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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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