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:
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.