Building Relationships and Ending Destructive Ones

I'm being trained in a particular kind of therapy that is skills-focused (that's a very brief description-obviously). One of the areas in which we apply skills is relationships, or interpersonal situations. Today, I thought I would talk a bit about two of my favorite skills that I find myself applying in my own life, and that I feel we can all benefit from: building relationships and ending destructive ones.

It's amazing how bad we are at these two skills. After all, we are human and we aren't perfect. What a shock, right?

These two skills are all about strengthening current relationships, finding and building new relationships, and ending hopeless or interfering relationships. I've thought a lot about how these two skills parallel my faith and the gospel, and they're more consistent than you might initially think. But that's a whole post in itself.


When talking about finding and getting people to like you, you need to consider proximity, similarity, conversation skills, expressing liking, and joining groups. Look for people that are close by and are similar to you. Use skills like asking and responding to questions, making small talk, self-disclosing skillfully, and not interrupting. This might seem self explanatory, but many people struggle with these conversational skills. Be sure to express genuine liking for the other person. Think about the last time someone did that for you, doesn't it feel great? This should be without expectation of favors. Finally, it can be helpful to approach and join and ongoing, open group conversation. This can be hard for introverts like myself, but when I'm skillful about it, I'm usually happy with the outcome.

What if you're trying to strengthen current relationships? This is where building closeness through mindfulness of others is really important. Try to do things like: pay attention with your full interest and curiosity, don't multitask, stay present, let go of a focus on self, give up on always being right, avoid assuming or interpreting what other people think about you, avoid questioning other people's motives, give others the benefit of the doubt, go with the flow, and become one with group activities and conversations. This is actually the area where I struggle the most, but it's also the area where I see the most payoff in my relationships when I'm being mindful of these things.


Then, the hardest in my opinion, is ending destructive or interfering relationships. What's the difference between the two? Destructive relationships are those that can destroy or spoil the quality of the relationship or aspects of yourself such as your happiness, self-esteem, or ability to care for the other person. Interfering relationships block or make it hard for you to pursue the goals that are important to you; enjoy life and the things you enjoy doing; your relationships with others; or the welfare of others that you love.

Here, it's important to stay centered and calm, be skillful, and stay safe. You don't want to make this decision when you're feeling overly emotional. If the relationship is important and not destructive, and there is hope that it can improve, first try problem solving in order to repair the relationship. Maybe consider the pros and cons of ending the relationship. If the relationship needs to be ended, then practice ending it and cope ahead for what the outcome or response may be. Be direct.

So how do you decide which of the three areas to focus on in a particular relationship? I think a good starting place is to look at the relationships in your life and ask: "How is this specific relationship building me up right now?" From personal experience, you might be surprised by the answer. And before anyone goes off on me, let me just point out that there is always GRACE. Just because a certain relationship isn't building you up in that moment, doesn't mean it doesn't build you up at other times and doesn't mean that relationship is necessarily bad for you. Give grace, but take an honest look at the pattern of your relationship as well. The answer isn't always clear. Consider it prayerfully if needed. This might help you determine in which of the three areas above you should be working. Sometimes, loving someone means ending the relationship.

Where do you struggle the most in building and ending relationships?

*These skills are adapted from the DBT Skills Training Manual. 

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