How Can I Improve My Relationship Skills

Men's Dating

How Can I Improve My Relationship Skills?

Hunt Ethridge

Written by: Hunt Ethridge

Hunt Ethridge

Hunt Ethridge is the co-founder and CMO of the as well as senior advisor and board of directors at other firms.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

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Relationships form the backbone of society, whether they’re romantic, platonic, or professional. The definition of society is the “aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.” If you’re in a community, you have relationships with others in that community. Sometimes whether you want to or not.

Most relationship advice I give to my clients isn’t really even relationship advice. I just try to help them be the best person they can be and get the most out of their relationships no matter the kind. It’s all the same set of skills being used in different ways.

While the tips in this article are good for all your relationships, we’ll focus on the dating angle.

1. Don’t Look for Similar Interests; Look for Similar Values

Too often I hear the advice: Find someone who likes the same things you do.

That’s not bad advice; it’s just not complete advice. I like to paint. Charles Manson liked to paint. However, that does not mean we would be in any way compatible.

In fact, it’s really good to have differing likes and hobbies than the person you’re dating. That way, you get to learn from each other and have your own space to do your own thing.

For instance, in another life, I was a fashion editor for a glossy magazine. One time I took my wife to Fashion Week, and we sat front row at a couple of shows, went backstage, interviewed designers, joked with Alexa Joel, and drank champagne in the afternoon hours.

While that may be someone else’s dream, my wife just thought it was an OK experience. She enjoyed seeing the pageantry of it all, but she had no desire to do it again. That’s fine!

What you want to look for in a partner is someone with similar values as yours. Do you enjoy being outside or inside more? Do you like pursuing hobbies and exploring or do you prefer contemplative reading? What’s your career path? What type of lifestyle do you have?

These are the things that will matter more. Sometimes my wife and I have a hobby night when each of us works on our own respective thing, and we get to hang out and be together. Try that with your partner.

2. Learn How to Communicate Effectively

You have to be able to tell your partner what you need. One thing about the whole “communication is key” advice you hear everywhere is that it doesn’t really tell you how to communicate or how to improve.

First off, if you’re really interested in improving your relationship skills, you need to put in a little work. Here is a list of books that can open some doors. I remember the first time I read “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” and I had many aha moments, the revelations of which I still use today.

Photo of couple talking

Read books about communication, and use “I” statements when explaining your feelings.

You also want to learn to use “I” sentences. When you speak in sentences that start with “I,” it helps your partner understand your needs. Instead of “Why are you late?” try “When you show up so late, I feel like you don’t value my time, and that makes me sad.”

While we love to have someone who gets us, no one is a mind reader. When you tell someone what you need, usually he or she will want to give it to you.

You need to be open to constructive criticism as well. The only way to give your partner what they want is for them to share with you what you may or may not be doing right.

I have prepared some pretty bad dishes in the kitchen, as we all do when we experiment. I tried using coffee as a rub on some meat, and I believe my wife said something like “I would prefer that we keep coffee as a drink.” Got it; no more coffee in the food! (Notice the “I” sentence?)

3. Go to Therapy If You Feel You Need an Outside Perspective

I was diagnosed with ADD at age 14, so I have seen a therapist on and off for a lot of my life. I think everyone should try therapy. If nothing else, therapy gives you a place where you can sit and vent for an hour. It was even one of my therapists who pushed me to get into the dating and relationship industry.

You also have to understand your insecurities and how to self-soothe. If you don’t like small talk because people ask about your family and you had a horrendous childhood, you need some tools to help you through those conversations.

Look, this has been a tough year. I feel like my irritability level is constantly at an 8 or 9 out of 10. None of us are going to communicate effectively if everything scares, annoys, angers, or frustrates us. It’s good to be able to learn to process your feelings so you can better communicate your wants and needs in a relationship.

Check here to look for free or low-cost therapy in your area.

4. Truly Listen

We can be a very talkative, pushy society. We like to post, talk, blog, and stream all the time. I am guilty of doing all of those things too much as well.

But we really need to cultivate active listening skills. Many of us passively wait for our turn to talk without hearing and processing what is being told to us. Communication is the act of both sharing our thoughts and absorbing those of others.

The six key components of active listening are:

  • Pay attention. This sounds easy, but it’s the hardest to do sometimes. Don’t interrupt, face the person talking to you, and don’t be fidgety.
  • Withhold judgement. If you are scowling or acting incredulous about something someone is saying, they may feel they are saying something you don’t agree with and stop sharing with you.
  • Reflect. A way to do this is to paraphrase some of the other person’s points to let them know you are hearing them.
  • Clarify. Just because you say something doesn’t mean it’s understood. Make sure there’s no ambiguity by using plain language. And ask clarifying questions.
  • Summarize. Show them you heard them by doing a quick synopsis of what they’ve said. It also helps you to understand when you repeat it in your own words.
  • Share. Now it’s your turn to talk. What do you have to add to the matter?

5. Give People Your Time

People like it when you are generous with your time. Time is the only thing we can’t get back, so it’s a simple and powerful way to show you care.

If a friend or partner is struggling with something, offer to help. Easing someone’s burden shows that you care and are invested in their own well-being.

Another way to do this is to volunteer. Not only are you helping in your community and helping people in need, but you are demonstrating to anyone there that you are the type of person who wants to better society and themselves. People will want to introduce you to their favorite co-worker, friend, or sibling.

6. Bring Interest and Value to the Table

I tell my clients that, to be interesting, they have to be interested in something. Have a passion!

Would you want to hang out with someone like you? So many people are occupied thinking about how the other person should act that they don’t focus on what they bring to the table. It’s fine to have a wish list of what you’d like to see in others, as long as you bring some value as well. It gives you something to talk about, an interest to pursue, or just something that brings you joy.

Photo of a man woodworking

If you’re passionate about something, it will automatically make you interesting to other people.

People who say “But I’m nice, and I respect women” aren’t bringing anything to the conversation. Yeah, buddy, that’s like saying “I breathe.” Yes, we hope you do, but that’s just a baseline to stay alive.

Remember that whether we like it or not, we are all brands competing against all the other brands out there, so be interesting.

You Can Use These Skills for a Variety of Situations for the Rest of Your Life

I think 2021 is going to be a lot about mental health as we continue to deal with the pandemic. Dating has slowed down a bit, and all of us are adjusting to this new normal. This is really a good time for people to brush up on some skills so they’re ready to hang out with each other again.

Start applying these skills to your interactions with your family, move on to your dealings with your friends, and then on to your crushes and loves.

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