17 Things That People Who Are Great in Relationships Do Differently (That Anyone Can Do)

17 Things People Who Are Great At Relationships Do Differently

People are meant to be with people. It’s one of the particularly lovely design features of being human. When we love, we grow, we flourish, we fall, we learn. Relationships can bring out our best or bring out our worst. Sometimes they’ll do both before breakfast. The best people to be with are the ones who inspire us to explore the way we are with people and the world in a way that’s safe enough to own, experiment with and change if we want to.

Being with someone who is great at relationships can feel a bit like magic and a lot like home. The good news is that anyone can learn the lessons they’ve learned and be great at relationships too. Here are the things that people who are good at relationships have learned to do, that anyone can master:

  1. They let themselves be vulnerable.

    They know how to live and love with an open heart. When they let you in close it’s beautiful, and the intimacy and trust flows freely. Being around that kind of person is addictive. They are able to own all of their messy, fragile, uncertain, extraordinarily beautiful parts, making it easy for the people they are with to do the same. There’s nothing like not having to hide. That kind of purity and permission is effortless to be with. They aren’t like it with everyone though, and you know it.

  2. They self-disclose.

    Self disclosure is the essence of intimacy. They’ll talk about their thoughts, ideas, feelings, fears and they’ll ask about yours. It’s important because it signals trust and a desire to be close. Aside from sex, it’s this level of self-disclosure that makes an intimate relationship different to others. It nurtures a fierce understanding of each other and gives a context (not an excuse) to behaviours, moods, feelings, fears and weaknesses, making it less likely that things will be taken personally and that fights and arguments will be given enough spark to to catch fire.

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  3. They aren’t a slave to their past.

    A past. We all have one. People who are great at relationships don’t let it define them or any future relationships they have. They use the past to inform the future, not to drain or burden it. We all make mistakes and we’ve all probably been out with a few, but the people who are great at relationships don’t let bitterness, regret or guilt chomp at their heels and ruin something that could be amazing if they let it. They can move on, let go and are able to see new things with fresh eyes, and not through a filter that is dusty with hurts and heartaches of the past.

  4. They expect to be happy.

    They expect happiness for themselves, their relationships and the person they love. More importantly, they act as though happiness is always on its way, even if it gets delayed by life’s upsets sometimes. People who are great at relationships know they live in the real world and not in a storybook, so they know there will be arguments, bad moods, sadness and sometimes not enough time/money/fun, but they accept that bumps in the road are a setback and a normal part of play, and they are able to look beyond them to whatever better things lie ahead. 

  5. They want you, but they don’t need you.

    Needy people will never bring out the best in anyone, because they’ll take whatever you give and then look for confirmation that it was for them, that you actually meant it, that there’s more coming, and that you’re not giving more to someone else. It’s exhausting. There’s no excitement, there’s no challenge, and there’s no inspiration to be better than you are. People who do relationships with flourish let you know that they’re with you because they want to be – because you’re you and you’re different to everyone else on the planet and they think you’re incredible. They love you because of who they are with you, not because they’re terrified of who they are without you. They just love you.

  6. They own their ‘stuff’.

    They know where they end and where you begin and they won’t try to dump their stuff onto anyone. If they’re cranky, tired, frustrated or angry, they’ll own it. They’ll take full responsibility for their own insecurities, jealousies and whatever else might knock them off track (and yes, they’re human people not human machines so of course they have their bad days/weeks) but they’ll take full responsibility and work towards dealing with it.

  7. They will grow with you, but they don’t need to change you.

    They know who you are. They know who they are. They know what they were signing up for when they thought the combination of the two of you was pretty special. They’ll grow with you when they can, and they’ll support you in the growth you do on your own, but they won’t need to change you.

  8. They give and take. 

    They are able to give and receive with an open heart. It’s a giving that is rich, generous and deliberate, but it’s done with a level of self-respect that doesn’t let them keep giving when nothing comes back. They know they aren’t any good for anyone, especially themselves and the people they love, if they allow their emotional well to run dry because they’re with someone who takes more than they give.

  9. They don’t take themselves too seriously.

    There are some things that make humans particularly wonderful. Laughter is one of them. It helps couples to work through stressful times and to maintain a connection. It’s designed to make us feel better about the world and closer to the ones we’re next to in it. Laughter shows people that you understand them, like them, love them and people who are great at relationships don’t hold back on any of these.

  10. They let you know.

    They’re quick to let you know when you’re getting it right. They’re grateful, observant, available and present. They don’t need to outshine you and they’ll be your greatest cheer squad, celebrating you and the things you do. They’re quick to let you know that they’re proud of you, that they appreciate you and that they think you’re pretty great to be with. Yep. They can be pretty irresistible like that.

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  11. They’ll put you first.

    They know that if they put you first, and you put them first, you’re onto a winning formula for something extraordinary. They don’t keep score – that’s one of the great things about them – but be careful if there’s nothing going back their way. They’re not stupid and when it gets to the point that they’re giving too much more than they’re receiving, they’ll be done.

  12. They do what they say.

    They’re accountable and they aren’t into games, because they know with games there is always a loser. They’ll be where they tell you they’re going to be, they’ll call when they say they will, and if they’re keeping secrets, don’t worry – it will be because they’re organising a special surprise.

  13. They love like loving you is easy.

    Love can be hard work but it should never feel like it takes more than it gives. When you’re in a relationship with someone who does relationships well, you never have to guess where you stand. They’ll let you know by the things they do, the things they say, and the way you feel around them. Love was never meant to be a guessing game.

  14. They talk about the stuff that matters.

    They keep the small talk for the small stuff and aren’t afraid to dive into the deeper things. They’ll trust you enough to talk about the things that matter to them, and they’ll want to be close enough to you to notice what’s important to you. They’ll ask about things, explore things, and be open to whatever beautiful depths a conversation leads to. And they’ll happily go there with you. They’ll even lead the way if you want them to.

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  15. They hold you when you want to be held and touch you when you want to be touched.

    Physical intimacy is so important in a relationship. It releases oxytocin (the bonding chemical) reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), communicates love and is the most nurturing thing in the universe. It’s not just the deliberate types of touches like sex, kissing, holding, but the incidental ones too – the stroke as you walk past, brushing hands, touching your back as they walk behind you – it’s beautiful, life giving and will strengthen a connection like nothing else on the planet.

  16. They’re committed to working through an argument rather than proving they’re right.

    They know that both people can be wrong and both people can be right – sometimes at the same time. They work with the data rather than the emotion, and they know that even more important than anyone’s version of the facts is how each of you feel about those facts. If you’re jaded about something that was hissed at you in an unguarded moment, you won’t hear, ‘But I was just trying to explain that I’ve stacked the dishwasher every night this week and that you haven’t done it at all. Geez why is everything a personal attack with you!’ Instead, they’ll apologise for the snap and if there’s something you need to hear, they’ll do it with love and generous intent and in a way that keeps you connected, rather than in a way that propels you to pack a bag and call your sister.

  17. They love you the way you want to be loved.

    Not everyone wants to be loved the same way. Knowing someone intimately enough to love them the way they want to be loved, and caring about them enough to do that is the formula for a relationship that will last a thousand Sundays.

People who are great at relationships have a way of making the person they’re with feel a little bit smarter, funnier, stronger, more beautiful – a little bit more able to take on the world and win. The relationship is close, intimate and loving and seem effortless. Of course no relationship is actually effortless – all take work and a willingness to give, receive, grow and maybe do some things a little differently – but things that are meant to last forever were never meant to be rushed.

6 Comments

Julie

This is one of the most important and insightful articles I have ever read. Brillant! So much to take away. I loved it because it also allows for a person to see that they are not behaving this way in the relationship and to examine WHY not. Everyone in or thinking about being in a relationship needs to read this. Thank you so much.

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Olami Tunde

this is a great thoughts and ideas… am so glad i can see myself as a great lover cos i show all to the person i get involve with. as u said life isnt a storybook, so i have my own ups and downs but it doesnt affect my relationship

Reply
Elise Wolfe

I’m happy to realize that I do most of these things, but i sometimes overthink things, and while I hope for the best, I prepare for the worst. I’m going work on adopting #4. That’s beautiful.

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Linda

Good positive ideas, thoughts and wishes. Where are these perfect people? I am curious about the age of who wrote this article.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Thank you Linda! As for age … old enough to know that there are no perfect people, that there are great ones all around the place, and that anyone can move closer to being ‘perfect enough’ for the right person if they want to.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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