The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel gathered tips for making relationships work from Kelly Smerz, a Milwaukee psychologist who specializes in relationships. Smerz; Michelle McKinney Hammond, a Chicago-based relationship coach and author; and Wayne Levine, director of the West Coast Men’s Center and author of “Hold on to Your N.U.T.s: The Relationship Manual for Men”
To be a good co-worker
Balance individuality with a team player attitude.
“In all relationships, the stronger we are as individuals, the more we bring to the relationship,” Smerz said. That applies in the workplace. Engage with people you work with who are going to encourage your growth and not feel threatened by it, and encourage others as well.
Proceed to friendship with caution. “Know and understand your boundaries with people at work,” Hammond said. “As long as you don’t let friendship interfere with business, it’s great and can even be helpful in the workplace.”
To be a good friend
Be courageous and transparent.
“Tell your friend you want a deeper relationship with them,” Levine said. “You can even tell them if what you’re doing is uncomfortable, but that it’s vital for you to really say what’s on your mind.”
Stay as a friend.
“A lot of the time, we get into care giving situations,” Hammond said. “That’s not our role in a friendship.”
Hear and listen.
“One of the most important aspects of communications is really listening to understand,” Smerz said. “Are you really hearing or are you just listening because you’re trying to prepare a response?”
Be there, no matter what.
“Don’t let his struggle, whether it’s an addiction, a parenting issue or problem at home, scare you away,” Levine said.
To be a good spouse or significant other
Throw out the rules.
This is especially true if the other person doesn’t know you have rules in the first place, Hammond said. “Don’t expect them to deliver on things you haven’t told them about.”
Want to give.
So often, people come to romantic relationships focused on receiving, instead of giving. “You are to serve them and make their lives better, and they should turn around and do the same for you,” Hammond said. “You should ask yourself ‘What can I do to add to this person’s life?’ “
Express your love.
“The other person should know how important he or she is to you,” Smerz said. “Sometimes, we presume the other person knows, but you have to go out of your way to let the person know.”
Don’t try to change the person.
“People can grow, but don’t expect that you’re going to be some major overhaul on someone’s personality,” Smerz said.
Advocate for what you want.
“It’s really important to say, ‘This is who I am and this what I want,’ and to really go after that.”
To be a good parent
Ask for help.
Talk to other parents you trust and ask them how they do it, Levine suggested. If you’re a man, remember: “Your son will grow up to be just like you, and your daughter will grow up to look for a man like you,” he added.
“A lot of the time, parents set expectations that children can’t live up to,” Hammond said. “A 5-year-old can’t do what a 15-year-old can do and shouldn’t be expected to.”
Know who you are.
“You are the parent,” Hammond said. “You are not there to be their best friends, until they are adults.”
Keep an even tone.
Even when disciplining your children, you can be firm but civilized in your approach. “Your hair should not be on fire when you talk to your children,” Hammond said.
To be a good adult child
Redefine your relationship.
Men, for example, should silence the little boy, Levine said. “This requires them to no longer be their mother’s sons, but an adult man who has an adult relationship with her,” he said.
Find a way to express your gratitude for the lessons you’ve learned from them, Levine said.
“No matter what your age, you are to respect and honor your parents,” Hammond said. “It’s OK, to disagree with them, because you’re an adult and you’re now making decisions that affect your life as an adult, but do it respectfully.”
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