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21 Ways To Strengthen Struggling Relationships

21 Ways To Strengthen Struggling Relationships

All relationships go through phases, there will be good times and challenges. When you recognize that your relationship is in a rough spot, take heart.  Great relationships don’t happen by luck.  There are the specific skills and actions that strengthen our relationships.

Here’s your crash course on 21 Ways to Strengthen Struggling Relationships.

1. Make Your Relationship a Top Priority.

Relationships are like living things: they are either growing or dying.  Relationships grow and flourish when we invest and nurture them.  When relationships are struggling, it’s often a sign that they have been neglected. To strengthen a struggling relationship, you must make it a top priority of your time and energy.

2. Accept that Disappointment Will Happen in every Relationship.

Disappointment happens when our expectations don’t match reality. Two people will always have differences in their expectations. This means that disappointments will  happen in every relationship. We have a tendency to focus on the negative and we then use this “evidence” to reinforce the belief that our relationships are filled with disappointment.  Instead, accept that disappointment happens.  Choose to focus on the parts that have fulfilled your expectations and even brought unplanned blessings.

3. Don’t Make Derogatory Comments, Insults & Belittling Remarks.

The words you use are powerful. When you put down your partner or your relationship, you are causing damage. Choose to break habits that damage the relationship, especially when you feel frustrated and disappointed. Use words that show respect, love, and hope. Plant the seeds you want to grow.

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4. Don’t Stonewall.

Stonewalling is a passive-aggressive tactic that may seem neutral, but is very damaging. Whenever you ignore, stall, and refuse to participate, you are stonewalling. It is a power-play intended to break down the opposition. It keeps the relationship in a “me versus you” dynamic. For a relationship to survive, it must be an “us against the world” commitment.

5. Don’t Play the Blame Game.

This is a game no one wins. Even if you are successful in blaming all your problems on your partner, you still are stuck with all those problems and the feelings that come with them.  The only way to begin transforming your problems into solutions is to take full responsibility for the parts you play.  Stop blaming and start creating the relationship you want.

6. Let Go of the Desire to Fix or Change Your Partner.

William Glasser teaches in Choice Theory that the key to changing any relationship is to fully accept that you cannot change anyone except yourself.  The sooner you fully accept this as truth, the sooner you will begin to heal and grow together.  All of us long to be loved and accepted for who we are.  When your partner feels that you are not ashamed or disappointed, then he/she may feel supported to choose to change. Meanwhile, focus on changing and improving yourself.

7. Focus on the Qualities You Love & Respect in Your Partner.

Remember the moments and reasons why this person became special and important to you.  Trust that all those things are still true.  Close your eyes and hold those moments in your heart.  Allow yourself to feel again the love, pride, and respect that you felt.  Return to these moments to revitalize your commitment to strengthen your realtionship.

8. Believe That Your Partner Has Good Intentions.

Psychological studies have proven that once we become convinced of an idea, our brain will ignore and discredit information that contradicts what we believe. When we are feeling hurt and disappointed, we have a tendency to turn our partner into the villain. But if your relationship is going to have a chance to turn around, you must make room for the possibility that your partner can be your greatest ally.  Believe that your partner has good intentions, but the information he/she is acting on is incorrect or the impact is hurtful.

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9. Learn How to Forgive.

We have many misunderstandings about what forgiveness means.  Forgiveness does not mean you give permission for someone to mistreat you.  It means that you accept that we are all doing the best we can.  Surely if we knew better, we would do better.  When we disappoint and hurt each other, it’s not because we want to.  Forgive that your partner hasn’t learned better ways of loving you YET.  Forgiveness means you commit to letting go of the hurt of the past to allow for new possibilities in the future.

10. Learn How to Be Fully Present.

There is a difference between being in the room and being present.  There is a difference between hearing and listening.  Being fully present means that when your partner speaks, you don’t assume you already know what he/she thinks.  You begin to listen for what you haven’t understood yet.  You become a curious detective that sincerely wants to learn what is going on.  This is a completely different intent than listening to prove that you are right.

11. Make it Clear That You Want to Hear & Understand Your Partner.

Tell your partner, “I know in the past I may have not done a good job of listening to you.  I see that this has hurt you and me.  I must not fully understand what is going on.  I want to.  I want to understand who you are and what matters to you. I will keep listening as long as it takes.”

12. Ask Your Partner to Share.

Ask, “Are you willing to share with me? Whenever you’re ready to share, I’m ready to hear.  And I will wait until you feel safe,”  then practice being fully present.

13. Learn What Needs to Happen for Your Partner to Feel Loved & Respected.

We all have different rules for what needs to happen for us to feel loved and respected. Some people need to be told “I love you” many times every day. Others need to have one-on-one time for at least twenty minutes each day. A hand pat from time to time will suffice for others.  Ask your partner, “What makes you feel loved? What have I done that has made you feel close to me? What do I do that let’s you know I’m proud of you?” Then give your partner what he/she needs as frequently as they need it.

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14. Learn About Your Damaging Cycles.

Partners can fall into damaging patterns.  A common pattern is the pursuer/withdrawer cycle.  One partner will attack, nag, or chatter in a way to provoke a reaction from the other.  Then the other will withdraw, stonewall, or leave to avoid the discomfort.  The first partner will then pursue more, driving the second partner deeper into withdrawal. Obviously, this will only lead to frustration by all.  The only way out is to recognize what’s going on and talk about it together.  Name it, claim it, and change.

15. Draw Boundaries That Won’t Set You Up.

When your partner asks something of you, be honest about your limitations.  Going along with things that you don’t truly want sets you up to feel disappointed and resentment later.  You are responsible when you do that to yourself.  Your partner cannot read your mind.  Be honest and set boundaries that will serve everyone in the long run.

16. Respect Yourself & Express Your Thoughts/Feelings Openly.

You have the right to say what you think and feel. A relationship built on false information intended to please your partner will eventually fall apart. Strong relationships are built on trust and respect, which can only happen when both partners are honest with each other.

17. Beware of Keeping Secrets to Protect Your Partner.

We are often tempted to protect our partners by keeping secrets from them. This positive intention often falls apart as time passes and unexpected consequences come to light. It can be very difficult to know when to share “secrets.” As much as you can, try to be as open as possible.

18. Take Responsibility for Your Own Limiting Beliefs.

We all have limiting beliefs.  They are the small voices that whisper in the dark, trying to protect us, but keeping us stuck in fear.  “I’ll always be disappointed.” “Men can’t be trusted.”  “Women will only use you for your money.” Your limiting beliefs are not your partner’s fault.  You had those beliefs long before your partner came along.  Learn to identify your limiting beliefs. Be careful that you are not projecting your beliefs onto your partner.

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19. Be True to Your Word.

Trust will be weak in a struggling relationships.  When you say you will do something or share what’s true for you, your partner is going to trust that is true.  It’s ok for you to change your mind, but take the time to catch your partner up to speed. This allows your partner to grow and change with you.

20. Take the Time to Express Appreciation.

We often take it for granted that our partners will know we are grateful for them. When we don’t take the time to express these simple appreciations, we begin to feel taken for granted.  Thank your partner whenever he/she does things that make your life easier and better.

21. Daydream Together.

We enter relationships to build lives together.  We often get caught up in the grind of life’s logistics.  Take the time to daydream together and explore what possibilities you both hope for in the future.  Make goals and plans to support each other to live out your dreams.

How else can struggling relationships turn around? Which of these ways do you think is the most powerful? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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