Your family is the foundation on which much of your happiness, success and physical and emotional well-being is based. If your family relationships are unstable, that can cause a ripple effect that affects work, friends, finances and even your health. The feelings of connection and security that come with strong family relationships can give you the lift you need to endure life’s challenges and meet your goals with confidence and courage.
Some of the main causes of families’ reduced emotional health are changes in family structure, medical problems, parenting or relationship issues, career struggles and financial challenges. Long-term stress on a family—even if the stressors seem to be small—can also have a significant impact.
Many of us are so busy keeping up with daily tasks and pressures that we do not focus enough on building and maintaining our closest relationships. Ideally, families are intended to provide a safe haven, serving as an enduring group of individuals who transcend time and life circumstances. Here are seven ways to improve your family relationships.
1. Learn what their strengths are and use them to overcome obstacles and to stay connected. They put in the effort to identify and work on their weaknesses as individuals and as a whole. If your family is great at networking, use your networking skills to help yourselves in times of need. If your family has weakness in the area of conflict, make a family pact to try harder to be calmer during arguments and to improve your conflict resolution skills.
2. Have a foundation of respect. John Gottman, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and researcher, has written books and articles stating that within minutes he can determine whether a couple’s relationship will be lasting and happy simply based on their behaviors regarding respect. The same is true for families. Respect relates to how members of a family feel and think about each other and how they interact with each other. You show respect if you always consider your family members’ happiness and place it equal to your own.
3. Value investment in the family. Anything that we truly care about requires investment of time and energy. Make sure that you and all of your family members make a concerted effort to spend time together, think about one another and work toward being a strong and happy unit. Plan family days where each family member is responsible for one component of the day. One member plans an outdoor activity, another an indoor activity and one chooses or prepares lunch.
4. Work on good communication skills. Communicating takes effort; it is not just about having a conversation. Focus on listening and understanding what your family member is trying to say. Carve out time to work on communication skills by putting away cellular phones and other devices at the dinner table so you can interact with one another.
5. Know the value of fun and laughter. All of us know that happiness can be the best medicine physically, psychologically and spiritually. Laughter and fun are guaranteed pathways to happiness. Plan time for your family to do shared activities that everyone enjoys: play games together, have a water balloon or snowball fight outdoors, tell bad jokes while decorating homemade cookies.
6. Establish traditions, values and goals, and work toward achieving them. One of the greatest ways to connect is to have shared traditions, values and goals. If you have already developed some, do your best to continue what you started. Sit down to discuss and reinforce values, invent new traditions and plan how you’ll accomplish goals together.
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of Live Happy magazine.