Personal and Romantic Relationship Skills

See also: Emotional Intelligence

From the moment we are born, we start to participate in personal relationships: with parents, with siblings, and with wider family and friends. As we grow, those relationships widen to include romantic relationships and eventually, perhaps, our own children, and an even wider family.

Many of the most sought-after interpersonal skills translate directly into personal and romantic relationships. However, it is surprising how hard it can be to apply learning from work or other situations to our most important relationships.

This series of pages, on the skills you need in romantic relationships, aims to help you to do this more easily.


Backwards and Forwards: The Flow of Learning

Many of us may start to understand about the importance of interpersonal skills through work, or wider personal development, perhaps because this is the first time that we are asked to consciously think about these skills.

That does not mean, however, that we have not already been learning interpersonal skills for many years.

Learning acquired through work can be applied at home, and this can make a huge improvement to our personal relationships—but skills and insights acquired through personal relationships can also be applied at work.

Case study: Home to Work

Sam had recently returned to work after a year’s maternity leave. In discussion with a colleague one day, she realised something.

Children—well, at least under the age of about eighteen months, I think—don’t do things deliberately to annoy you,” she commented. “I mean, things go wrong, and they throw things about because they’re cross, but I don’t think they’re doing it to make you cross. They’re doing it because they’re cross themselves.

Her colleague agreed, although having older children, pointed out that this might not continue for ever. Sam laughed, recognising the truth in that. She added, thoughtfully,

I think it’s helped me respond differently to people I manage, though. I used to get cross when things went wrong, because I thought they should be able to do better than that. Now I realise that everyone is basically doing their best, but things sometimes don’t work out. It helps me to be a bit calmer when dealing with problems.

Others had also noticed this. Sam was definitely more tolerant—and a much better manager—because of this understanding.

In other words, you are learning all the time, through everything that happens. Insights can arise from any situation, and be much more widely applicable. This may sound rather philosophical, but it is important to remember.


Skills and Situations

There are some situations that only arise through personal and romantic relationships, such as planning your wedding, or meeting your prospective in-laws for the first time.

These situations may be different from any you have previously encountered, but you should be able to manage them with good interpersonal and personal skills, perhaps with a few tweaks for circumstances.

There are also some skills that are more useful than others in a relationship. You may have acquired them outside the relationship, but you can hone and use them within it, and also improve them for wider use.

Our pages on romantic relationship skills therefore take two approaches:

  • To discuss particular situations connected with relationships, and the skills you need to manage these effectively; and
  • To show you how to apply particular skills to romantic relationships, particularly common interpersonal or managerial skills that you may already have or understand.

1. Situations and relationships

It can be easiest to think of the situations you may encounter through relationships by following the course of a relationship. Our set of pages covering these issues therefore starts with the beginning of a relationship.

Dating and Starting Relationships

The first stage of a relationship is likely to be a series of dates. Whether you favour exclusivity from the first date, or believe in dating lots of people without making a commitment, dating and dating apps will probably feature in your life.

The rules of dating have changed over time, and will continue to do so. It seems likely, however, that being polite and respectful to your date will remain important. This dictates how you behave, from your acceptance of a ‘thanks but no thanks’ through to the obligation to cancel if you are not going to be there.

Beyond the etiquette of dating, starting a relationship can be fraught with problems. Do you go out on a date? Do you simply start ‘going out’ by mutual agreement? Our page on Starting a Relationship suggests some ways that you can get the ball rolling, and also how to behave early in a relationship.

Getting to Know You…

As your relationship develops, new situations and challenges will open up.

For example, you will start to have to navigate your partner’s family relationships as well as your own, especially if your relationship looks like becoming long-term. From meeting your partner’s family—and introducing your partner to your family—through to developing strategies to manage difficult family members in the longer term, our page on Managing Wider Family Relationships will provide some useful pointers.

The End or the Beginning

Unfortunately, not all relationships end happily and breaking up is hard. Our page on this is designed to help you get through a difficult process as easily as possible. It offers some useful ideas about practical handling, such as when and how to have the conversation and what to think about in making a decision.

Some relationships, however, move on more confidently. There may come a stage when you wish to make a formal commitment to each other through marriage. Our page on Planning Your Wedding describes some of the skills you may find useful in this process.

2. Skills for relationships

Many of the skills that are particularly useful in relationships are interpersonal, but particularly relate to communication. There are ways and ways of saying things, and some are much more acceptable than others. This matters at work, but it matters even more at home, when our close personal ties mean that a casually unkind word can really hurt, and a wound can fester for a long time.

Conversations and Feedback

Our page on Giving Feedback to Your Partner applies the important rules of giving feedback to personal relationships. It explains the importance of picking your moment, and of putting your words in the right way.

The phrase ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ takes on a whole new meaning when you understand that feedback should always be given in terms of the effect that someone’s behaviour has had on you.

However good your feedback skills, you may also need to have some difficult conversations in any relationships. Communicating well and openly is a hallmark of a good relationship, but there are still conversations that are more challenging than others, usually because of the consequences. Our page on Having Difficult Conversations will help you to navigate these more confidently.

To help you navigate difficult conversations more successfully, you may need to develop your assertiveness within relationships. Creating a relationship as equals takes time and effort, and assertive handling may be necessary to ensure that you are both able to feel heard and accepted.

Decisions, negotiation and conflict

Some of the most challenging conversations with your partner may, counterintuitively, not be about whether or not to get married or have children. Instead, they may simply be about small decisions that you need to make, where your views turn out to be diametrically opposed.

Learning to make decisions together is difficult when you have always made your own. Our page on Making Decisions Jointly describes some ways in which you can do this, including some processes that you could try if you are really struggling.

At what point does decision-making turn into a negotiation? That is very definitely a moot point, because what one person sees as a joint process, the other may see as an effort to persuade, or a challenging negotiation.

Fortunately, the principles behind the two are the same: you need to remember that you are in a long-term relationship and that you cannot, therefore, act like a used-car salesman.

The relationship itself is (or probably should be) more important than any one decision or disagreement.

This, in turn, means that negotiating or nagging so that you win, and your partner loses, is unlikely to be a successful long-term strategy. Instead, you need to think in terms of a win–win outcome, where you work together to create something that is not just a compromise, but is actually better than either of you would have achieved alone. Our page on Negotiation and Persuasion in Relationships explains more.

Sometimes, the disagreement may be harder to resolve, and may become more of a conflict. Our page on Managing Conflict in Relationships explains the strategies you can use to resolve conflict and, particularly, the skills you need to move towards collaboration, or a win–win solution.


The importance of personal skills

These interpersonal skills are all important in helping you to navigate a relationship. It is also true to say, however, that your personal skills and qualities are equally important.

The way that you feel about yourself affects the way you treat others, and expect to be treated. Your personal ‘moral compass is particularly important in determining what you think is important, and these values are likely to be even more fundamental in romantic relationships than at work.

You may like to read our page on Living Well, Living Ethically for more about how you can develop the ‘virtues’ that will help you to live a good life both within and beyond relationships with others. These personal skills may sound old-fashioned, but they are likely to be the foundation of a life well-lived, whether alone or in partnership with someone else.


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