For as long as I can remember, I’ve always craved deeper, more meaningful relationships in my life. Be it with my parents (who were kind, but sort of distant), my siblings (geographically far), my cousins (scattered across different countries), or with my friends. I had friends, but it was always… weird, and when things finally got better, I was forced to leave my country abruptly.
I think I never quite “recovered”. As if I never felt like I belonged anywhere after that. I had other friends or relations, but it was always sort of… shallow.
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One day in my late twenties, I took a long good look at what was happening in my heart; and my heart wanted meaningful relationships. Real ones, not just boyfriends. I wanted deep, true, secure relationships with friends and family. I wanted true friendships, but I wasn’t sure how to go get there.
Now, fast forward 3 years later, I feel like I’ve made so much progress in that area!
And since I always track progress and self-assess, I thought I would write an article about it and share what I’ve learned so far.
How do you build more meaningful relationships?
You create more meaningful relationships by first learning how to have a better relationship with yourself. If you are dissatisfied with your relationships, perhaps it has to do with how you feel about yourself? That was the case for me anyway, so I started with that. after a few months, I was ready to work on my relationships with others by dedicating time to it and taking deliberate action. But building strong relationships takes effort from both sides, so pick your candidates wisely.
So, let’s get to it.
1. Get to know yourself
When you are confused about who you are, what you like, want, and don’t want, it can be extremely difficult to be around other people. You don’t even know how to behave because, well, you don’t know how to! And this can lead to highly anxiety-provoking situations.
After I took some time to get to know myself, being around others became much easier. And I was finally being myself, not a persona.
So, do a little introspection, journal, learn about yourself, your triggers, your patterns… before chasing relationships with others.
2. Set your standards
In addition to the previous point, it is important to determine what is important to you in a relationship (honesty, fun, shared interests?) and establish your boundaries. Decide what you are willing to accept or not from someone else and stick to it.
Of course, this is not about anticipating every possible outcome, but it’s important to understand your limits.
If you don’t tolerate lies, then don’t tolerate a lie. If you are newly sober, then decide you will not start a friendship with someone who’s a heavy drinker, AND STICK TO IT. Etc…
Unfortunately, I feel like we only learn this lesson once we get burned.
3. Identify the people you want to build better relationships with, and begin there
- Did you grow distant from family members and want to fix that?
- Are you hoping to rebuild the relationship between you and a now distant old friend?
- Are you looking to make completely new friends?
Start with a “list” of 1 to 5 people max, but go one person at a time.
Of course, you can have as many people as you’d like on your list, but in my opinion, the smaller the number the better because meaningful relationships take time and effort.
Eventually, you can grow your list over time. As an example, my list had just one person on it for a whole year.
4. What does a meaningful relationship with that person look like to you?
It’s always better to have a destination in mind (at least a vague idea) or you risk getting lost.
You could wing it, but I found it useful to identify first what exactly I expected from a more meaningful relationship with my family, or with this or that friend.
- What does a stronger relationship with that person look like? (Ex.: intimacy, laughter, adventure, Sunday brunch, sharing stories on the couch?);
- What do you expect or hope from it? (the answer can absolutely be: nothing).
When you have at least an idea of what you want, the steps you must take to get there become clearer.
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5. Give it your most precious resources: your time and attention
To build more meaningful relationships with people, I had to switch my mindset from money to time.
I thought you had to “buy your way” through friendship (in some way), with gifts or by constantly going out for drinks, but I realized it doesn’t necessarily take money to build solid relationships.
What it takes, is time, and attention.
And I found out I was stingy with both my time and attention. No wonder! With work and school and obligations sucking up all my time, and E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G else on this planet competing for my attention 24/7….
I had to learn how to change that.
An easy way to give more of your time to someone else is by either making something for that person (a birthday card, cooking a meal for them, or running errands for them when they are busy), visiting them, or speaking to them on the phone.
Try to come up with a few ideas of things you could make for that person to make them feel loved and appreciated.
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6. It has to go both ways
To build meaningful relationships, not only do you have to be willing to make efforts, but it has to go both ways.
It’s okay to make the first move, the second, and in extreme cases maybe the third move, but never go beyond this. If your efforts are not reciprocated, then move one and try with someone else.
7. Do it one person at a time
As mentioned, building a meaningful relationship takes effort and dedication. If you start everywhere all at once, you risk giving your best to no one.
So take your time; once you have built the foundations for one relationship, then maybe you can move to a second one, while still nurturing the first one.
8. Track your progress
When I’m trying to improve on something, I find it highly beneficial, if not necessary, to track progress. If I don’t, the project usually just withers and/or dies. This advice goes for building relationships as well.
Treat it just like you would any other project: set goals, track and reward progress, evaluate, adjust, etc. Make updates every 2 months and reflect on how things are going.
Related post: How do you reward yourself effectively?
9. Be honest from the start
A meaningful relationship is one where you can be yourself and are loved for who you are. Don’t start it by pretending to be someone you’re not just to be liked. If you do that, it will be hard to correct course in the middle of the road, and you risk feeling even more disconnected/dissatisfied with yourself and that person.
Favor honesty. If the other person does not appreciate your personality, it’s okay. Move on and keep searching for the one who will.
10. Learn to say no
When you are trying to build new relationships, it can be difficult to know when you should compromise and when you should hold your ground. You might not want to come across as stubborn, or maybe you really want to make an effort, but there are limits.
That’s where steps number 1 and 2 come into play: know yourself and set your standards. If you’ve done the preliminary work, they will work as a safeguard.
If you feel pressured to do something you don’t want to or have stopped doing (ex. you’ve quit drinking), then perhaps it’s time to either have an honest talk with that person, re-evaluate your relationship, or move on.
11. Apologize quickly
If you make a mistake, apologize quickly and learn from it. If the other person makes a mistake, learn from it as well but try not to dwell on it.
We are humans and humans make mistakes. Don’t throw the towel just because things didn’t go perfectly. No one is perfect, and meaningful relationships do not imply an absence of misunderstandings.
12. Be willing to let them go
The most important thing I’ve learned in trying to build more meaningful relationships in the past 2 years, is that you cannot do it successfully unless you are willing to let them go.
Deep and secure relationships are not built on fear. You cannot hold on to someone simply because you fear you might not find someone else or worry they might never come back.
It is important to understand that (and behave as if) the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. The same goes for the other person; they have to be free to do what is best for them, and you have to be willing to accept that even if it hurts at first. And if you are not willing to accept it, then let them go.
Let go of trying to control other people’s actions; let go of fear and attachment. By doing so you may lose some people along the way, but it will most likely be the weakest contestants. You know, the ones that made you feel like you didn’t have real, meaningful relationships in the first place?
13. It’s not too late to start
You can make new friends at any age. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that it’s too late; it’s only an excuse because you’re scared.
Yes, making new friends is scary, whether you are 3 or 43 because you are putting yourself out there and risking being rejected. No human likes that.
But remember that whatever discomfort or fear you are experiencing, the person in front of you probably feels it too. And if ever you approach someone and they reply in an unkind manner, thank the universe for allowing you to see their true character before you invested too much time and effort in the relationship.
Related post: How do you make new friends when you are all grown up?
14. Be patient
Meaningful relationships take time to build. A lot of time.
When you start doubting yourself, remember that the first months are spent on building foundations, so you might not see the results right away.
Just like a tree, it first starts by growing its roots, and the fruits will come later. But they will come if you don’t lose faith and keep nurturing it.
So keep nurturing your new friendship/relationship for at least 1 to 2 years before you see can see it transform into something even deeper and magical!
What about you: is there something that resonated more with you? Have you ever wondered if your friends are truly are your friends? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.
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