Are You a Relationship Master Or a Disaster? — Lionesses of Africa

by Marjon Meyer 

People who are good at relationships are already happy with their lives and don’t expect others to make them happy. People who are good at relationships are living happy, fulfilled lives before they even enter into a relationship. They bring their happiness into the relationship, instead of extracting happiness from the relationship.

A relationship can’t ever make you happy. It can enhance your feelings of happiness, but it can’t be your happiness. As humans we have an enormous capacity to love and care, yet so often we hurt those closest to us.  At work and at home.

The respect we treat people with, is crucial.  Our true character is revealed by how you treat the vulnerable in society – children, elderly people, the poor, people in junior positions etc., especially when nobody is watching.

Life lessons learnt from studying marriages – masters and disasters

Social scientists of the Gottmann Institute studied marriages over four decades by observing them in action. When the researchers analysed the data they have gathered, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters.

Masters felt calm and were able connect with each other, which translated into warm and affectionate behaviour, even when they disagreed.  Masters had created a climate of trust and openness that made both parties emotionally comfortable and thus able to share thoughts, ideas and feelings.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building a culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for people’s mistakes.” Disasters criticise people and don’t often validate others as humans – often due to their own low self-esteem and sense of inferiority.

Science says lasting relationships come down to 2 basic traits – kindness and generosity.

Kindness glue people together – even strangers in the same democracy!  Kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in relationships. Kindness makes people feel cared for, understood and validated.  If we validate people, they almost always respond positively.

The more we receive or witness kindness, the more we will be kind ourselves, which leads to upward spirals of understanding and generosity in a relationship. This is true even in hard-core business relationships.

“Even in relationships where people are frustrated, it’s almost always the case that there are positive things going on and people trying to do the right thing,” psychologist Tashiro says. “A lot of times, a person is trying to do the right thing even if it’s executed poorly. So let’s appreciate the intent.”

Generosity is the act of giving.  Amy Carmichael said “one can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving”.  Giving can be time, attention, sharing your expertise, doing something for someone, listening or doing something with a person who appreciates your presence.  How generous are you towards the people around you?

You can read more about this research at

People who are good at relationships respond instead of reacting – Complaints vs criticism

While no one is without their faults, criticism is toxic in all relationships as people build up walls to protect themselves.  Even if you believe that you’re offering “truth” or that you’re trying to correct a behaviour or attitude, it is usually perceived as an attack and results in defensive strategies. Criticism means using disastrous red language.  When criticism is used as a channel to express contempt or disdain for someone else, it can make the other person feel devalued and worthless. It’s hard for any relationship to come back from that.

But this does not mean that you shouldn’t address issues in the relationship that bother you. Far from it! Instead, it just means that you need to do it in a way that can be heard—which will facilitate actual action and change. Be masterful and kind when speaking to a person about a behavioural problem and use friendly, green language.  Try starting sentences with “I”, not “you”.

Criticism is often expressed in a way that suggests a character flaw. It focuses on who a person is rather than what a person has done. A complaint, however, is different. It focuses on the action—and when it comes to relationships—a carefully worded complaint is okay, and sometimes very necessary in a relationship.  Remember, the problem is the problem – the person is not the problem.

Making kindness and generosity part of everyday interactions

Let’s never forget the power we have to influence people and situations we encounter on a daily basis. True influence is treating people with dignity – at work, in shopping malls, on social media, at public places and gatherings, at the braai at your home and on our roads. Are you kind and generous? Are you a nice person to be with?

There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stressors of a life together pile up – people may put less effort into most relationships and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart.  Let us use the Ubuntu spirit of kindness and generosity South Africans are so well-known for, to move us, especially in the weeks ahead, to be masters of relationships.

Organisational relationships

Every organisation is looking for the holy grail of performance enhancement, that one thing that, if it were changed even slightly, would push the performance of a company way beyond the current level.  One area that is perhaps overlooked, is the behaviour of their employees. Often the only time behaviour becomes a focus in an organisation is when there is a problem employee or difficult customer that must be dealt with.

Organisations have been forced to re-think their relationships with clients in this remote economy.

Things masters do:

  • They listen more than they speak

  • They acknowledge what is said – silence is not golden!

  • They use green friendly language when speaking with people, even during conflict

  • Avoid aggressive, angry red language when dealing with difficult situations

  • They turn towards a person and lean into the conversation

  • They don’t let technology interfere in a conversation

  • They ask questions about the other party’s story

  • They understand how empathy works

  • They don’t criticise nor judge, but listen with an open mind

  • Unsolicited advice is not given

  • Their own story takes the backseat

  • They make people feel comfortable when they are with them by using positive body language.

People who are good at relationships are able to give freely. They are not doormats or feel abused, they are assertive in their giving and living. They don’t show affection to stake a claim or get something back. They do it because it’s a genuine expression of how they feel. They don’t need the other person’s approval in order to feel good. Essentially, they can give and receive freely and without agenda.

You choose – are you a master or a disaster in relationships?  Just be nice.  That’s all.

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