We Should Be Taught Relationship Skills in School
Fostering healthy, positive relationships is a skill that can be learned.
When we transition from our mother’s wombs into the cold, harsh world, we are thrusted into an environment so different than we’ve ever known before. Confused and slimy, you reach out your hands searching for your mother. Indeed, this world feels different. When you came into this world, you literally had no idea what you were getting yourself into.
Once you were here, you looked for someone to attach to. Our brains are not fully developed when we are born, and only become fully developed around the age of 25. To develop healthily, you brain needs to learn from someone how to navigate throughout the world.
A lot of us didn’t get the most healthy lessons from our family. Everyone knows this because we see sheisty behavior everyday when interacting with our coworkers, bosses, friends, family, and strangers. You notice less than kind behavior. You feel it in your gut. You know that something is wrong. You also can sense pain oozing out like pus from a wound when you see people engaging in unhelpful behaviors like substance abuse. Everyone has a story and they bring the story of what relationships have meant to them to their current relationships. But you know people who don’t have the best relationship skills. Hell, it might be you.
Why don’t we teach our children what it means to be in a helpful, healthy, and loving relationship in school? We are humans after all. Our life is enormously impacted by the quality of our relationships. And remember: our brains develop to learn these behaviors. We need to teach how to be in a secure relationship because many aren’t learning the correct tools at home.
Relationships that Matter:
- Romantic Partners
- Fellow Citizens
- So on and so forth…
Here are some lessons that I wish I learned in school but had to learn in the school of hard knocks.
1. Become an expert at noticing how you feel.
If you were going to build a house with someone, and the other person decided to throw the perfectly good wood in the lake, would you still want to build the house with them? Some actually act like this in relationships with various form of lies, cheating, and abuse.
But what about more insidious behaviors? If you were going to build a house with someone, and the other person decided to not tell you that half of the wood is missing, would you still want to build the house with them? If you were going to build a house with someone, and the other person only works 4 days out of the week when you work 7, would you still want to build the house with them?
No one can answer these questions for you, but you. You need to figure what’s your threshold of acceptability. Practice sitting with yourself and noticing the sensations in your body and your emotional state. Is something not sitting well with you? Is someone exhibiting abnormal behavior? When you define what’s normal behavior for you — behavior that you feel at peace, healthy, and stable — you will know if someone is exhibiting acceptable, normal behavior. Do yourself a favor and don’t hang out with weirdos.
2. There are universal signs of normalness.
Again, some of us didn’t consistently see what is considered basic, normal, pro-human behavior growing up. Let this be a refresher for some and a wake up call for others. These apply to all types of relationships.
Alice Boyes in Do You Have These 21 Essential Relationship Skills? outlines 21 normal relationship behaviors:
- Understanding the other person’s perspective.
- Taking an interest in what’s important to the other person.
- Smoothing things over after a major or minor argument.
- Using touch to express love and positive emotions.
- Having fun with the other person.
- Noticing when the other person needs support and providing support that the other person finds useful/soothing.
- Empathizing with the other person.
- Using words to express love and positive emotions.
- Providing useful advice when the other person wants an opinion.
- The division of labor is roughly equal.
- You’re trustworthy, showing up when you say you’re going to show up.
- Introducing the other person to new, positive experiences like new friends and new TV shows.
- Helping the other person realize the positive qualities they possess that they might not recognize.
- Emotionally reliable and you feel the other person is in your corner.
- Listening without defensiveness.
- Greeting the other person warmly.
- Helping the other person get a clearer perspective.
- Compromising and finding middle ground with the other person.
- Being vulnerable and sharing your thoughts and feelings with the other person.
- Understanding the other person.
- You are able to self-soothe and don’t take out stress on the other person.
Okay, I’m starting to feel attacked. Can all of us honestly say that we score a 10/10 on all 21 of these skills. We have to keep working on cultivating these skills. Practice makes perfect.
3. You didn’t choose your family, but you can choose your partner and friends.
You are your circle of friends. Your circle of friends create a culture. Like dominos, when one friend has an experience it sparks other friends to have the same experience. This domino effect is why friends get married soon after they’ve seen their friends get married; and why friends get divorces soon after their friends get divorced.
We soak in culture like it’s a sponge. Do you question whether you believe in democracy, women being able to make a living outside of the home, or the importance of a trial before prosecution? You might not question any of these things because your culture mandated that these concepts are truth. And when you tell yourself a story about these ideas you hold them as a sort of truth. Do yourself a favor and be meticulous about the culture that you decide to join. It might be the difference between you staying married or becoming divorced.
4. You didn’t choose your family, but you can choose yourself.
You might not be that good at relationships. You might have soaked up some nonbeneficial habits from your family, your culture, a past relationship, a past friend. Start taking inventory of your unhelpful behaviors. I definitely fall into the trap of thinking about what everyone else is doing wrong and ignoring how I contribute to the situation. Are we demanding someone to pick up a crumb on the kitchen floor when our bedroom is full of boxes from 20 years ago? Start thinking about what you give in your relationships.
After introspection, you’ve defined what’s normal to you and you know what’s universally normal. You only engage with people that show overall normal behavior (i.e., family, partner, friends). Now, continue cultivating those 21 relationship skills.
Be the person you wished you had on your side as a kid.