I’ve blogged frequently about techniques that you can use when you need more peace of mind. Usually I’ve focused on practices that you can do inside your own mind—no other person required! Mental strategies that promote the gratitude attitude, self-compassion, mindfulness, and self-soothing can certainly go a long way toward reducing stress, increasing your happiness, and lessening mental suffering.
But let’s face it. Sometimes you need to know that you have good people at your back when things go awry in your life. Good relationships can bring peace of mind, not to mention longer life, companionship, health, happiness, and a host of other benefits. At bottom, we are social creatures who need each other. Even meditating monks do it—congregate in communities, that is.
Social needs are the most basic of all needs, according to Dr. Matthew D. Lieberman in his book, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. He and other researchers speculate that our large brains may have evolved in order to become more adept at social skills. In fact, in our free time, our thinking tends to default to musing about our social relationships—what's right, what's wrong, how we can all get along.
Relationships and Peace of Mind
If you doubt the role of good relationships for a more peaceful mind, consider how you felt, or might feel, in these situations:
Any of these situations can stir up powerful negative feelings. When your social safety net is full of holes, it’s a challenge to maintain your peace of mind. Relationship worries can prevent a good night’s sleep or a good day’s work. When your relationships are humming along smoothly, on the other hand, it’s much easier to feel peace of mind.
So how is your “relationship health” these days? Do you have the kind of relationships and social support that give you peace of mind? Do you possess the social skills to connect up with like-minded others and to resolve typical social problems?
If you desire the peace of mind that comes from being in harmony with your fellow human beings, here are 13 steps that you could take right now. Learning about relationship health is a complicated process, so along with most steps I’ve linked to at least one blog that offers further insights.
13 Steps to Relationship Health
1. Make the conscious decision to put your relationship health at or near the top of your priority list.
Whether you are altering mental habits, behavior habits, or relationship habits, research shows that your conscious decision to change will be a key factor in your success.
2. Assess the relationship area that needs work and set a specific goal.
For example, if you don’t have a strong social network, your general goal might be to build a better one. You can seek out friends from a variety of sources—family, work, spiritual organizations, 12-step groups, hobby groups, groups with a common purpose, and teams. Your specific goal could be: “To join one group where I can share my interest in ___.”
Of course you have to respect your own nature. If you are an introvert, you might prefer to choose one person from your existing network to get to know better. Or, if your network consumes too much of your time already, consider a goal to prune it.
Your relationship needs may vary with your age, as this blog by PT blogger Christopher Bergland explains.
3. Set standards.
If certain friends or groups drain your energy or sap your self-esteem, move them toward the bottom of your priority list or stop seeing them at all. Beware of those who force you to give up too much of yourself as the price for a relationship! Choose to spend more time with people who have your interests at heart and can help you grow into the person you want to be. If you like the “you” that emerges with a particular person or group, that’s a good sign.
4. Observe character. Those little inconsiderate things that your friend does? Notice them. Bring them up in conversation. Tell her what you’d prefer instead. If her response is indifferent or worse, this friendship could be at a dead end. On the other hand, if your friend is appreciative and kind, notice that. Green light! To become a better judge of potential romantic relationships, read this outstanding blog by Jeremy Nicholson.
5. When your friends are happy, be happy for them. This quality is called “mudita” in the Buddhist tradition—being able to feel joy in the joy of another. PT blogger Toni Bernhard explains here.
6. Apologize when you’ve been wrong.
Tasting a bit of crow can be good for your character development! But not everyone can deliver a healing and heartfelt apology. For the how-to, see this wise blog by Dr. Guy Winch.
7. Ask for what you need in the relationship.
Want more out of life? Just ask! Asking is a very effective way of getting, as this blog by Thomas Hills shows.
8. Be able to say NO when your friends’ requests interfere with your own values and goals.
9. Use negative feelings—such as resentment, sadness, and annoyance—as clues that you might need to change either yourself or something in the relationship.
For 5 important things you can learn from “annoyance,” for example, click on my blog here.
10. Say thank you. Thank your friend when he does something for you. Stay in touch with people who have helped you. Pick up the phone. Write a thank-you note. You will find that expressing your gratitude—to yourself and to others—can ignite a chain reaction of other positive changes.
11. See a therapist.
If you have trouble connecting with others or maintaining your relationships, see a therapist for the express purpose of improving your social skills.
12. Don’t put all your relationship eggs in one basket.
If things go wrong in one social area, it's good to have alternatives. That's why you must continue to cultivate your friendships even after meeting Mr./Ms. Right.
13. You decide! What else could go on your list?
Finding good people and groups for mutual support is a lifetime pursuit and is not always easy. Still, it’s worth it for your peace of mind. What could you do today to strengthen your “relationship health?” Better relationship health will lead to a more peaceful mind.
© Meg Selig, 2015
Source: Lieberman, M.D. Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect (2013). NY: Crown.
I'm the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). For more on willpower, habit change, peace of mind, and happiness, follow me on Facebook and Twitter by clicking the icons below my photo (above).