“As an unmarried member of the Church, what can I do to initiate and maintain lasting relationships with other people?” Ensign, Oct. 1985, 18–19
Dee Hadley, a marriage and family counselor and a teacher at the institute of religion adjacent to the University of Utah. I have observed that members of the Church who have enduring relationships with others usually have developed the following characteristics:
1. They are comfortable with the Lord. When we feel secure with the Lord and confident that we are in good standing with him, we can feel secure with ourselves and with others. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect before we can have satisfying, lasting relationships—but rather that we are on sound spiritual footing, that we are working toward becoming Christlike, and that we trust the Lord’s mercy and his grace. Then, rejoicing in His goodness and knowing that we are acceptable to Him, we can confidently reach out to others.
2. They are comfortable with themselves. When a young man who isn’t sure of himself goes on a date, he will ask in a hundred verbal and nonverbal ways if he is acceptable. “Are you sure you want to go to this movie?” “Do you really like my car?” “Would you rather go somewhere else to eat?” “Are you sure your father likes me?”
This constant need for reassurance and approval puts the focus on ourselves and prevents us from focusing on the needs of others. This lack of self-confidence may lead to selfishness. When the focus is on self, it is easy to begin manipulating others—a date, a roommate, a spouse, friends, children—to gain reassurance and approval.
On the other hand, if we have self-confidence we don’t need constant reassurance and can therefore concentrate on the needs of others, which in turn encourages lasting friendships.
3. They are concerned about others. I have found that the people who have the greatest happiness are those who enjoy doing things for other people—not out of a sense of duty, but out of a genuine desire to help them. They enjoy being involved in the lives of other people and do all they can to make them feel accepted, needed, and important. They possess an uncanny awareness of the needs of others and can lose themselves in the joy of their involvement in the lives of those they love, as did the Savior.
They are also sensitive to feelings. They are honest with others and are careful not to mislead them or manipulate their emotions.
4. They are committed to their friends. Any human relationship requires commitment from both parties. Each must be willing to invest time and energy—with no guarantee that the investment will bring reward. People who are successful in finding and keeping friends are willing to take such risks. They don’t hold back—emotionally or in time and energy—waiting for the other person to give first.
5. They are able to communicate effectively. People who have good relationships don’t see communication as a “win-lose” process. Many of us have difficulty because, in our communication, winning or being right seems more important to us than maintaining the friendship. This is particularly true in courtship and marriage. We easily assume that our point of view is most accurate and that we need to “convert” others to it. When we think like this, manipulative tactics seem acceptable, and true understanding rarely occurs.
We may even jump to faulty conclusions: “You’re not acting the way I want you to. Either you must have misunderstood me, or you don’t really love me.” Of course, reality teaches us that others may well understand and love us and still not do what we want them to do.
6. They are appropriately affectionate. A few years ago President Kimball arrived early for a speaking appointment at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion. Many students gathered around to shake his hand, and he took their hands in both of his. Tears streamed down their cheeks as they felt the prophet’s warmth and affection. This appropriate, nonexploitive warmth fostered great feelings of closeness.
In any healthy, long-lasting relationship, affection is an essential element—not as an end in itself, but as an expression of genuine feeling. Speaking of affection in courtship, President Spencer W. Kimball has described an appropriate courtship kiss as “like the kiss between a mother and a son or a daughter and a father.” (In Sydney Australia Area Conference Report, 29 Feb. 1976, p. 55.) The key principle here is that appropriate affection is designed to say, “I love you. I honor and respect you.” It is never selfish or self-gratifying.
7. They are in love with life. If you look around and find people who seem exceptionally happy, you’ll find that they seem to really enjoy life. That doesn’t mean that life is easy for them, but it is clear that they enjoy it.
A great example is Diane Ellingson, a young Latter-day Saint, all-American gymnast who was paralyzed from the neck down in a fall while practicing for her debut as a professional. I have watched her since that tragic day and have seen in her someone who really loves life and enjoys what she can do. Although confined to a wheelchair, she has a positive, fun-loving attitude; she dates, speaks at firesides, and is teaching school.
People who love life have an adventurous spirit. They are willing to take risks in new ideas and exciting, wholesome activities. These people aren’t complacent—they make life happen rather than waiting for it. They attack assignments with an exciting, contagious zest for living. When they play, they play hard; when they work, they work hard. Their love of life gives them a sense of humor and at the same time enables them to treasure spiritual experiences deeply.
The characteristics I have listed are basic. To some, they may seem overly simple. Yet mastering them is a lifelong endeavor—one that can bring us the sweet joys of sharing loving relationships that endure.