How to Improve Your Relationships: 8 Qualities to Have

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Minimalism" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Growing Your Relationships

The best relationships continue to grow. But if you want them flourish, like a gardener you must apply attention, time, and effort.

More specifically, for a relationship to grow and improve, you must cultivate eight attributes: love, trust, honesty, caring, support, attentiveness, authenticity, and understanding.

  • Love: The people you love are those for whom you’d do anything. You and those you love go to great lengths for each other. You also work to understand what your loved ones need, and they do the same for you. Doing these things strengthens your primary relationships.
  • Trust: When you trust someone completely, you’re open with them. Trust inspires more trust, and both parties develop a habit of honesty. 
  • Honesty: Sometimes it seems easier to lie, but no matter what lying is wrong and torpedoes your relationships. Being honest is not only the right thing to do, it’s simpler in the long run than maintaining a falsehood. A relationship not built on honesty won’t last.
  • Caring: Caring is the ultimate way to contribute meaningfully to your relationship. You show you care for someone through your actions. We value someone who cares about us and we should reciprocate. 
  • Support: The strongest relationships are mutually supportive. You’re excited and happy when your significant other is happy, and they’re happy when you’re happy. You both support each other’s growth and endeavors.
  • Attentiveness: You need to “be present” in your primary relationships. This means that when you’re interacting with someone, you should be giving them your undivided attention (not texting or looking at your phone while talking with them). Your full attention is a powerful thing to give someone.
  • Authenticity: Authentic people feel real and genuine to you. You feel safe around them, because they don’t put up a false front. When you get to know them beneath the surface, they turn out to be the person you thought they were. (We all have the capacity to be authentic, to remove all pretense and just be ourselves rather than who we think we’re supposed to be.)
  • Understanding: The final element of great relationships is the most complicated because it’s difficult to truly understand others.

Here are four behaviors for deepening your understanding (and avoiding misunderstandings), with the acronym TARA: tolerance, acceptance, respect, and appreciation. They’ll help you strengthen any important relationship, not just intimate relationships.

  • Tolerance: If someone’s behavior bothers you, avoid a knee-jerk reaction and instead be tolerant because you love them. For example, if you’re a minimalist but your partner is a collector, understand that you both have your reasons for what you do. Although you may not understand their obsession, you’ll be closer to understanding the person.
  • Acceptance: The next step is to move from tolerance toward acceptance. Their quirks and differences are part of who they are. While you may not share them, you still love the person.
  • Respect: Accepting someone’s idiosyncrasies is difficult. But you need to go even further and respect that person because of their idiosyncrasies. Your beliefs may seem equally frivolous to someone else, but though they disagree with you, you still want their respect. You should extend the same respect. Sharing your life with someone you respect is more important than having an uncluttered home.
  • Appreciation: Honestly appreciate the other person’s desires, values, and beliefs. You want the other person to be happy, and if their collection brings them happiness, you should appreciate it because happiness is contagious. We reach understanding when we appreciate others for who they are.

Occasionally TARA isn’t the right approach. If someone engages in harmful behavior (drugs, crime, racism), you can’t accept their conduct and need to walk away.

More often, however, practicing these four behaviors deepens your understanding and therefore your relationship. You understand what drives the other person, what they want and need, and what makes them happy. With this understanding you can meet their needs and they can meet yours. 

Future Relationships

Without a vision for your relationships, especially primary relationships, you’ll accept whatever is in front of you. You need a vision of what you want your relationships to be

Consider three things when seeking new relationships or improving current ones:

  • What do you want? Write down everything you want from your primary relationships. What desires, beliefs, values, and interests must they have? 
  • What are your deal-breakers? Make a list of things you won’t tolerate in your relationships. You can find everything you want in a person, but if they also have a belief or value that you don’t want in your life, it can ruin the relationship. For instance, if your intimate partner isn’t supportive and that is a key value for you, the relationship won’t work.
  • How must you change to attract this kind of person? Do you need to get into better shape, learn to listen more, or get rid of bad habits? Write down what you must change to attract the relationships you want.

Once you’ve answered these questions, read this list daily to reinforce what you’re seeking in a relationship, what you want to avoid, and how you must change.

How to Improve Your Relationships: 8 Qualities to Have

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Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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