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

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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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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