Hello everybody, welcome to episode 31 of Optimal Living Advice. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino, and today we’ll be talking about strong relationships and building closer friendships – why we might not feel strength in relationships and if so, how to acquire it.
Sometimes acquiring strength in relationships requires going against our instincts, and we’ll elaborate on that idea, as well. So without further ado, here’s today’s question…
QUESTION: “I often feel like my relationships, specifically my friendships, aren’t strong enough. I know all relationships are different, but I don’t feel as though I have the same closeness – inside jokes, bouts of laughter, in-depth conversations that I see others having. I’d say I only have that with my sister, and I don’t know what I’d do without her. The more I realize this, the more I go out of my way to be extra kind to those in my life, but it still doesn’t seem to work. I’d appreciate the help if you have any thoughts on this.”
All right, lots of great relationship questions coming in lately. Yet another one here to add to the pile.
So this is an interesting spot to be in, because you’ve done what a lot of people in this conundrum haven’t done, and that’s taken responsibility for the role you play by going out of your way to be extra kind in your relationships as a means of strengthening them. You’ve made the effort to be the best you can be and followed my golden relationship rule, which is being the partner (or friend or whatever) you want to have.
While this is very admirable, and your heart is absolutely in the right place, we have to remember that goodhearted effort is not the only foundation of good relationships. It’s important, but we’ve all seen the people who try try try and still can’t attract the partners they want, right?
Been there: I chased the same girl from 6th grade to 12th grade with not so much as a kiss on the cheek to show for it – atta boy, Greg.
Ah, I wonder if she’s listening. That’d be funny. Hi, Meghan.
Build Closer Friendships through a Shared History of Experiences
Anyway, there is more to relationship building and a lot of it really requires the lack of a concerted effort. This might sound strange, but try to follow me along here. You say you and your sister have that sort of palpable, genuine bond that goes beneath the surface that you wish you had with others.
What does the background look like with your sister? My bet is that for as many inside jokes and bouts of laughter you two share, there are just as many screaming matches and acts of destruction towards one another’s clothing. Sure, there’s a rich history of experiences and that little DNA thing, but above all, there’s expression. There’s expression that’s caused friction, vulnerability, and embarrassment.
And it’s the after-effects of expression, the rebuild phase, during which the people in relationships get to know one another better. They gain understanding of what makes the other one tick, and through that, a bond is built that goes beneath the surface. There are nuances to each interaction because there’s a mutual, experience-based understanding of what the people are thinking, not just what they’re saying.
What I’m saying here is that those kinds of nuances, those ups and downs, are limited in how well-defined they are if there’s only one emotion all the time. So if you’re being nothing but kind to your peers, while this is a wonderful, conscious effort for you to make, it’s also a means of restricting the other parts of you that have to be seen for relationships of all kinds to thrive. Good relationships are multi-faceted, and cannot be forced.
The intricacies of any friendship start organically, and you’re not being organic if you’re only showing your kindness. Think about your relationship with your sister. When she comes to mind, what pops into your head?
Kindness? MAYBE a little bit, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that there’s a lot more than that, because there’s a lot more to HER than that.
A perfect partner and a perfect friend without any flaws at all don't exist. It takes acceptance and commitment to strengthen your relationships.
Express and Assert Yourself More
If you’re going to strengthen your relationships, you’re going to have to express yourself more – which will probably mean asserting yourself more. You’re going to have to argue, challenge and be more forthcoming with your true feelings so people start to see that you have a pulse.
Assertiveness, when done right, causes people to respond attentively to you. From The 5 Essential People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts:
“If you're not prepared to assert yourself in a positive and proactive manner, nothing else can possibly happen.”
Source: The 5 Essential People Skills
Right now, you’re presenting yourself as one-dimensional, and though kindness is a great dimension to show, we all know that all of the best relationships have variety and layers. I could see how this change might be something you fear since it’s something you’re not used to, but eventually you’ll have to trust in the part of you that’s not people-pleasing to attract the right people and discard the wrong people from your life.
Creating good relationships requires this kind of filtering process of those who are not made to be in our lives; how can it not? It’s common to try to avoid this process as it can involve some temporary pain, but it’s a necessary step that won’t be arrived at if kindness is you’re only MO all the time.
Get familiar with assertiveness techniques, which include:
- basic assertion (being specific when making your statement)
- empathic assertion (acknowledging both the other person's as well as your own feelings or needs)
- broken record technique (repeating your statement in a calm manner — a good way to practice saying “no” to something)
Am I encouraging you to start screaming at anyone who does something you have the slightest problem with?
No. We’re going to stay in adult mode. But there’s definitely a middle ground.
Closer Friendships: The Middle Ground
Practically speaking, this middle ground – this hotbed for new relationships and closer friendships – might be found faster if you purposefully seek out polarizing groups or situations. Yes, you can take the key step of presenting yourself more honestly with friends, but jumpstarting that side of yourself can happen when you put yourself into situations where you don’t have much choice in the matter. This could be anything in which there’s an emphasis on standpoint – maybe political activism or something along those lines where there’s a clear divide, ya know?
Though you’ll all theoretically be on the same page about something, a gathering like this spikes your inclination to stand by something and not sacrifice your needs simply to appease others. Plus, you’re meeting like-minded people that share the same sense of passion and vigor, which, of course, speaks to something far beneath the surface for both of you, and that’s what good bonds are all about.
Crazy stuff, right?
Did that guy just suggest that politics can actually save friendships?
Ha ha, hope all of this on closer friendships made sense today, folks. I can’t stress enough that there is a lot of value in being kind and that this is not an approach to do away with, it’s simply not the only ingredient. Hope that was successfully relayed to everyone listening and to the asker, of course.
If you’ve got your own question you need answered on the show, please send it our way. You can email us with questions at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
Thanks as always for coming, and looking forward to talking to you next time. Until then everyone!