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Relationship-Centered Living Series Part 3: Cultivating Healthy Relationships


Cardinal Bay Relationship-Centered Living Series

PART THREE: Building Positive Senior Relationships: What Top 5 Habits Can We Practice?

Welcome back to Cardinal Bay’s Relationship-Centered Living Series, which we launched by defining what relationship-centered living is and is not and by discussing the “5 Pillars of Well-Being” we’ve found vital for senior residents to thrive in our Texas and Oklahoma communities. In this installment, we’ll delve deeper into common questions surrounding Pillar #1: Relationships.

Possibly the most indispensable of our multidimensional components, positive relationships are crucial no matter what your age – but creating and sustaining them entails focused intention and effort. We’re here to help by sharing our top five habits that seniors, their caregivers, and others can practice to support their relationship-building endeavors.


Can We Review the Pillar of Relationships Again?

Sure, let’s refresh our memories. Previously, we learned that relationships are a foundational element of well-being, and:

  • They involve a sense of connection, acceptance, inclusion, kindness, and communication.

  • They are identified by assumptions of good intent, respect, appreciation, seeking to understand, empathy, reciprocity, and harmony.

  • Both deep and informal relationships provide human interactions key to good health and longevity.


Am I the Only One Who Struggles to Form and Nurture Relationships?

No, not at all! Maybe because they know just how precious relationships are to their lives, many people feel overwhelmed by the work involved in cultivating them. The bad news is that this process can become more difficult the older we get, especially if we live alone or in environments where interactions are not frequent or constructive.


Is There Anything I Can Do to Build More Healthy Relationships?

Of course. The good news is that we can grow our relationships by improving our relationship skills. By doing so, we can strengthen our ability to relate to each other, to care for family and friends, and to connect effectively with everyone in our relational circles.

We can start by practicing the foremost relationship-building habits:

  • Respect

  • Communication

  • Harmony

  • Empathy

  • Assumption of good intent


How Can I Try to Apply Each of These Habits on a Daily Basis?

Time to talk in greater detail about what we’ve discovered regarding these five essential habits – and our recommendations on how to practice them.


Habit #1 | Pay Your Respects, Respectfully

Think of being respectful – to yourself as well as others – the root of every positive human interaction. The Collins dictionary defines “respect” as “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person (or) a personal quality or ability.” Treat everyone with respect and dignity. Uphold that high esteem. Value all parties and the contributions they bring to the relationship.

Likely, you’ve heard of “The Golden Rule,” that principle cautioning us to treat others the way we want to be treated. It’s a fine notion, but you can practice the ultimate respect by taking it a step further. Learn to treat others the way they want to be treated, demonstrating sensitivity to, and consideration of, their personal needs and preferences.


Habit #2 | Communicate Effectively

We studied 7 Ways To Improve Communication In Relationships, a fascinating article on that states, “Nursing social relationships enhances happiness because spending time with friends or colleagues builds positive emotions – a key component of happiness (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002).” (Written by Birgit Ohlin, MA, BBA and scientifically reviewed by Christina R. Wilson, Ph.D.)

Additionally, it explains, “Interactions with people can be verbal or nonverbal – we can even connect with each other through a smile. A vital element of positive social interaction, however, is good communication.”

But, you might be asking, how will you recognize and establish healthy communication? You can read through the whole Ohlin and Wilson article for some answers, along with the downloadable PDF Three Positive Communication Exercises, which features science-based tools that help people build better social skills and better connect with others.

In the meantime, begin by reflecting on your communication habits, guided by the following themes and questions:

  • Good intention – Am I assuming the best of others?

  • Listening to understand – Do I give others my full attention and presence?

  • Awareness of emotion – Am I aware of the other person’s feelings in the interaction?

  • Clarity – Is anything getting lost in the conversation? Am I hearing things correctly and being clear in what I’m saying?

Communication can be especially challenging when you’re introducing the idea of moving into an assisted living community or are speaking as or to someone with memory conditions (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other forms of memory loss). Rest assured, though, that by engaging proven tools and the correct approach, you will be much more equipped to navigate the situation and well on your way to enhancing your own or the other person’s quality of life.


Habit #3 | Opt for Harmony Over Conflict

Seniors may already have the advantage here, as they appear to enjoy more harmony in their relationships than people representing the younger generations.

In Better with Age: Social Relationships Across Adulthood, a study shared in the National Library of Medicine, researchers found that, “Older adults report better quality ties with their children, more positive marriages, closer friendships, and an overall greater proportion of positive versus problem-ridden relationships than do middle-aged or young adults (Fingerman, Hay, & Birditt, 2004; Rook, 19842003).

Why is that the case? The study indicates a number of reasons but emphasizes that responding with behavior that decreases tensions seems to be key. These are a few of the techniques that may help develop harmonious relationships:

  • Giving others the benefit of the doubt

  • Making efforts to avoid conflict

  • Practicing forgiveness instead of blame

  • Structuring social circles to include only relationships that are most meaningful and rewarding

People may also be aware that time is of the essence – and strive to make the most of enjoying the moments that remain. The study notes, “As the time left to spend with a social partner narrows, people may recognize this diminished horizon and focus increasingly on emotional harmony as opposed to other non-emotional goals (e.g., seeking information) in the relationship.”

In other words, rather than spending that limited time engaged in conflict, older people and their social partners choose instead to promote harmony and positive experiences in their relationships.


Habit #4 | Understand, Develop, and Demonstrate Empathy

Not only a state of mind, we believe that empathy is a true superpower when building relationships. To better understand what “empathy” encompasses, let’s check out the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”

Brené Brown, renowned research professor, author, and speaker, often underscores the significance of empathy in her work. In one book, she writes, “Empathy is a strange and powerful thing. There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’” (Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead)

Many people initially have trouble distinguishing the difference between empathy and sympathy. If that’s you, watch this quick video based on Brown’s insight, which helps explain it. You’ll also see how practicing empathy can strengthen any relationship – a particularly desirable benefit for people who want to expand their comprehension of what a loved one experiences and feels as they age.


Habit #5 | Assume Other People’s Positive Intent

By assuming good intent, we make the deliberate choice to believe that we’re all doing the best we possibly can, working and doing things to the highest of our abilities, with the information and resources at our disposal.

In order to develop such a knack, we must first practice good listening skills. The Cleveland Clinic Canada shares 12 Blocks to Listening,”“ a great tool we can use to recognize and eliminate common listening blocks, and then improve our ability to grasp the real intent of what someone says.

Alongside our new focus on exceptional listening, we can practice good intentions in our relationships in the following ways:

  • Engage in active listening.

  • Create or maintain a positive mindset.

  • Assume the other person has the best outcome in mind.

  • Stay away from the negative tone.

  • Don’t jump to conclusions.

  • Give others grace.

We hope you’ve found the tips outlined above valuable. Certainly, changing our habits doesn’t happen overnight, so please be patient as you begin to implement these five healthy habits. Pretty soon, you’ll discover the amazing result: healthier relationships that enrich the lives of both you and your fellow humans.


Follow our blog for more installments of our Relationship-Centered Living Series. In the upcoming weeks, you’ll continue to explore the power of positive relationships and how relationship-centered living can strengthen seniors' total well-being.


Count on a First-Class Senior Living Expert

If you or your loved one could benefit from a supportive “village,” it may be time to consider senior living options in your area. Cardinal Bay provides independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities in Texas and Oklahoma. In a highly social, relationship-centered environment, our residents experience a wealth of stimulating activities, ultimately leading to healthier, richer, and more fulfilling lives. Schedule a complimentary visit to see for yourself how our residents thrive. And learn more by reading Cardinal Bay’s free, valuable resources, which are dedicated to the seniors and their caregivers navigating this next chapter. Subscribe to our blog.

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