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5 ways to build a healthy relationship

Meaningful connections with friends, family and loved ones can lead to a happier, longer life

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Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, March / April 2014

The road to discovery is rarely straight and narrow.

That should come as no surprise. The relationships we have with others are an important part of our lives. Our family, friends, co-workers and neighbours are the fabric of our everyday life. A great deal of satisfaction in life comes from the meaningful connections we have with those we care about and who care about us every day.

That being said, positive and healthy relationships are not always easy to establish and maintain. Relationships can be challenging at times. But since relationships are so vital to health and happiness, they are a worthwhile investment of our time and energy.

What exactly are positive and healthy relationships? Well, there are many different kinds of relationships, from intimate partnerships to those with family members, friends, and colleagues, to name a few. But the fact is that all good relationships are built on a foundation of a few key qualities. Here are a few things you can do to make sure the relationships you build are positive ones:

Be trustworthy

Trust is a key characteristic of positive relationships. When asked about relationships, people identify trustworthiness as one of the most valued traits. Being trustworthy means being dependable, reliable and honest. Most of us value relationships that are based on trust, where people are honest, but also thoughtful. While we may not have the same investment in our relationships at work, for example, we are still likely to value co-workers who can be counted on, are honest and fair.

Be co-operative

Surveys reveal that co-operativeness is the second most valued trait in relationships. What we learn about relationships begins in childhood and is affected by all aspects of the environment around us including our parents, families, peers, school, neighbourhood and other social environments. Each interaction and connection shapes the way children learn about relationships, such as how to make a friend, how to be kind, deal with conflicts, work together, or enjoy one another's company.

As children develop and grow, they learn increasingly more complex aspects of relationships such as being able to empathize with others, negotiate conflicts and manage their emotions. It isn't necessary for our influences to all be perfect in order for us to learn about good relationships. All of these things go into the mix along with our personalities, temperament and life experiences we have along the way. It's helpful to remember that everyone has had unique experiences that have brought them to their current understanding of how relationships work. Even the best relationships have their ups and downs. Learning about relationships is a lifelong process.

Resolve problems fairly

Getting along with others fairly can be very challenging, yet we are called upon to do it every day, from navigating seats on a bus to negotiating with our children about homework, to finishing that project for our manager at work.

Resolving problems and conflicts is a natural part of getting along with one another. Some of us did not have positive role models for how to resolve conflicts fairly or effectively and we fall into negative patterns of behaviour as a way to deal with conflict. When conflicts are resolved fairly, they can be a source of strength and provide an opportunity for repair and forgiveness. Harbouring negative feelings becomes less likely when people are able to acknowledge their feelings, then move on to a problem-solving approach. Resolving the issue begins with a focus on identifying the problem clearly, considering all options, then choosing one option and evaluating the outcome.

Show your appreciation

A sense of gratitude and appreciation has been found to be a motivating factor in couple relationships in the sense that when a person feels appreciated for who they are and what they do, it motivates them to do positive things for their partner as well. Most people would like to be appreciated a little more often for their efforts. Appreciation can be demonstrated in a number of ways depending on the circumstance and relationship. A simple verbal acknowledgement of "thank you" goes a long way toward a person feeling valued. Closer relationships are said to be glued together through affection. While comfort levels with physical affection vary across individuals and cultures, families and close friends who hug not only gain from the emotional reward, they also benefit physically. Hugs have been proven to lower heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels while increasing oxytocin, a hormone involved in enhancing positive feelings.

Make it enjoyable

Last but not least, good relationships are enjoyable. Amidst the tasks and responsibilities of family and work, we all need time to have some fun. Making time for enjoyment takes the grind out of the day, energizes us and motivates us to be the best we can be. Think about the important relationships in your life and what your role is in maintaining them in positive ways. A simple change in your approach and focus may be just what is needed to enrich those relationships that are such a significant part of your life. Make time for fun, share interests, explore new things together.

Laurie McPherson is a mental health promotion co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Health Region.

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