What Makes Relationships Resilient?

“Open communication” and “love” often come to mind as defining factors for good relationships. While both are essential to the health of a relationship, I’m in the business of creating resilient relationships, not just “good” relationships. So what does a relationship need, exactly, to be resilient? What is the secret to creating and maintaining a relationship that successfully withstands the tests of time and stress (since we know life inevitably includes both of those things)?

It starts with you. Yes, I know you’d rather point the finger at your partner, child, friend or even that nosy neighbor across the way to displace the discomfort that comes from looking inward… but that won’t get you very far. Resilience is built from within.

Self-awareness is a key component to creating a relationship that not just survives, but thrives. Doing some digging to determine how and why you show up the way you do in relationships is important. What insecurities and core beliefs fuel your thoughts and behaviors? Do you feel “not good enough” every time you perceive your partner, parent, friend or even coworker criticizing you? Or perhaps it’s a fear of abandonment that drives you to seek reassurance time and time again. It’s no surprise that we all bring “baggage” from our past into our current relationships and if you don’t build insight into those patterns, they will inevitably continue. (If you’re struggling to pinpoint what relational “baggage” you’re traveling with, I can help). Along with self-awareness should come accountability. Owning up to our short-comings is the best way to display humility in a relationship and let your guard down in order to build emotional intimacy.

Dr. Dan Siegel says, “When we attune with others we allow our own internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another. This resonance is at the heart of the important sense of “feeling felt” that emerges in close relationships. Children need attunement to feel secure and to develop well, and throughout our lives we need attunement to feel close and connected.”

Attunement can be practiced by having a genuine curiosity about the other person’s inner world. What are their likes or dislikes? How do they interpret the world around them? What are their strengths or struggles? What do they value? Asking open ended questions communicates the message, “I’m interested in you and what you have to say”. This is important in all relationships!

Another vital component of resilient relationships is safety. You have to feel safe and also create safety for the other person. Safety in relationships allows vulnerability to ebb and flow freely. If you don’t feel safe, you’re less likely to share your feelings, fears, needs, desires or even boundaries with that person. You need to know that you can display your insecurities and they will be met with curiosity and compassion rather than judgment or scrutiny.

It may seem overwhelming to think about all that goes into a functional, adaptive relationship. And most of the time, you probably won’t get it “right”. This leads to the most important aspect of a resilient relationship – repair. When you mess up or create a “rupture” in the relationship (and you definitely will) it is essential that you come back to that person to mend the rupture. It’s not necessary that you show up perfectly, but rather consistently. Practice extending an apology or accountability by saying, “I don’t like how I did that and I’d like to do better next time.” Relational repair is perhaps the most powerful experience I’ve witnessed in my practice as a marriage and family therapist.

When you’re ready to build resilience in your relationships, I’m here to support you.

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