a friendship (or more) can be ignited with one simple conversation.
It’s more than that, though, we depend on each other. There is no way to get through life without having to experience a series of social interactions. It isn’t just a simple craving, it’s an absolute requirement.
That’s why your social connections can have such an impact on your overall wellbeing. It’s difficult to thrive in life when you don’t have any strong relationships or a social network to fall back on.
Unfortunately, in the challenges of life, our relationships drop to the bottom of our to-do lists the P for priority symbol has long fallen away from their side and we struggle to find time to maintain our social ties.
Strong relationships can have a serious impact on both our physical and mental health, though, increasing our lifespan, helping to manage stress, and ultimately making us healthier people.
A Stanford University study links the benefits of strong relationships to a reduction in colds, and improved survival rates for a variety of diseases.
Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota completed a meta-study reviewing almost 150 studies and found that people who have strong relationships are half as likely to suffer a premature death.
On the other side of the coin, people who have a lack of social support were linked to high blood pressure, depression, and an overall decrease in immune function.
Additionally, Gallup found a tie between a decrease in healing from injuries and strong relationships. People who socialize for at least six hours a day experience less worry and stress, and the great part about that is that includes work socializations, texting, emails, talking on the phone, or face-to-face interactions.
While there is a place for communicating digitally that doesn’t mean you should shun in person contact. So, make sure you have a healthy balance of the two.
Work relationships are an interesting consideration. For those who work together it’s more than likely you spend more time with your colleagues than with anyone else in your life. Anyone who has a good working relationship with their colleagues knows just how much better work can be when you have people you can interact with socially.
One of the basics of being human is that when you have had a difficult day you turn to someone you love to share it. When you have a great day and there’s something to celebrate you want to share it with others. When you see something crazy during your day you have to tell someone about it. It’s normal, it’s natural, and it’s human to crave other humans.
Having strong relationships means having a social network to turn to in times of need, in times of happiness, and in times of just having an epic story to tell.
8 Key Steps to Building Strong Relationships
Building strong relationships with others is probably the most profound human practice we can experience in life. These relationships can make us feel happier, more satisfied with life, and healthier.
Unfortunately, a strong relationship doesn’t just come naturally; it’s something that you have to work at. Once you’ve achieved it, the work doesn’t stop because it takes work to maintain it. What’s important to remember, though, is that the hard work is worth it because what you get in return is a relationship that has been built to stand the test of time.
So, if you want to build stronger relationships in your life, consider the following.
1 – Acceptance & Celebration of Differences
You know that differences are inevitable, so don’t get caught up in trying to change people. Instead, accept their differences and celebrate them. We are all unique, so trying to make people more like yourself (or more like someone else) is asking someone to go against the very core of who they are.
Sadly, the way most people go about affecting this change is through guilt tripping and emotional blackmail, which only serves to stoke resentment and causes the breakdown of relationships.
Think about how amazing you feel when someone truly gets you and accepts you as you are, now pay it forward and treat the people in your life the exact same way.
2 – Truly Listen
There’s a stark difference between hearing what someone is saying to you and truly listening. When someone sits and listens to you it builds your self-esteem, it’s a silent flattery that leaves you feeling valued and supported. It’s an essential part of communication and makes for successful interactions.
The most useful listening skill, and arguably the most important, is active listening. You’re not just showing an interest in listening, rather you are committed to understanding not only what the other person has to say, but also in what they are feeling or wanting from you.
You are an active participant in the conversation and receiving the message loud and clear and that should play a part in how you respond. When you do respond you paraphrase what the person has shared with you to show that you understand the message.
This verifies that you understand what has been said and shows the other person that you are, in fact, actively listening.
3 – Make Time
The gift of time is important; it’s something that everyone wishes they had more of. So, when you make time for the people in your life and you are present it shows them that you are committed to maintaining the relationship. Even if it means you have to carve time out in your schedule, do it! In the meantime, send a quick text or email to that friend you haven’t caught up with in a while.
4 – Honest Communication
It isn’t just about opening your mouth to speak; it’s about being able to make other people understand you. The major communication danger is when parties assume that someone else gets what you’re saying. Therefore, it isn’t enough to just speak, you have to ensure that you are understanding what the person is really saying.
5 – Accept & Give Feedback
Are you as eager to accept feedback, as you are to give it? It doesn’t always feel good, but it can be healthy and helpful for you to understand where you’re going wrong.
There’s a way to do it, though, and constructive feedback is always going to be more appropriate than when it is done in anger or as a way to undermine someone else. Think of it as free advice that makes you aware of your blind spots.
6 – Give Trust
Without trust, without respect… love is nothing. If you struggle with trust issues it’s time to make peace with them and give trust to those around you. A lack of trust can really eat away at relationships because it often manifests itself in jealousy and that can be ugly.
While a healthy dose of jealousy is fine if it is impacting on your relationship and leading to arguments and unhappiness you need to consider your actions.
If you believe you have a genuine reason for the mistrust then you need to take steps to rebuild it. If there is no particular reason you feel a lack of trust with this person (and it’s based on previous relationships) then it’s time to allow for healing and start giving your trust.
7 – Don’t Fall into Mobile Monopoly
Do you sit in a room with friend(s) or family and look around to see everyone on their mobile device? Is the only conversation that you have based on what you have just seen on your touchscreen?
Mobile technology is important and it’s an effective communication tool, but if you want to be strong relationships, you need to learn how to set them aside and just be with people.
If you’re meeting up with friends suggest that trick where everyone stacks their phones on the table and the first one to pick theirs up has to pay the entire bill. You can bet no one will touch his or her phone until it’s time to go.
For family functions introduce games that will leave phones at the side and put bonding at the forefront.
If you’re in a committed relationship and you feel you have issues saying no to technology work out a plan to reduce your consumption. The easiest place to start is by banning phones from the bedroom, which will help you get a better night’s sleep, too.
The next step is to make mealtime a no technology zone. Where you take it beyond that is entirely up to you!
8 – Be Empathetic
Empathy is the key to building strong connections. It allows you the opportunity to share needs and feelings without advice, solutions, or blaming. It’s someone simply saying, “I’m sorry, that’s terrible” instead of why don’t you try…
Sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on without the rest. This is an important part of building strong relationships.
Of course, another important part of being able to build strong relationships is in ensuring that your personal relationship is positive. That is your relationship with yourself. It’s difficult to be comfortable with others if you feel uncomfortable in yourself.
So many people jump from romantic relationship to romantic relationship trying to fill a gap in their life and they don’t realize that the gap is within themselves. To know and love others you must first know and love yourself.
It truly is easier to embrace the faults in others when you are at peace with your own flaws. Stop focusing on flaws, though, and start focusing on your strengths and the strengths of others. When you look for the positives in others, it becomes easier to get to know them and build strong and healthy relationships.
There is something to be said for the relationships we have… they can contribute to our overall happiness and wellbeing or they can make us miserable. There is certainly a fine line between love and hate, but hopefully with the information above you can stay on the right side of love as you attempt to navigate all the relationships you have in your life.
Just remember that when you feel at your lowest it’s the people around you that you reach out to, so expect that they will do the same. You are their person just as they are your person and there’s something profoundly beautiful about the bonds we build.
We all know what it’s like to have that friend who drains our energy stores as there’s always something going on in their life, but you can improve their life by applying the steps above. While it may not always seem like it, we really are all in this together.
When you put yourself out there so much in a bid to build lasting, strong relationships you need to take care of yourself, too, so make sure you take time to practice self-care. That alone will help boost the strength of your relationships because you will have the strength and energy to deal with them.
You can find a lot of joy in your relationships with others, but if you want them to find joy in their relationship with you then you will need to be at your very best.
The most effective way to be at your best for everyone else is to ensure you are looking after yourself. Despite what you heard growing up, putting yourself first isn’t the selfish way to do things. It’s how you can be your best self and build strong relationships to last you a lifetime.