How to Build Intentional Relationships
A relationship is a journey. Everything you do, say and feel with others is another step on that journey. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get mired in the unimportant parts of the journey — roadblocks and potholes that bar the way from developing a truly deep connection with someone else. When that happens, relationships falter, crack and fade.
Why does this happen? How does it apply to our personal, professional and romantic lives? Ultimately, how can we avoid it and create the kinds of relationships we really want?
The following is a breakdown of why different kinds of relationships falter, as well as advice on how to nurture and grow the most important relationships in your life.
Why do relationships fail?
One of the primary reasons relationships fail is because we’re unintentional about them. We let relationships form entirely organically — which isn’t bad in the beginning, of course. Sadly, when things become difficult or strained, most of us continue to take an organic approach to the way our relationships develop.
As things get worse, we neglect defining what we want out of our relationships, and it leads to their decline and eventual dissolution. Here’s just a few ways relationships can become strained when we’re unintentional about them:
- Personal relationships: Personal relationships, such as friendships, are by their very nature organic. We often don’t choose the people we end up becoming friends with, but once these people are within our circle, they often stay for quite some time. Personal relationships often fail because we stop making the effort to make time for these people in our lives.
We assume our personal relationships will remain intact because the friendship isn’t held together by other means, such as work or children — instead, it’s a deliberate choice for both parties. Sadly, this attitude about friendships and other personal relationships means they crumble very easily when we stop intentionally choosing to nurture them. We let other relationships take precedence over these ones, and in doing so, we de-prioritize friends until they are no longer our friends.
- Romantic relationships: Romantic relationships suffer from a lack of goal-oriented thinking as well. Part of this has to do with the honeymoon stage, where everything is simple and easy between partners. During this time, neither partner has to think about doing the intentional, difficult work of relationship maintenance.
Bad habits like these carry on into the harder years, however. Once partners are comfortable with each other, they stop “trying” — in other words, the goal of their involvement in the relationship becomes murky, muddled and unclear. Is marriage in the picture? Are children the next big goal? Or is the goal something smaller, such as increasing romantic intimacy or cultivating a strong sense of mutual respect between partners?
Turning romance into a goal-oriented process might not sound sexy. But that’s not exactly what’s happening here. Instead of a checklist of things to do in your relationship, this is about becoming cognizant of the fact that your relationship should always involve an element of effort and foresight.
- Professional relationships: Professional relationships are slightly different than other kinds of connections. Unlike friendships or romantic interests, these relationships are, on the surface, extremely intentional and goal-oriented. The reason we maintain a professional relationship is primarily to complete a job or a task.
Because of this, however, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that a true relationship with our coworkers is necessary to get work done efficiently. When a real relationship isn’t formed, distrust and unfamiliarity between parties can cause rifts that make for miserable inter-office interactions.
As these relationships crumble, the work suffers, and eventually the relationship ends tersely: someone gets fired, relocated or removed from that workspace.
How can I avoid being unintentional in my relationships?
If neglect and unintentionality are the cause of fractured relationships, then the opposite holds true for strong, healthy relationships: attention and effort are the panacea that keeps them alive. The next time you’re sensing something’s wrong or faltering in one of your relationships, here’s what you can do:
- Personal relationships: If you’re being unintentional in your friendships, it’s time to step it up. Start by deciding what your goals are in your personal relationships: do you want to see your friends more often? Is talking on the phone once a week a good goal? Or would you simply like to develop a stronger texting relationship, where you can send each other nice and funny notes throughout the week? Once you’ve decided what your goal is, hone in on it and nurture it. Do the work to initiate the kind of behavior you want reciprocated, and you’ll start seeing results.
- Professional relationships: If your professional relationships are faltering, it’s time to stop thinking of coworkers and clients as a means to an end. The relationship supersedes the work that gets done. You might be thinking: “That doesn’t make any sense. If the work isn’t important, I’ll get fired in no time!” The thing is, improving your relationship is simply a means to getting better work out of both you and your coworkers. After all, relationships built on trust and understanding lead to better collaboration — so keep doing the work, but start thinking of your relationship as part of your professional to-do list.
- Romantic relationships: All of us know romantic relationships take work. Avoid thinking of the work you have to do in your love life as some kind of grueling task. Instead, consider reframing the work that needs to be done as an exciting way to transform your relationship into the kind of partnership you need at this point in your life.
Reassess everything. Conduct check-ins with your partner. Where are both of you at, and where do you want to go together? Romantic relationships are the very definition of a “journey,” but having a destination to drive toward — even if you never reach it — will make the entire road trip more enjoyable.
Be intentional in your relationships to unlock them
All relationships require thought and effort. Despite this, the benefits are worth it. You’ll find that approaching your relationships with intention will help you in countless ways, both large and small.
Hopefully you’ve acquired a better sense of how to navigate your relationships going forward. If that’s the case, you might benefit from additional relationship advice from us: trained professionals who give constructive, powerful feedback for a living. If that sounds like something that’s up your alley, reach out and let us know what you need.