Do This One Thing to Improve Any Relationship

Beyond Boundaries
People who want to improve a relationship often talk about talking. That is, they bring up what happened, what went wrong in their experience, and come up with solutions. Here are some examples:
  • Remember when I said I needed space and listening, not solutions and homework assignments? It happened again; let's fix this.
  • I don't want to sound childish, but I've been trying to be more open about the job problem, and it still feels as if you want just good news from me about work. I really need you to hang in there with me.
  • It feels as if you're impatient with me when I go to a deeper level now, as if I ought to have my act together. That's hard for me; are you really feeling that way?
  • When I brought up the problems I have with my dad, you lost eye contact and started talking about something else. This is really important for me; are you okay with all this? Is there a way I can do this differently, or do you not want me to talk about this with you?

If you want a better relationship, be a team player with the other person. In responding, you must have no hint of judgment or a critical spirit. You are forging a way to connect, and never forget that the "we" comes first. You want to recruit the person to vulnerable language, to help solve the glitch and move on.

Acknowledge that maybe you aren't being clear or that this is new for both of you. Vulnerability works both ways. If the other person feels a lot of performance pressure to "get it right," she won't be able to speak from her heart. And you are after a heart-to-heart attachment; that's the whole idea. I have coached many husbands on how to be empathic. Lots of them don't naturally know the right things to say, so I give them some examples that I hope trigger and resonate with what they really feel toward their wives. Statements like these are good examples:

  • That must have been hard.
  • Tell me more.
  • How did that make you feel?
  • That's tough; anything I can do to help?

These are simple things to say that convey understanding and support. Guys being guys, they often say, "Great idea," and write them down so they can remember them. The problem comes when they run through the list and recite them! Most wives catch on in about three seconds, and then there is a talk about the talk about the talk. So let the person know, "You don't have to do this right; I certainly don't myself. I just need to know you feel something positive toward me when I am feeling negative." And that covers many errors.


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  • Kathy Pierce on

    Is it so wrong to want to talk about issues. My children just think and want me to get over things that have caused hurt and trust between us like it never happened. Who is right here? Can you just move forward without resolution?

  • Christine on

    I have run into being the Pollyanna type around a very negative friend. There’s nothing wrong with seeing the bright side when you do. The problem lies with the other person’s attitude. They are playing the victim and wallowing in self-pity. Their pride is what is putting the label “Pollyanna” on you. The only thing you can do at this point, is pray and challenge the other person to work out their problems for themselves. You have to say something like,“I know this is a problem for you and you’re having a really difficult time. I’m sorry for that, do you know what you are going to do about it?” When you do this, you are reminding them that they have the power to decide how they are going to act and empowering them to challenge themselves and overcome the obstacle.

  • The Mrs. on

    I was just praying about this this evening. :) I’m a wife who has a hard time with my husband’s job troubles. Firstly, I have personally felt called to go into ministry, but my husband is worried about finances and the full-time ministry option isn’t the highest on his list right now although he’s told me and others that he feels the call as well. He has struggled in various jobs since we’ve been married for truly legit reasons- egotistical bosses, unreasonable schedules, and so on. I definitely feel for him and with him, but sometimes when I nod and agree and console and show sympathy (empathy?), I feel like I’m agreeing that our situation is negative and that we are defeated and helpless. I know that’s not true and that we ought to stand in faith and speak to our mountains more. I’m leaning on God to not come across to my husband as a Pollyanna, get-it-together, demanding type of wife. I am submitting to God and to him. How do I show support without getting discouraged myself? And please give more examples of supportive things to say and do. They help! Thank you.

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