Family relationships can be hard, let’s be honest. We have a relationship with everyone we come in contact with. Some relationships are short. Some are long. Some are intimate, and others not so much. In every relationship, our actions affect the dynamic. We can’t just do or say whatever we want, whenever we want.
Why? Because we don’t exist in a bubble. Our words have meaning.
It’s amazing how many people are never exposed to the concept of effective and thoughtful communication. I find people of all ages coming to my leadership camps and saying, “How has no one ever taught me this?”
But remember, you can’t model something you don’t know. It’s that simple. We don’t know what we don’t know, until we know it.
The good news is that whenever you experience something new, you know it! All you have to do is practice it until it becomes a habit. The awareness is the most difficult part at first, and you’ll have to make conscious decisions. But later, with practice, it will become a part of who you are.
Relationships should charge our battery
Being aware of how we communicate and express ourselves is important in building positive relationships. Some things you do and say can increase others’ trust in you, and make them want to be around you. Some things do the exact opposite.
We want to be in relationships with people who make us think better things about ourselves. This is the purpose of every relationship.
If you don’t get it, here’s another version. We want to be in relationships with people who make us feel better about ourselves.
In any relationship, there is giving and receiving. I want to be very clear about this. It’s not “giving and taking”. It’s “giving and receiving”. We give something and we receive a better feeling about ourselves in return.
It’s a very special kind of giving, because it never depletes us. If we give and we feel that something is lost, that’s not a good relationship. It means that this particular relationship is draining. We want relationships that charge us!
Group relationships, such as families or friend-circles, are even more difficult to maintain, because the balance between giving and receiving is very specific.
Words and actions that build trust in family relationships
Below are several statements and behaviors that build family relationships. Some of them are more difficult to use if you’re not used to hearing them yourself, but all of them can be learned!
For example, when I was a kid, my parents never said, “I love you”. Does it mean that I’ve never said, “I love you” to my kids and the people I care about?
I tell my kids I love them. At first, it was awkward, because I hadn’t heard it myself. But over time, it became easy. After all, I was just expressing my feelings.
I’m so happy I did it, too, because my kids say it back and we just started a whole generation of people who say, “I love you” to one another. My granddaughter is already a loving child from it.
So, start with the easy ones and gradually practice them all until you feel comfortable.
“I Love you”
Everyone needs to hear this, and not only when they do something that pleases you. “I love you” is a foundation. It doesn’t need to depend on anything.
We don’t need to earn love and you should never give it as a prize. A good way to practice saying it is by making it a routine to say it in the morning, before you leave home, and before bedtime.
“What can I do to help you?”
This question recognizes that someone is struggling and says, “I’m here to help you in any way I can”. It’s important to understand it doesn’t mean “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it”.
It’s an expression of willingness to support. It says, “I’m willing and I will do what I can!”
“I need your help”
We are born helpless, and as we grow older, we generally try to avoid this feeling. Asking for help means we have to be vulnerable and trust the other person will not use our vulnerability against us.
In order to build the trust, we need the courage to ask for help. And when it’s your turn to help, the ability to show the person who asked that trusting us is safe and we’ll do it gladly.
“What is your opinion about…?”
This question shows a person that you value what they think. It’s particularly important to ask children for their opinion. They shouldn’t think only grownups have worthy opinions.
Please note, asking for someone else’s opinion doesn’t mean you’re going to do what they say. And when they answer, don’t take it as if they’re telling you what to do. It’s only a sharing experience. The person who asks is merely looking for insight or perspective.
“I trust you”
Obviously, we need to build trust in every relationship. If we say we don’t trust each other often enough, we’ll start believing it.
This is true for both parents and children. Parents nag their kids to do their homework, because they don’t trust them to do it without nagging. Children lie to their parents because they don’t trust their parents to be there for them when they hear the truth.
When we say, “I trust you”, we plant in their mind, and in our own, the belief that we love each other, have good intentions, and know we do the best we can. This is something that promotes “I’m OK, you’re OK”.
When we say, “I trust you”, we’re actually saying, “I trust myself that I’ll be OK if I trust you”.
“Thank you”, “You’ve helped a lot”, “I appreciate what you’ve done”
These are all expression of gratitude. When we say them, we tell people they matter and we don’t take them for granted. We acknowledge something they did (for us), and let them know we’ve noticed their kindness.
When our gratitude is sincere, the other person receives something for their giving straight away. This should motivate them to do it again.
“I’m sorry you feel that way”
In every family, there are hard feelings sometimes. When we say, “I’m sorry you feel that way”, we don’t take blame or justify something we have done. We leave the feeling where it needs to be.
Saying this acknowledges the other person for feeling “that way”, without trying to remove it, squash it, or solve it. If you just stay there after hearing hard feelings, this will often be enough. The other person will think, “You are trustworthy. I feel safe to share hard feelings with you”.
“I understand”, “I get it”, “I see”
You can say these when someone expresses discomfort or anger towards you. It leaves the feeling where it is. A word of warning: when the other person is very emotional, stick to “I understand” and don’t say “I understand how you feel”. Because when someone is very emotional, saying it will only make them feel you don’t.
Many parents who use that phrase say they hear back, “No, you don’t”. It means that if the person was in pain from one reason, now they have more pain from your lack of understanding.
“You’re important to me”
Every family member needs a fan club. In every family, everyone else is a potential fan, and family is the best fan club in the world.
I always say that to climb the ladder of success, we need someone to hold it at the bottom. Family member are the best people to do that.
It’s problematic when people think they can’t hold others’ ladders while climbing towards their own success, because it’s not true. If your child or sibling’s success is also yours, then being their fan will only make you climb your ladder faster.
Tell people how important they are to you. Tell them how much you will do for them, and they will give that to you in return.
“I’m proud of you”
Pride is a good feeling we have when we have a part in someone else’s success. Children can be proud of their parents, and parents can be proud of their children.
When we tell people we’re proud of them, we tell them they are good and we’re happy to be associated with them. Being proud of someone is like saying, “Your success is mine as well. I’m happy for your success. I’m happy to be your child/parent”.
You can say, “I’m proud of you for giving food from your lunch box to the kid who had no lunch”, “I’m proud of you, Mom, for having the courage to sing”.
I’ve invented a special therapy. It’s the cheapest and most effective therapy. I call it Pride Therapy. I practice it every day. I show my pride like a peacock.
“You inspire me”, “I admire you”
We all want to know that we do amazing things and that our families are part of our fan club. Saying to someone, “You inspire me” fulfils the reason they are in a relationship with us. It makes them think better of themselves.
“You inspire me” is especially important for parents to say to their children. Because this way, we tell them that we can be inspired by everyone, no matter how young. It has nothing to do with age or experience.
If you teach everyone in the family to be inspired, then jealousy goes out the window.
“I’m happy for your success”
This comes as a result of the previous fan club statement of inspiration. The ability to be happy for someone else’s happiness is essential. If we had that, we would never have sibling rivalry.
I hear a lot about siblings hating each other’s guts, yet I have 3 children who, when one of them does something amazing, feel happy and proud, as if they’ve done it themselves. As with everything else in family relationships, what goes around, comes around.
“Tell me more about it”
This expression shows curiosity and openness. When you ask someone to tell you more about something, you keep the focus on them and give him a safe space to express themselves.
If you keep being curious, your family member will develop trust in your genuine desire to be with them, to care for them, and to accept them without judgment. And it’s more likely they will do the same for you.
A smile is an expression of satisfaction, happiness and kindness. It builds relationships and makes people want to be around you more.
When you smile at the people you meet, it’s like saying, “I’m happy to see you”. You can do it when someone enters the house, when you see them in the morning, and when you just look at them.
Try it! Notice how the whole atmosphere changes as soon as you smile at someone in the house. If it’s hard, think of something cute that will trigger the smile, and the rest will follow.
Listening is an act of giving. You give your attention to someone and put them at the center of attention. What you get in return is trust.
It’s important to remember there must be balance in your family relationships. It’s impossible that two sides or more will have equal listening and talking time, but if you work on your listening, you’ll also get your chance to talk.
You don’t build family relationships just by being together. You do it by using words and actions that build trust and show trust. If you want your family relationships to be strong and solid, use more of these trust-building tools.
Happy family life,