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Positive relationships are core to our well-being and ability to bounce back after a crisis. They help us to cope with stress, provide us with meaning, and are a source of enjoyment and pleasure. In fact, people who fail to list positive relationships as a source of meaning in their life are more likely to be depressed and anxious. Solid social support networks are vital to building resiliency. They help to offset the unusually high levels of chronic stress, vicarious and acute trauma experienced by humanitarian workers. Yet the nature of humanitarian work often makes it difficult to sustain relationships over time. The many challenges require that humanitarians and their partners devote time and attention to developing their relationship skills.
Positive relationships are characterized by security and connectedness. Partners know each other well. They are confident that their partner will use their intimate knowledge for good, not to compete or gain advantage. They enjoy their time together, but they are also comfortable with independence. Their security allows them to explore the world and engage creatively in their work, knowing their partner supports them. Relationship competencies increase the security and connectedness in relationships.
Competencies are the attitudes, knowledge and skills that we have acquired through learning. Relationship competencies include communication and intimacy. People can grow their competencies with practice and discipline. Improving our competencies is something that we can all do something about.
Communication is a process that includes both expressing and listening. Most people can improve their skills in both areas! Expressiveness includes verbal and non-verbal communication. Facial expressions, eye contact, posture, gestures, touch are as important as the words we use. Listening involves tuning in to all of these dimensions. Two aspects of communication are particularly important to intimate relationships: positivity and conflict resolution.
Intimacy is the ability to give and receive support and affection, tune in to others’ needs and feelings, and share important aspects of yourself with others. Self-awareness and curiosity about the other contribute to good intimacy.
It is very difficult to work on these relationship competencies if you are pressured for quality time together. Take your leave time and plan fun times together. When you are home, process what you need to with your partner, but let go of doing your work. Don’t check your email constantly! Be fully present for your loved ones. When you are at work, be sure to stay connected to home in whatever ways you can. While relationships can be hard work, a loving and secure connection is a true source of joy and meaning.
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