3 Big Ways to Improve Your Friendships Today

I try to give Biddy the benefit of the doubt when he occupies my desk chair.

I try to give Biddy’s intentions the benefit of the doubt when he occupies my desk chair.

Years ago I stumbled upon a fascinating list of attributes related to happy, long-lasting marriages. At the top of the list were two fascinating–and unexpected–traits that indicate you’ll have a successful marriage:

  1. When you laugh at something you’re watching or reading and your spouse responds with interest.
  2. If you and your spouse go to a marriage counselor before you’re married.

Since then, I haven’t read anything else about these indicators…until today. A friend shared an article from Business Insider called “Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down to 2 Basic Traits.” It’s long, but it’s worth the read.

The neat thing about the article to me is that these indicators aren’t passive. These are things we can actively do to improve our romantic and platonic relationships.

Here are my key takeaways from the article:

  1. The article talks about the first indicator I mentioned about as a “bid,” as in “bid for attention.” Part of it is awareness–you have to be aware of the other person realize that they’ve laughed or gasped or made an observation. The other part is about acting on that bid with interest instead of ignoring or even belittling it.
  2. The article also talks about being kind in a really specific way: “being generous about your partner’s intentions.” I love this concept. It basically means to give someone the benefit if the doubt. If your spouse or friend is 10 minutes late to lunch, you can either assume that they don’t appreciate your time OR you can be open to the myriad of other reasons why they might have been late. The framework you choose can have a huge impact on the connection you make over lunch.
  3. The article mentions the many different ways that you can respond to good news. Like, if a friend or spouse tells you about the high point of their day, you brush over it or try to one-up them with how much better your day was…OR you can respond with enthusiasm or questions. The latter is a huge indicator of a healthy relationship.

I really connect with these examples because I can think of times that I’ve done both the right and wrong versions of all of them with friends and girlfriends. Sometimes I think they can be an indicator of a relationship I’m not enthusiastic about. But sometimes–especially with friendships–I’m just being lazy and taking the friendship for granted. It’s in that way that the article is a great reminder that all of those attributes are choices I can make when interacting with the people I care about.

Which of those three resonates the most with you?


13 Responses to “3 Big Ways to Improve Your Friendships Today”

  1. Ryan says:

    The third one resonates most with me. My wife loves to tell me about her day at work. It’s easy for me to get into the habit of hearing it every night that I can forget to actively listen. Thanks for posting this, Jamey. It’s a good reminder that a healthy relationship is the result of hard work.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Ryan: Thanks for sharing! That’s a keen observation about the way we listen to the people we care about talk about their day. I need to work on that too.

  2. darasu says:

    #3. I have one daughter who gets really excited about telling me about the latest [INSERT CELEBRITY NEWS/FACTOID] and it’s usually not something I’m even remotely interested in. I am, however, very interested in a healthy, strong relationship with my daughter. I should probably try a little harder to listen to her and get a tinge more excited about the things she is interested in.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      darasu: That’s an awesome example. I wonder if there’s a healthy balance between showing the person you care about them and their excitement while also being true to yourself and not having long conversations about things you don’t care at all about. 🙂

  3. […] 3 Big Ways to Improve Your Friendships Today […]

  4. Giovanni says:

    Jamey,

    Regarding the two points of this post, I agree being really engaged and tuned in to my partner is a key to a strong relationship, yes.

    Unless the author is referring to abusive relationships, I am not sure I agree with why it would be wise to:
    1. get someone else involved in a personal issue; ever. Family questions are part of a family discussion
    2. give my power away to someone else to do important listening and thinking for me
    3. encourage failing to stand my ground on my belief in the moment or listen to my partner doing this

    The ironic paradox for which they well know: psychology and psychiatry are pseudoscience. So let’s face it, humans have a nature and many rather feel better by looking down on others who have it worse off. Americans call it “getting perspective”. Psychologists call it “therapy” based on the axiom that the mind is un-healthy or dis-eased. Is this really true? Is there not a gravity drawing health and positivity to the magnificent neo-cortex and limbic brain under attack?

    Thus, can the question of what makes people sick be properly answered by psychologists? Probably not if they want to stay in business or continue the attempt to legitimize as real science. Therefore this endless battle between men and women and relationships is fueled by confusion.

    Wouldn’t this superficial discussion with an uninformed 3rd party also require a delay in facing a conflict? Wouldn’t this drain energy? Create resentments? Be counter-productive to understanding and resolution. How really distracting. Jamey, are you nodding your head?

    Why are so many people failing their mission in life? There must be a better way? What are the 30%ers doing that is excellent? The solution: right, good old fashioned effort. Shall we turn our attention?

    What are essential ingredients to a well developed relationship? Obviously both have listening skills, can feel what others feel, have pre-existing principles, values, and attitudes, stand up for self and others, do what I say I will do.

    Inevitable challenges of life are managed well by resilient individuals and even better by a powerful team. People live up to their potential, dharma, purpose with a recipe of self + environment + circumstances. Engaged relationship starts with self.

    A simple proposal for longevity:
    With partner:
    – laugh all the time
    – lavishly compliment
    – listen, verify, then just understand it or debate it
    – take the issue in the moment, stand my ground, don’t walk away,
    – understand each person’s purpose in life. Pushing to become who one is meant to be. Anticipate excellence

    For self:
    – be decisive
    – respond to the needs of those around me
    – be a leader especially with excellent care of my body, nutrition, sleep, what I feed my mind and learn, and PMA.

    Success happens every time!

    Best Regards,
    Giovanni

  5. Jamey Stegmaier says:

    Giovanni: Thanks for sharing your opinions about therapists/counselors (it took me a second to figure out that’s what you were talking about). I think you make some valid points, but I think you might be missing the value of a marriage counselor. A marriage counselor is really good at facilitating discussion. Sure, in an ideal world, couples would be perfect communicators with each other, but we’re human–that’s not how we work. There’s a big difference between making an effort to communicate and being a perfect communicator.

    I sincerely do appreciate the thought you put into your comment, but there’s a lot of judgment sown deep into it. Have you ever experienced a marriage or couples counselor firsthand so you can properly judge the value of it?

  6. Giovanni says:

    Yes! Jamey, I’ll take this as a compliment. Ideal, perfect.. Yes! Thank you! Indeed, harmony is perfect and takes tuning.

    Yes, I do have detailed experience. These counselors are off the mark. Meeting with one puts the power outside the relationship into the hands of an ignorant person where misguidance is the result. Yes, a monkey can throw darts at words and every once in a while a cohesive sentence results. Take this in the right way ok, the bigger question would regard the weak character and lack of awareness of anyone thinking they benefit from the conclusions and mis-guidance of this roll-of-the-dice variety.

    If I understand you correctly, you stated: “There’s a big difference between making an effort to communicate and being a perfect communicator.” Don’t you think this is like learning a foreign language in high school when in fact it is properly learned, spoken, and lived, for example, in France with a French girlfriend.

    Psychologists are like this, hypocritical, hyperbolic ego, self-righteous, and generally miserable. They are desperately theoretical rather than inclusively intuitive. Their pseudoscience mantra forbids intuition in diagnosis so the hands are tied. This is why they can put on clothes yet have terrible style no one appreciates.

    Wouldn’t it be better to ask a person with beautifully flowing long hair how do so, to watch how a muscular rower gets big and super buff, to observe how a cartoonist makes drawings come to life. Wouldn’t it be better to look to couples that do have exemplary communication for a proper example than to an unknown, unproven stranger with a paper in a frame on the wall? clipboard? paid a fee to sit and play referee until the time is up? I mean they have no actual investment in the results or the customers. This poor couple gets completely intellectualized and reduced to superficialities for the sake of learning how to pretend that they care. So what are the actual results of marriage counselling that are better than a balloon battle? New resentments vs. laughing our heads off.

    Key Idea——————————————————
    Life has taught that perfect communication can be defined by engaged, concentrated effort to listen openly to understand and discuss with an end result of harmonious feelings for everyone (a win-win). This final feeling is very important since it is the one recorded into our conscious, sub-conscious, and body memory. And it needs to be positive and loving for the relationship to be truly extraordinary.
    —————————————————————–

    Therapist “enabling communication” is treating the symptoms of a problem rather than the root. That is an arbitrator. It is a shortcut where the meaning for the couple gets lost since no one is invested in the outcome nor showing life mastery leadership. Let me break it down.

    I want to drive from LA to NYC. The path can be disharmonious at times. The end result, the sun on my face at a picnic table in Central Park ready to open a new board game called Viticulture. A back seat driver (a therapist, marriage counselor, arbitrator) makes noise yet has little actual strategic understanding of where we are going:
    – the decision making process and the path followed
    – what is in the best interests of the participants
    – the histories that influence preferences
    – past traumas and how they affect things
    – past successes and what a person understands: self-confidence
    – insecurities of the two people: unexpected overreactions, flexibility, when and why to be extra sensitive (remember only 45 minutes)

    Also this backseat driver can be:
    – insecure
    – impulsive
    – disengaged, unmotivated
    – unprofessional, incompetent in key areas of care and breadth
    – lacking emotional growth and awareness of others’ feelings

    This backseat driver is serving to prove:
    – self-assertions
    – self-preconceptions
    – prejudices
    – can feel threatened, jealous, annoyed
    – that he has value
    – validating a case and diagnosis to the insurance company for payment

    A marriage counselor has baggage and can usually see things like a hammer sees a nail. This can be based on:
    – ignorance
    – not caring nor seeing the intrinsic value in a topic
    – bias
    – mis-understandings of diagnosis criteria of the DSM leading to an unnecessary diagnosis and mis-diagnosis causing a whole host of new stigmas, complications, and conflicts
    – being a poor communicator

    Nevertheless, during a 45 minute or a 90 minute double session a semi-competent therapist/referee/arbitrator controls a competitive frustration match scratching the wounds between two grown children competing to speak. This breaking communication further and creates new resentments needing to be cleared first before getting to the current issue, the issue they came to talk about, which is based on the recent resentments, based on the bigger resentments, based on failing to be considerate and listen in the first place to overreactive-irrational thinking based on childhood baggage that neither side had the guts to bring up yet even now. And they are in this situation because of insecure, self-focused, excluding, reactive “me” thinking and this vicious cycle of self-put downs taken in as children and still left in unawares.

    Jamey, has it been 45 minutes yet? People have so much difficulty. They are afraid of rejection and being alone and they refuse to listen, to understand, and stand their ground on a position. And so it continues…

    Let’s toss in a marriage counselor who can complicate the issues by piling on more questions, biases, and insecurities. And if he is crazy enough to ask about the couple’s childhood traumas things get even more complicated with questions and moving parts in connection to the mothers and fathers. How long is this session? Has the therapist’s intuition and snap judgments been convoluted thoroughly? What sort of risks does this create for the leader? Is there one? The tangling gets mind-blowing. Any business person would pass on this deal.

    If we take all this in one hand and give it to a “psychologist” we give away our power and get really lost. This is not the way to feeling free, enlightened, and connected during ones life. It is not agreeable that marriage counselors serve a purpose in lasting marriage it is a misuse of effort and allows selfish intentions to remain hidden. This erodes real intimacy. That relationship is one of the 70%ers. It is really important for a person to be clear on this issue to avoid believing in this untruth. A person has power and can learn to use it. Never give it away.

    —————————————————————–
    A working model: persistent self-development
    —————————————————————–
    The world is unreasonable, be unreasonable, live in an ideal world. Have high expectations. Develop continuously, become self-aware. Insist on sticking together with a a suitable partner that is also self-aware. Influence don’t try to control others. Gain understanding of the defining moments of life, identify the defining people of life, and understand one’s path and one’s strengths. Above all, always be the sort of partner that is desirable, charming, and irresistibly attractive.

    Look for partner that has 1. high ambitions 2. loves you for who you are 3. is loyal 4. is irresistibly attractive.

    One really good way of knowing this person has been found is before meeting her many people can be interesting, attractive, desirable. Then, she comes, and all the others fall into the group of women and otherwise just as uninteresting as the group of men. Over time and thru the challenges of life a growing feeling emerges that you would do everything needed to make her life, your life extraordinary. And lastly, you become consumed, viscerally inspired to be the best version of yourself letting bad behaviors and negative thinking dissolve away.

    A therapist, marriage counselor, yeah,… NO. He cannot possibly motivate that listed above, it comes from self-determined leadership and a fire ignited within by circumstances and real devotion between both of the partners together, decided separately. A mutually shared desire to stick together and belief in one another.

    Back to the car analogy, I would want to see an example set for the kids to take mental pictures on this metaphorical trip. While the parents are talking things out and making decisions the kids are learning how they are to be, to communicate, to win-win and feel great with positive outcomes for conflicts and misunderstandings. They learn to listen and to feel validated. They learn harmony rather than compromise (win-lose).

    When the boys and girls are grown they can look back at the pictures and realize not only did the parents have high self-respect, they also believed that talking thru things is not a perfect endeavor, that it is indeed a perfect effort to do so and eventually arrive at the destination. They could see that it is the struggle in life that makes things meaningful and they know giving away one’s power is wrong. It is the struggle that makes things matter. It bonds us- oxytocin, dopamine. Be decisive, take care of the needs of others, lead by example.

    So what do we know now?
    Life has taught that perfect communication can be defined by engaged, concentrated effort to listen openly, to understand and discuss with an end result of harmonious feelings for everyone. This final feeling is extremely important since it is the one recorded into our conscious, sub-conscious, and body memory. And it needs to be positive and loving for the relationship to be extraordinary AND ENDURE.

    This takes guts, self-awareness, self-distance, persistence, a positive attitude, and patience since a whole host of inner reactions happen when triggering personal history: physical-chemical hormonal changes happen concurrently with conflict: adrenaline, vasopressen, cortisol. Self-awareness and calmness prevent explosions and bridge impulses.

    It could be agreeable that a marriage counselor can help couples become more aware along a path to mastering their communication skills. This is just one tool in the tool belt. Yet it is very important to be clear about where the power lies- outside the relationship equals divorce. The power lies within would presuppose that the couple can grow with an end goal of harmony, independence, and long-term connection. Agreed?

    But do I really desire an arguably incompetent stranger to validate personal things such as marriage? American society, a structurally disconnected, lonely place where people are taught to notice faux divisions separating us rather than notice our common feelings, fears, and wishes as human beings. I would rather read books in the local library and work at it and try things out. If things go wrong,… oops. Sorry. Let me try that again. Isn’t it better to have endless opportunities for authentic, freely chosen thinking, living, and setting a positive example for others. Isn’t that part of why we are here?

    I do enjoy this topic. Touche Jamey…

    Best Regards,
    Giovanni

  7. Jamey Stegmaier says:

    Giovanni: I appreciate your passion for this subject, but man, there’s just way too much judgment here. I don’t personally know any marriage counselors, but they’re people, just like you and me, and statements like “Psychologists are like this, hypocritical, hyperbolic ego, self-righteous, and generally miserable.” are really offputting. I just don’t view entire groups of people like that.

  8. Giovanni says:

    Jamey,

    Yes, I hear what you are saying. Sounds like a question validating prejudice vs understanding the mentality of a group of people. Don’t be afraid! They might not like it but won’t be offended reading stated viewpoints.

    To wrap up. All psychologists joke there are two reasons why a person comes into the field:
    1. to fix oneself
    2. to fix others

    They admit:
    option 1 leads to burnout, a career switch is inevitable
    option 2 requires taking a desperate person’s power, which is wrong and dangerous.

    Don’t let me tell you how it is though. Ask any psychologist when you get the chance to meet one, it’s a joke they tell people like the joke about the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life…

    Yes, I am happy to help. Talk with you again Jamey!

    Best Regards,
    Giovanni

  9. Jamey, I plan on attending the St. Louis Book Publshers meeting to hear you and others speak later this month and because wanted to learn more about the speakers. In visiting your website I saw this older post and in reading it thought I would throw my 2 cents in… My husband and I have been married for over 40 years and something we do regularly, as we come together after our work day, is ask what was the BEST thing that happened to them that day. We did this with our kids growing up as well… Instead of how was school, we challenged them to look for the best thing that happened and we all truly listened.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks Karen! I’m glad you brought me back to this post–this is one I need to read a few times a year to remember how to be more effective in my relationships. I really like that you and your husband ask each other about the best thing that happened to each other that day.

  10. Dionne says:

    I think your takeaways from the article sums up being unselfish. Which is always hard to consistently be in a relationship, but really is important. I wish I had done pre-marital counseling before I got married, it would have saved me years of heartache as I currently go through a divorce.

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