Today is Valentine’s Day, which symbolizes love and relationships to me. In honour of Valentine’s Day, I wrote this article to reflect on all that I’ve learned about love and relationships in my life so far. These principles are not just for romantic relationships, but all relationships, including family and workplace relationships.
This article will talk about:
What is “love”?
Why relationships fail
Principles for successful relationships
What is “Love”?
While there are many definitions out there, I’d like to share one that I find particularly insightful. It’s the definition that the ancient Chinese had in mind when they created the pictorial word for “love”.
The traditional Chinese character for love is 愛. The inside is 心, which means heart, and the outside is 受, which means to feel. Therefore, ancient Chinese people defined love as using your heart to feel what the other person needs.
Love is when parents use their focused attention (heart) to feel what their young child, who can not yet speak, needs. Love is when you use your heart to feel what the other person has not said they need, but you can feel that they need. Love is not forcing others to do something or be some way because you “love” them. The next time you want to be loving, use your heart to feel the other person’s needs.
Why Relationships Fail
Jay Shetty said that the most important skill couples need to learn is how to fight. I found that statement to be extremely insightful. Differences and disagreements are inevitable since people have different backgrounds and personalities. Differences are not the problem. The problem is people don’t know how to interact with others who are different from them.
Principles for Successful Relationships
We operate at three levels. From deepest to shallowest, they are character (deeply seated values and beliefs), conscious thought, and actions. Below are some principles I’ve accumulated for successful relationships and effective conflict resolution.
1. Be respectful
2. Be loving (use your heart to feel what they need)
3. Be proactive
4. Be humble and open-minded
5. Be grateful
Being respected and loved is a deep need that everyone has. Respecting and loving others when things are good is easy. Respecting and loving others during disagreement is true respect and love.
It’s not helpful to be reactive and demand others to give us respect and love first. When we go first to give respect and love to others, then we are being proactive to improving the relationship.
Since everyone has different backgrounds and personalities, we ought to be open-minded enough to listen and humble enough to learn from them. Only by deeply understanding them can we discover out how to interact with them more harmoniously.
If you’re caught up in negative emotions in the moment, it’s easy to lose sight of all the positive things they’ve done for you. Regularly being grateful to them encourages them to give more. Being entitled is the easiest way for them to stop giving.
For building relationships
1. Bring goodness into their lives and take suffering out
2. Focus on bringing out their strengths
For resolving conflicts
3. Conflicts are inevitable, but unhappiness is not
4. Conflicts are opportunities for improvement in the relationship
5. Seek first to understand
6. People don’t care about logic until they feel emotionally comforted
7. How have I contributed to creating the circumstances that I don’t want?
The simplest way to think about love is to give them what's good for them and remove their suffering. Take care of them. Help them take care of themselves.
Since people have different strengths and weaknesses, we should focus on maximizing their strengths rather than scrutinizing their weaknesses. Bringing out their strengths is adding goodness to their life. To learn about people’s different strengths and weaknesses, we can use personality tests such as Myers-Briggs and Four Tendencies.
Points 3 to 7 are all about conflict resolution. We don't have to approach differences negatively. We can approach them with respect and humility, and view them as opportunities to improve the relationship. Each challenge you overcome together strengthens your relationship.
When there’s emotional conflict, we have to seek first to understand. That’s because people don’t care about logic until they feel emotionally comforted. Showing that you care enough about them to understand them is the first step to comforting them. Confirming your understanding will let them trust you and be open to listening.
Remember it’s never 100% their fault. Always think about your own contribution to the problem. When we can reflect outer problems back to inner problems, we gain power.
For building relationships
1. Focus on using their Love Language to express love to them
2. Supplement with the other love languages
3. Give lots of encouragement and appreciation
4. Minimum level: Treat them the way you'd want to be treated in that situation
5. Higher level: Have unconditional love and respect
For resolving conflicts:
6. Validate their feelings
7. Check that you understand them
8. Say your mistakes so that others don’t need to
9. Express your needs clearly and offer specific actions for them
10. Speak with a warm voice
There are five love languages:
Words of affirmation
Acts of service
People usually have 1 or 2 primary love languages. If we want to be loving and give others happiness, then we need to know their love language and give them love in their love language. Using a love language that is not their primary one is still helpful, but not as impactful.
Giving encouragement and appreciation often is important because research shows that long-lasting relationships have a positive-to-negative experience ratio of at least 5:1.
When it comes to the way we treat others, we should at least treat them the way we'd want to be treated. If we're stressed out and say something mean that we regret, we'd just want the other person to give us a hug, not fight back and make us feel worse. Going a level higher, we should treat them the way they want to be treated. If something is really important to them but not to us, we can do it out of love for them.
During disagreements, it's very important to check our understanding of their feelings and story. We can say things like
“It sounds like you’re feeling ________”
“Just to check that I understand you, do you mean ________”
We should also state our contribution to the problem upfront so that others don’t need to say it, or at least don’t need to keep repeating it because we’ve acknowledged it rather than deny it. We can say something like, "I'm not perfect, I have faults, and I'd like to start by acknowledging how I've contributed to the problem." When we can come from a place of humility, we set a good example for the other person to follow.
We need to take responsibility for knowing our needs and communicating them clearly. We need to offer specific actions for them to take. For example, don't say, "Why can't you be more caring towards my needs?" This kind of statement is hurtful because it criticizes the person's character and does not provide a specific action or solution for them. An effective expression of need would be, "Cleanliness is very important to me, and when I come home to dirty dishes, I get stressed. Since I'm rushed in the morning, if you clean the dishes after breakfast, I would feel very loved and happy."
Finally, we need to practice consciously speak with warm tone. When we speak with a warm tone, it's hard to be angry and selfish. When people hear a warm tone of voice, it's hard for them to remain angry and upset. Conflicts are stressful, and a warm tone of voice brings a much needed sense of comfort.
Probably all of us have struggled or are still struggling with relationships. Bad relationships ruin life, while great relationships make life worth living. I hope these principles will help you have great relationships, whether they be with a romantic partner, with family, or at the workplace.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Shelia Heen
Principles by Ray Dalio
Ethics 101 by John Maxwell
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker