Tag Archives: T.S. Eliot

The #1 Relationship Skill

This past year – 2015 – I challenged myself to identify and share the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Here’s the list – and at the end of this article are links to each of the posts I’ve written on this journey:

Top 12 Relationship Skills

As a Marriage & Family Therapist I spend time every day with brave people who’ve hit some relational wall with a spouse, partner, sibling, parent, child or co-worker and who want to understand what went wrong, how to fix it and  – best of all – how not to hit that wall again in the future.

Sometimes, with some people, it’s relatively easy to help them identify the problem, make a repair and build in some good healthy alternative patterns. With some folks it’s much harder but the love and commitment are deep enough to sustain them through the effort.  And some folks decide it is time to move on.

Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 6.37.17 AMThroughout this year of drilling down into what I consider to be the top 12 relationship skills we all need I’ve been hoping I’d unearth the Rosetta Stone of Loving Relationships.

I so wished there would be one theme, one thread, one skill or attribute which – if found as helpful between one dyad – might also be discernible as a key skill for happy relating between all partners, parents and children, siblings and friends.

Faith traditions have of course held the same question and answered with variations on the theme of Love.

“Love one another.”

It’s darned good advice as far as it goes, and we even have some behavioral injunctions from Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians ~

  • Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited,
  • it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offense or store up grievances.
  • Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.
  • It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.
  • Love never comes to an end.

However, folks tend to come to me when they’ve run out of that loving feeling or they’ve lost the will to practice these loving behaviors. So then what?


Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 7.28.49 AMThen what indeed.

I’m going out on a limb here.

I’m going to claim that I think there is one skill, one way of being that helps everything.

I’ve not named it as one particular skill in my list of 12 so I need to figure out how to do that. But I have discovered it weaving through all of the skills I’ve written about.

It’s not so much a Rosetta Stone metaphor as a “how does a fish know it’s in water” question.

Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 7.32.30 AM


So what is this one thing which, if applied to any relationship, makes the biggest difference?


It’s the ability to bring conscious awareness to each moment. It’s the ability to be in your life, in each moment, at the same time as you are aware of your life and yourself in each moment.

It’s the ability to be “The one who watches.”


Because each of these 12 skills –

  1. Recognize and get to know the many versions of you
  2. Learn how to choose which “you” shows up in any given moment
  3. Accept and get curious about other people’s complexity
  4. Master the art of conversation
  5. Listen with your whole self
  6. Cultivate empathy
  7. Be kind
  8. Negotiate with a win-win mentality
  9. Build or re-build trust
  10. Be genuinely sorry and apologetic when necessary
  11. Forgive and move on when necessary
  12. Let go of past resentments, present blindness and future expectations ~

each of them, depends upon your ability to do this. To nurture the intelligent life within your heart and mind and body and stay awake and aware of your moments.

If you are not present to your own moments, how will you know ~

  1. what mood you’re in?
  2. which version of you needs to show up?
  3. how others are responding to you?
  4. how you’ll speak if you’re not connected to your heart?
  5. how to listen if you’re unaware of what ears you’re listening with?
  6. how the other chap is feeling to foster empathy?
  7. what kindness in this moment might look like?
  8. what win-win means for the two of you?
  9. how trust can arise?
  10. what you’ve done that is hurtful?
  11. what you are genuinely capable of forgiving within your own heart?
  12. what you are holding onto in the past, present or future that you may wish to lighten up?

At the heart of this celebration of conscious awareness is a big, fat, juicy invitation to fall more deeply in love with yourself. Here’s a sweet reminder from Anne Lamott

If you don’t believe in God, it may help to remember this great line of Geneen Roth’s: that awareness is learning to keep yourself company. And then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage. I doubt that you would read a close friend’s early efforts and, in his or her presence, roll your eyes and snicker. I doubt that you would pantomime sticking your finger down your throat. I think you might say something along the lines of, ‘Good for you. We can work out some of the problems later, but for now, full steam ahead!” 

I mean, it’s hard to cultivate a satisfying reciprocal loving relationship if we’re not so fond of the person we’re asking this other person to love back – right?

When I set out on this path my hope was

That you’ll become more aware of what you do that works – what brings you closer to people. And that you’ll become more hopeful and empowered as you consider those relationships that are fragile or cracked. Are there ideas here that will help you build a firmer footing?

So I guess I’ve come full circle.

At the end of a year spent identifying which skills help you cultivate great relationships with others, I’ve actually unearthed a skill which helps you cultivate a great relationship with yourself.
Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 9.18.17 AMGood old T.S. Eliot nails it again!

Makes sense!

May each of us grow in conscious awareness.

May we increasingly discover the joy that arises when we see and accept ourselves for the gift of our existence.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

To those who have subscribed to this blog – a huge thank you! My commitment to weekly blogging will be changing and these ideas will take on a new form. I’d love to have your company as this next iteration evolves.

To those who have stumbled here via some other portal, thank you! I’d love your company moving forward so do please sign up so we can stay in touch.


This is the last article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

SKILL ELEVEN ~ Forgive and Move On When They’ve Blown It

SKILL TWELVE ~ Let go. Relationships end. You’ll learn, grow and carry on.


Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 9.06.34 AM

I’ve gathered this list together from a variety of sources. Principally I want to acknowledge ~

  • Dr. Richard Schwartz and Internal Family Systems;
  • Marshall Rosenberg and Non Violent Communication;
  • Dr. Haim Guinot and Between Parent and Child;
  • Dan Wile and Collaborative Couples Therapy;
  • Dr. John Gottman, and 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work;
  • Dale Carnegie and How To Win Friends & Influence People
  • My parents, whose individual lives were rich and principled yet whose marriage was tough. Their difficulties motivate my quest.
  • And my own family – husband Mark, son Charlie and daughter Mona, who know how much I fall short of my efforts to relate well, and yet who love me anyway.
  • Stuart Schnell, whose critical thinking, inquiring mind and generous nature have pushed several of these essays into greater clarity. I know there are more improvements needed Stuart!
  • My rich and wonderful community of friends. You know who you are. You are supportive, forgiving, funny, kind, persistent, generous, giving and more. Oh – and you keep some champagne in your fridge “just in case!”