The 3 Essentials for Building
By Alicia Fortinberry, MS
Good relationships in all areas of our lives are essential to our physical and emotional health but we seem to have more trouble than ever achieving them.
My husband, psychologist Bob Murray, and I have mined the fields of neurobiology, movement physiology and psychology and emerged with a startling new approach and some very concrete and simple tools.
Just as ants make ant-hills, human beings are relationship-making creatures. We function better within a supportive relationship environment or community. Yet ever since we abandoned our hunter-gatherer ways we have drifted further from the ability to connect successfully with each other.
In our private practice and the Uplift Program many of our clients and students confess to great difficulties dealing with others. Those who are single, for instance, despair of finding the ideal mate and those who live with a partner often report feeling just as isolated. The truth is most people never learned how to nurture their relationships.
The answer? We need to relearn the lost art of relationship-making from our hunter-gather forbears.
Every tribe, or band, had its taboos, roles and rituals, which enabled members to stay together and survive. And since our brains are still those of hunter-gatherers, the essence of relationship-making is much the same for modern humans.
We call these "tribal bonding" skills the 3 "R"s for successful relationships: rules, roles and rituals.
While most of our social and cultural taboos have broken down, and many aren't feasible in a multi-cultural society, we still need rules and boundaries in relationships for safety and emotional security.
For modern humans this means setting the ground-rules and working out the conditions of each relationship you're in--with your partner, friends and colleagues, and even with your kids.
In the Uplift Program courses and workshops, Transform Your Life and Your Relationships audio-workbook and in our new book Creating Optimism we show you exactly how to do this using our unique Needs-Based DialogueTM approach to relationships.
Here's a few tips to get you started.
Think about what you really need the other person to do or not do in each of your relationships. All too often relationship needs are unstated, keeping others guessing. Or we express our needs in terms too vague to act on. "I need respect," means entirely different things to different people.
Would you like your colleagues to acknowledge your contibution on a joint project to your supervisor? Do you need your partner to let you know if he's running late? Do you want your date to pay for dinner or share the bill? If so let them know these needs are ground-rules for having a relationship with you.
Examples of good, clear needs are: "I need you not to criticize me" (all criticism is a form of control); "I need you to drive at or under the speed limit", or "I need you to agree that I have a veto in all decisions affecting me or the relationship".
Get to know what other people require in relationships. What exactly do they expect of you? Can you do that? Do you want to? Where can each of you compromise, and what's non-negotiable? We advise people in all sorts of relationships--partnerships, families (kids included) and corporations--to write down their needs, discuss them and review them regularly.
Another aspect of a successful hunter-gatherer band was well-defined roles. Each person knew that they were essential to the others and what was expected of them. Age and sex determined most tribal roles; nowadays inclination and ability should be the determinants. In our mini-tribe of two, for example, Bob shops, cooks and manages the business while I do the laundry and network.
Rituals are the glue that bonds relationships together. You probably already have rituals in your relationship (the good-bye kiss, the daily phone call from work) but may not realize how important these simple actions are in binding you together. Rituals tend to get lost in hard times, and that's when we need to consciously keep them up, even maybe make up new ones and stick to them.
Thus the recipe for successful relationships boils down to the three "R"s: rules (your needs and boundaries), rituals and roles. Observe them, and you will be surrounded by supportive people for the rest of your life.
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About the Author
Alicia Fortinberry is an award-winning health writer, and expert on emotional health and optimal relationships. Together with her husband and long-term collaborator Dr Bob Murray, she is founder of the highly successful Uplift Program, and author of Raising an Optimistic Child (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and Creating Optimism (McGraw-Hill, 2004).
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