There are important relationship skills that can enhance our friendships and our other close relationships. If we take the time and effort to learn these skills, we will learn to nurture and strengthen our relationships. Here is a list of five of the most important skills we can learn. As it happens, they are also five great rules to live by.
1. Give the gift of time
The gift of time is incredibly important. Relationships need time to develop. Trust requires time to build and to test. Intimacy requires time to get to know each other. Commitment requires choosing time with your friend over time with distractions. Love requires time to selflessly serve your friend. But especially in our modern, hectic world, giving quantity and quality of time is not something that comes naturally to us. We need to learn how to order our lives so we have time to spend with friends. Then we need to learn how to best use our time with our friends to build our relationships.
2. Engage in deep conversation – grow in intimacy
One skill that goes with learning how to use our time is learning how to engage in deep, meaningful conversation that actively nurtures intimacy with our friends. So much of our conversation centers around shallow information sharing or – worse yet – gossip. Some of it gets a little deeper and touches on opinions and thoughts that might be bit risky to share with others. But very little of our conversation reaches the depth of true intimacy – where we are sharing our dreams and fears and hopes and desires with each other. The friendship that can reach this depth of intimacy is a true treasure. It’s not easy. But deep conversation is a skill that we can learn.
3. Learn the art of good listening
Like deep conversation, true listening is also rare in our relationships. True listening means more than just hearing what our friend is saying. It means hearing what she is saying in word and in body language. It means empathizing (yes, even for us guys, though we express empathy differently than women). True listening means entering into the world of our friend and lending them emotional and intellectual support. Ultimately it means listening to the heart of your friend and knowing them intimately. Like deep conversation, this is difficult. But also like deep conversation true listening is a skill we can learn and master.
4. Treasure the uniqueness of your friend
One of the greatest treasures God has created is the individual person. He has created us to live as members of His Family, but as unique individuals with our own set of gifts and personality traits, hopes and desires. God placed in the human heart a desire for relationship and connectedness. But he also placed in our heart the desire to be appreciated for being uniquely ourselves. Unity and friendship flourish when each friend shows true, authentic appreciation of the other. Is this a skill that can be learned? Well, it’s a way of seeing. It sometimes requires a shift in perspective. And it’s something that we need to do consciously when we drift into apathy or even annoyance at our friend’s differences.
5. Forgive early and often
Forgiveness is a key trait of the Christian. It’s also an important element of any relationship. When we think of forgiveness, we often think of the need to forgive great wrongs. But there is also a need to forgive everyday small annoyances, the occasional emotional coldness or distance, the careless word, the forgotten appointment, and the other little sins we commit against each other. If we don’t forgive the little things, they can build up into a true challenge of our friendship. Of course, if we can’t forgive the big offenses, we build walls between us and our friends. What does true forgiveness mean? Forgiveness is a choice to give up our right (perceived or real) for payback. Forgiveness means to choose to forgo revenge, or even justice, for the sake of our friend and for the sake of the friendship. In fact, when Jesus forgives us, he pays our debt for our sin himself. Forgiveness is an act for love. The skill of conflict resolution goes hand-in-hand with the choice to forgive.
If we could live these five golden rules of friendship, all of our relationships would be richer sources of joy. Fortunately for us, the love of friendship is a skill that we can learn. We can learn relationship skills that help us to complement those who differ from us and to see the gifts in others.