Building and maintaining relationships can sometimes be challenging. Despite the fact that humans possess an innate desire for connection, we aren’t born with all of the knowledge and skills to help us build healthy relationships. Furthermore, not all of us have had positive relationships modelled to us through our parents or caregivers. The good news is that, regardless of our experiences and upbringings, we can learn the skills and attributes that can help us to build and maintain healthy, functional relationships. One of these attributes is empowerment.
Why Empowerment in Relationships is Important
Empowerment within intimate relationships means being aware of who we are, confident in what we want, and communicating this respectfully to our partner. It is the middle ground between passivity and control. Empowerment is important as it helps us build autonomous, strong and compassionate relationships.
How to Build Empowered Relationships
Set Healthy Boundaries
Boundaries are the rules we set in our relationships. They tell our partners what we are and aren’t okay with. Boundaries are essential for maintaining our wellbeing, and provide a sense of autonomy and safety.
Take some time to identify what your boundaries are. They can fall under many different domains, such as physical, intellectual, emotional, sexual, financial or material, and time boundaries. It can be helpful to have proactive conversations whereby each partner has the opportunity to proactively express their boundaries. You might like to discuss different topics and scenarios to allow space for nuance and clarification.
Boundary-setting is an ongoing process. Your values and circumstances might change throughout the course of the relationship, and this can influence what boundaries you hold. You might like to re-evaluate your boundaries periodically to ensure that they reflect your current values and circumstances.
It’s inevitable that our partner will sometimes do things that frustrate or upset us. When this happens, we are met with the decision of how we choose to react – how do we bring it up with them? What do we say? Do we avoid it all together? Avoiding addressing issues can feel like the best option in the moment, but over time it can exacerbate anxiety and lead to feelings of resentment. Communicating aggressively, such as shouting or swearing at our partner, can damage the relationship and disempower our partner.
Assertive communication is the healthiest communication style. It involves expressing our own needs, as well as acknowledging the needs of our partner. It is characterised by calm, clear, direct and fair communication. It involves direct eye contact, a non-threatening tone of voice and body language, and allows everyone in the conversation the space to speak without interruption. Assertiveness empowers us by allowing us the opportunity to feel heard and understood by our partner, and enact change where needed.
Be Aware of your Strengths
Sometimes it’s easy to focus on our flaws and those of our partner. When we know what our strengths are, we can then find ways to use them within our relationships. Some examples of strengths are patience, logic, fairness, kindness, flexibility, honesty, or a sense of humour. Our partner is likely to have a set of strengths that is different to our own. Knowing and using our strengths can help us to build our self-esteem and confidence.
How to Empower Your Partner
Lead By Example
It’s just as important for your partner to feel empowered in the relationship, too. By demonstrating the skills that build empowerment, you are modeling what this looks like to your partner. For example, you could invite them to share their own boundaries and needs. You might also start noticing your partner’s relationship skills that you might not be so proficient in, and learn from them, too.
Use Active Listening
When your partner talks to you about an issue, you can help them to feel empowered by doing your best to understand their point of view. Here are some ways to show that you’re actively listening:
- Ask open-ended questions – these are questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response. Example: “How has this been affecting you?” or “Tell me more about …?”
- Affirm your partner’s abilities and strengths, and demonstrate empathy. Example: “This must have been really difficult to bring up – I’m really glad you told me”.
- Reflect back your understanding of the meaning behind what your partner is saying to make sure you’re both on the same page. Example: Using sentences that begin with “You’re feeling that …” or “It sounds like …”
- Summarise what your partner has told you will again help to ensure that you have understood them. It also gives them the opportunity for clarification. You can summarise during the conversation and/or at the end. Example: “So just to check that I’ve understood everything so far …”
Attend Couples Therapy
There is no shame in seeking professional help. Lots of couples seek assistance for relationship issues, big and small. If you find that you and your partner are struggling in the relationship, or simply want to learn some new skills to grow your relationship, reach out to your EAP, your GP, or a psychology practice near you for professional support.
In summary, empowerment is essential for building and maintaining healthy relationships. There are lots of different ways to develop the skills that help to build empowerment. No matter how long you’ve been in your relationship, it’s never too late to work on empowering yourself and your partner.