Foundations of building strong relationships

(Third in a six-part series)

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Building a relationship is like building a house. Relationships need a strong foundation before the remaining building blocks can be added.

Two key words.

According to Kansas State University Research and Extension family systems specialist Charlotte Shoup Olsen, two characteristics are important in testing the strength of the relationship and learning if the couple has a foundation to build on.

The first is dedication to the relationship; the second is constraint.

“These are two words that seem very different,” Olsen said. “Constraint is simply that you do things that won’t harm the relationship. You constrain yourself from insulting your partner or showing lack of respect and doing things that cause irreparable harm.”

If a couple is concerned about dedication and constraint in their relationship, they can strengthen their relationship in two ways, Olsen said.

First, the couple needs to get to know one another – knowing each other’s likes, dislikes, joys and fears. Second, a couple can nurture their relationship by showing fondness, admiration and respect in the things they say and do with each other.

Building blocks.

Once the foundation is strengthened, then the building blocks can be developed and added to the foundation. Closeness usually is the first building block.

A couple needs this building block to continue their knowledge of their partner and to increase their support for each other, Olsen said.

“Besides getting to know each other, a couple develops a friendship and they also turn toward each other instead of outward,” she said.

“A couple shares things that are happening with each other in their days, and they give each other signals of caring by listening.”

Distribution of power is the second building block. Both partners must realize who makes the decisions and/or who has the authority. Is the power equally distributed?

Even decisions about where a couple will eat or what movie they will see show if both partners have some power or if the power distribution is lopsided, Olsen said.

Conflict resolution.

Disagreements about the building blocks can be caused by cultural differences and backgrounds, said Olsen, who offered these suggestions for resolving disagreements:

* Avoid criticism.

* Clarify what is being discussed.

* Describe without being judgmental.

* Complain, but don’t blame.

* Be polite.

* Show appreciation if a partner does something during an argument that shows attention to discussion, i.e. turning off the television to listen attentively.

In a disagreement, both partners need to open up and be honest about their feelings, Olsen said. If one or both partners struggle with or fears opening up, then increased communication is important.

Get to know each other.

The more knowledge a person has of their partner, then the easier it is to open up. This evolves as the couple gets to know each other better. Predicting reactions will be easier, Olsen said.

Resolving conflict successfully involves patience, compromise and respect, and these characteristics also are important building blocks of a relationship, Olsen said.

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