It’s February, so love is in the air (or at least hearts, chocolate, and roses are lining the isles at the grocery store) in the weeks before Valentine’s Day. For the singles in the house, don’t stop here! The stats are in, and according to the http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/ , people who have healthy, quality relationships – not necessarily romantic - are happier. Having someone who accepts you for the whole you is self-validating and being accepted brings feelings of stability and happiness, and according to Abraham Maslow, belonging and being loved and self-actualization are two of the tiers fo Maslow’s hierarchy of [human psychological]needs. The great news is that it doesn’t stop there, reciprocating in this friendship also brings joy! So, give and get! Give joy, get joy. And how do you give joy? Through actions of love.
As I ponder love, I’m not going to lie, I love deeply, but this is a challenging topic for me to write about. Relationships take work and humans are naturally lazy. We just are. So, how do we get off our bums and get moving to improve those relationships? Here are a few ways actions of LOVE help me strengthen my friendships:
Listen. Be a good listener. Get rid of distractions. Put away your phone. Close your laptop. Look the person in the eye and be present in the conversation. Focus on what they have to say; not how you are going to respond. What are they talking about? Why are they sharing this with you? Do they just want you to listen or are they asking for help? When you respond, respond with love, kindness, and empathy. Take a breath before your response, if you need to. Listening to the person is a way of showing love, support, and acceptance of the person whether you agree with their statement or not. Feeling loved and accepted by someone is the core of a deep rooted friendship.
Observe. Similar to listening, but this one is not all about the words. When you have a strong relationship, you know the person’s unique habits. What do they like? What drives them bonkers? What’s a normal day like for them? What creates stress for them and how do they handle it? How might you be able to better support and accept the person for who they are right now? My husband does about 90% of the dishes in our house after he’s worked a full day during the time when we all just want to veg. It’s a lot of work. With a family of 4 that eats breakfast and dinner at home and packs lunches for work, we use a lot of dishes. I also know that the hubs LOVES to watch sports, specifically the UT Vols.
inVest. Observations open the door to inVesting in the relationship. Everyone loves to be treated. And when you treat someone to something special, you are showing them love, and therefore strengthening the relationship. So how do you treat? Some of us are naturally romantic and born with this trait of being able to actively show love and affection. (My husband.) Others of us, have to work at this. (Ugh. Me 100%. Being romantic is hard stuff!) You can go all “sweetheart” traditional with chocolates and roses, but if you really want to inVest in a relationship, treat the person by using something you’ve observed about them to make their life easier or special. If you’re romantically challenged like me, keep working at it. Ask for feedback. The romantics out there love to have this reciprocated. And those of us that may not have been wired this way, can learn. In the end, everyone wins. Making someone happy will make you happy too! So, back to my dishes example. I listened to my husband talk about a big game on Thursday night he’s excited to watch. I’ve observed that it takes a lot of time to do the dishes when he gets home, so, I inVest in our relationship by treating him to a night off of dishes by having them done before he gets home. And…for extra bonus points, I’ve left a note (because he’s the romantic and appreciates these things) that says “Thanks for keeping the kitchen clean for us! Hope you can enjoy a night off tonight to watch the game. I love you! Go Vols!” YES!!!!! Score for me! I’m happy because it feels good to give treats. He’s happy because he feels loved and gets a special treat. Side note: While I’m using my husband for this example, this works for any close friendship: children, parents, a close bud. We ALL love treats, so inVest in your relationships. Give to get. WIN-WIN!
Experience. Spend time experiencing life together. You don’t have to go out of the way to create something new or special to do, however, sprinkle some of these in as a treat, and you’re setting yourself up for success! Simply do something together like cook dinner, go for a walk, take a yoga class, and by doing something together you’ll share an experience which increases your bond, your memories, and your warm fuzzies towards one another. If you can’t think of something, try alternating between your hobbies or try something completely new to the both of you. You never know, you might find something new that brings you both joy! Shared experiences, both good and bad, build stronger relationships due to commonness – you’ve both experienced something that connects you on another level. This is why you’ll sometimes hear people talk about traumatic events in their life being one of the best things that have ever happened to them. So, spend some time with those you love, experience life, and deepen your relationships. Be there.