This is the third article expanding on respectful and healthy relationship behavior. Who will be up for the New Year challenge of practicing all of these behavior for the month of January and beyond? (link to part one and part two)
21) Be Inclusive: Human beings often fall into the trap of dismissing others, sometimes due to a sense of personal superiority, but often due to not caring or listening to other people. In a relationship, dismissive behavior adds up over time with increasingly hurtful results. The counter to being dismissive is choosing to be actively inclusive of others. Making other people matter and caring about their thoughts, opinions, and emotions. With an intimate partner, this would mean to include that person in your life by sharing your successes and challenges, bringing that person into your world, even if it is mundane - and showing respect and care by including their experiences, stories, and life in your own through listening. This may mean inviting a conversation, becoming an active source of support, or making plans alongside your partner.
22) Be Open and Transparent: It's easy to be unconscious of manipulative and controlling behavior toward a partner. All it takes is selective information sharing (so-called white lies, withholding information, or lying by omission), yessing another person or being insincere (lying by assent), or of course blatantly saying or doing things to get a specific advantage (outright commission of lies or manipulation of information). Many people easily miss the build up of such patterns, and become manipulative for all the "right" reasons, even if for self-protection. But since it builds over time, it can dismantle a relationship once someone sees through that manipulation. It takes direct open communication about problems, challenges, and seemingly boring details to be transparent in how you work with your intimate partner. Your partner needs to have a sense that your motives are respectful and healthy, that those reasons for your choices are not based in coming out on top, but on working alongside. Since manipulation often takes a certain amount of personal mindfulness and reflection, it's easy to feel open and transparent while at the same time choosing behavior which alienates other people. Consider places in your life where you keep things secret - do such secrets ultimately benefit you at the expense of your partner? Are those personal things you do not speak about keep a barrier up in your relationship? Are there ways of dismantling even the small things to improve your ability to communicate and grow with your partner?
23) Let Time Run Its Course: Sometimes it seems very important to make a decision quickly, and pressure others to agree or join with you in a decision. This sort of pressure can wear others down, and make them feel less validated in their own decision making process. Not all decisions or situations are equally imperative, so balancing priorities and knowing when an immediate choice is necessary and when there is time to allow patience and discussion can help to make a partnership feel like a true collaboration. There are situations where an individual wants to make a quick decision to avoid pain or due to fear about outcomes - and in such cases allowing time can be important for other reasons. If decision making is about avoidance, then patience may instead lead to growing discussion and cooperation. If being right or winning a conflict is the priority, such motives are a trap that cause damage to a relationship. If your partner feels pressured to make a decision, and makes one out of that pressure, such a decision may be paired with regret and self-blame. Or it could be paired with anger and blaming you for pressuring. Sure, in some cases, particularly if someone is unsure or paralyzed in decision making, they might feel better about making a decision, but that is where it is important to know what is going on for your partner (and yourself) in decision making and to understand where your patience, or need to develop more patience, is important.
24) Remember the Value of Your Relationship: How do you add value to your partner's life? How does your partner add value to your life? These are critical questions to ask, and to understand the answer. In them, you can consider places you can improve (to add more value), and places to appreciate and validate your partner. I argue that this is a very important part of creating an amicable relationship with an ex-partner as well. Often men in my classes who have a child with their ex-partner speak to her faults and problems and their ability to co-parent suffers greatly as a result. Having neutral self-talk may involve the ability to remember why you chose your partner to begin with, and the positive characteristics that you had valued, and maybe even still value. Conflict can easily grow when there is discontent and a growing negative self-talk about your partner, and being conscious of value helps to keep that discontent from growing into contempt. It can also keep you humble if you have been working on awareness of your faults in addition to remembering the strengths that your partner appreciates in you.
25) Acknowledge Your Partner's Humanity: As human beings, we have any number of faults, make mistakes pretty regularly, and are self-oriented at times to the point of missing opportunities to validate and care for others. The ancient truism of "remove the plank in your own eye before addressing the sliver in someone else's" holds very true to this humanity. If you can recognize your own faults, and keep your partner's faults with several grains of salt, you can more easily navigate conflict by seeing where that humanity might be getting in the way on either side. Any of the items on this list can be challenging because they require a certain amount of personal choice and discipline. Your partner may not practice this (or any other of these things) but that does not mean you cannot. Sometimes a simple thing such as noticing your partner's exhaustion, understanding life experiences that are overwhelming your partner, or realizing you have made similar mistakes can lead to more understanding in conflict resolution.
26) Connect With Support Beyond Your Partner: It's important to choose wisely when investing in a relationship for many reasons, one of them being that it's natural that you will spend a lot of time together. When you connect with another person in a committed way, and as a relationship grows and evolves over time, you inherently will depend on support from your partner. This support might be emotional, but it may also be about sharing resources, time, and responsibilities. This does not mean all your support should come from one person. It is important to have others in your life, whether it be friends, family, or even coworkers who can offer feedback and emotional support. It's just as important to encourage your partner to foster such relationships and support. Being wise about your support system is also critical - it's no good to have people supporting you who give you hurtful ideas or selfish options to solving problems. Nor is it good to have people who fail to call you on your bullshit. Who is in your life outside of your partner who is there for you, and how do they demonstrate support for you?
27) Handle Tough Decisions Together: Not all decisions need to be made jointly in a relationship, but at the same time it's important to know your partner well enough to understand when that person wants to be involved in a decision. What are the tough decisions you face, and how do you get input on them from your partner? How do you work together as parents, and how do you work separately? Parenting is a useful example because of course you cannot make all decisions jointly, at the same time you need to be open and transparent about the decisions you do make so you do not override or counter your partner's choices. Even in decisions that may be more personal, having your partner's thoughts and input can lead to greater intimacy and validation.
28) Be Assertive: Know what you want and need, and know how to communicate those things. Often it's a trap to merely communicate what you do not like, do not want, or do not need - and use those things as attacks. Productively working toward goals and options will go much better when negotiating and compromising, and making decisions that do not end up as an expense to your partner are also important. Being passive and awaiting an outcome leads to less personal investment and makes it easy to later become aggressive about an outcome you had no investment in to begin with. Aggressively making choices to meet your needs or wants can easily steamroll over your partner and build resentment. Actively communicating and working together to prioritize, understand the difference between wants and needs, and set realistic and measurable goals are all traits that are a part of acting assertively.
29) Understand Respect: As a term, respect can be hard to define. Sometimes the examples given are things like "I respected my father, because if I didn't, there'd be hell to pay," but in such examples respect is confused with fear. If someone equates being respected to being obeyed or feared, they may pursue destructive and hurtful behavior in their relationships with others. Another common, but ultimately faulty example is, "to get respect, you have to earn it," but such ideas are more similar to defining authority. Rising in an hierarchy such as within a work environment may involve earning position, but if someone believes they have the right to control others or that they have earned such a right, then they may not be open to influence or negotiation which can again be destructive to relationships. Understanding respect as a concept involves understanding how you listen to others and show a certain amount of caring for them. The ability and willingness to listen to other's thoughts, emotions, and opinions demonstrates to others that you respect them. Alternatively, the ability to understand and listen to your own needs and gain them in a dignified way is what self-respect is all about. Developing respect in a relationship helps to strengthen and grow bonds between you, and is critical to having value in another person.
30) Balance Intimacy: Intimacy is no one thing, but involves layers of connection. Physical intimacy is definitely about sexual attraction and behavior, but it is even more than that. Passion about being with someone, enjoying physical (non-sexual) touch, these things and more are what make up physical intimacy and such things evolve throughout an intimate partner relationship. Emotional intimacy is about closeness to someone, knowing what they like and dislike, reciprocity of action and need, secrets shared and secrets kept, and overall knowledge of that person's life and history. Mental intimacy makes up commitment - how you bind yourself to another person by finances, marriage, having children, living together, making goals for the future, or other intimately binding behavior. Spiritual intimacy is about shared values and morals, both knowing your own and navigating your partner's, and appreciating their differences. All of these layers of intimacy are best developed equally, although it is natural for one to grow faster than another, and when that happens being aware of places that need to be developed further as a part of an ongoing and evolving relationship.
31) Be Mindful of How Others Experience You: Decent actors spend time in front of a mirror watching and practicing their emotional responses so they can best portray different situations and characters. Since communication is largely nonverbal, there are a multitude of gestures, vocal tones, and faces we make that others pick up on without our knowing it. Humans are sensing beings, as much as we put greater emphasis on thinking we all have the ability to feel that something is off, to know when tension is high, and to even determine danger or well being. It is an important skill to know how others may experience you at any given time, but particularly during conflict. If someone feels threatened by you, you can deny being threatening but that does not negate the other person's experiences of you or the reasons they felt that way. Within relationships, it is important to consistently listen to your partner's experiences of you so that you can learn more about yourself through their descriptions and their perspectives. Just like an actor practicing various responses, you can train yourself to become aware of how you act, and the "vibes" you give off when you are upset. Managing your responses is a big part of contributing to a relationship in a respectful and healthy manner.
I hope this discussion of healthy and respectful relationship behavior has been helpful! Please feel free to comment below, or send me an email if you have any questions. You can use the pamphlet in the link below if you think it would be useful for your work, and if you do please maintain credit to me (which is in a box on the pamphlet itself).
THIRTY HEALTHY AND RESPECTFUL WAYS PAMPHLET