Optimize your “relationship” performance

Solid relationships are important for Warfighter performance. Just like your body, relationships can be made stronger with training. And just as you wouldn’t start training for combat the day before a mission, you shouldn’t start “relationship training” after issues arise. Add these target areas to your “relationship fitness plan” and use these tips to stay close with your battle buddies, family members, or friends.

7 target areas for relationship fitness

  1. Mindful communication

A major part of strong relationships is developing solid communication skills. While there are many ways to express your feelings and thoughts, you can begin training your “communication muscles” by being aware of the words you use to start important conversations. For example, if you start off with angry tones, high-pitched voices, or aggressive behavior, things can quickly escalate into an argument. But if you soften your “start-up” with “I statements” that clearly reflect your point of view, your conversation will probably go much smoother.

  1. Effective expression

The way you express yourself to others—and how you demonstrate understanding of others—is another major part of building a healthy relationship. In order to train in this communication area, practice slowing down before you react. The bonus is you’ll have extra time to check in with your thoughts and feelings, so you can carefully choose what to say next.

  1. Respect

In relationships, it’s important to show respect and appreciation for the other person’s perspective. This is true in times of harmony and during conflict. To tighten up your skills, practice validation to show (in both words and body language) that you’re genuinely listening and hearing what someone else is saying in moments when you agree…and when you don’t.

  1. Positive interactions

Every relationship goes through ups and downs. The best way to train for those changes is to make sure your positive interactions outweigh the negatives ones. Keep in mind the 5:1 ratio: Make sure you have 5 times more warm, kind, and thoughtful interactions for every single, less-than-nice one.

  1. Accountability

Relationships are a two-way street—that means your contribution to the dynamic is just as important as the other person’s. It’s easy to develop certain communication habits (for example, those learned from childhood) that you might not even notice. But those habits might not work well in every relationship. To “train” this area, notice what motivates you and what’s behind your communication patterns with others. And remember, once you take accountability for those things, you’ll have more power to change them.

  1. Quality time

There’s so much that goes into building strong relationships, but one thing that often gets overlooked amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life is making time for fun! In order to maintain an optimized relationship, spend quality time together. This includes sharing simple things (such as eating out or seeing a movie) and new, exciting experiences (such as going to concerts or trying out a new sport). To “train” this area, remember to learn, laugh, and savor good times together.

  1. Gratitude

Thankfulness is important, so be sure to practice—and repeat—it often. Gratitude is about acknowledging and appreciating the people you’re close to and the ways they support you. In fact, when you appreciate others, they might be more likely to do the same, and vice versa. It’s also about seeing and appreciating the strengths of others and those resources you can draw on together when times are tough.

Firm up relationship “trouble zones”

Even if you find yourself in a conflict, you still can be proactive and prevent relationship damage. Addressing recurring issues can go a long way towards having fewer problems and less stress in the long run too.

  • During an argument, stop and ask yourself what the true message is behind the other person’s words.
  • Avoid sneaky argument traps by showing empathy, staying engaged, and committing to finding a resolution.
  • Remember that timing is everything, so be strategic about when you address problems. When emotions run high, you’re more likely to say things without first thinking them through.
  • When you find things getting heated, take a break from the conversation. Also, make sure you agree on the length of your cooling-off period and pick a time you’re both willing to come back and calmly talk things through.

Bottom line

Just as Warfighters constantly train to be mission-ready, your relationship skills require practice before they’re put to the test in stressful situations. The above strategies can help your relationships be positive forces in your life—and with less stress and better communication, you can handle just about anything.

References

Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples' shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(2), 273–284. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.78.2.273

Gottman, J. M. (1994). What Predicts Divorce?: The Relationship Between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes (1st ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Meadows, S. O., Beckett, M. K., Bowling, K., Golinelli, D., Fisher, M. P., Martin, L. T., . . . Osilla, K. C. (2015). Family resilience in the military: Definitions, models, and policies. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR400/RR470/RAND_RR470.pdf

Murray, C. E., & Murray, T. L. (2004). Solution-focused premarital counseling: Helping couples build a vision for their marriage. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 30(3), 349–358. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.2004.tb01245.x

Peleg, O. (2008). The relation between differentiation of self and marital satisfaction: What can be learned from married people over the course of life? The American Journal of Family Therapy, 36(5), 388–401. doi:10.1080/01926180701804634