Relationship building invites us to understand how the resilient adaptations we developed as children and adolescents allowed us to survive hardship and vulnerability. Indeed, we often unconsciously felt as if we were thriving at those challenging junctures. The problem, however, with those resilient adaptations is that they camouflaged unmet needs and wounds inflicted upon us. Relationship building suggests that the conflicts we experience with our partners alert us to those unmet needs and wounds. We are invited to consider that what worked for us as children and adolescents no longer works for us as adults in relationships of close proximity. Conflict in relationship with our partners comes to force us to notice, name and address the unfinished business we carry from childhood. Relationship building normalizes conflict in relationships and offers an approach to unpack, understand and give meaning to that conflict, using that meaning to promote growth.
Relationship building focuses on developing communication skills most of us never learned. It teaches us how to listen, reflect back what we hear, and validate and empathize with our partner’s feelings. By following this unnatural, forced and inefficient method of structured communication, we slow down, listen and become more attuned and intentional as we interact. This approach is most helpful when we disagree with our partner and wish to truly hear and understand what is being said. The more we practice this mode of communication, the more able we will be to transform tension, disconnection and isolation into a shared feeling of safety, compassion and intimacy, which is needed to create common ground and promote connection