PERMA – R  is for Positive Relationships

The third element of PERMA focuses on positive relationships with “positive” being an emphasized aspect. As highlighted in the previous blogs, focused on the PERMA model, we now start to get a sense that the elements: (P) Positive Emotion; (E) Engagement; (R) Positive Relationships; (M) Meaning; and (A) Accomplishment/Achievement1 are defined individually but converge, providing a reciprocating effect to one another. Understanding how positive relationships are supported as a holistic aspect of well-being and “a good life” [1] provides yet another essential connective pieces of the puzzle.

So what exactly is a positive relationship and how would we be able to identify that indeed it was truly positive? When we talk about truly positive relationships we have to address the shadow side of natural relationships; not all relationships are going to be rosy all the time. First, there are relationships in which we find ourselves on the rollercoaster of positives and negatives that are not always at the fault of either party, and second there are relationships where belief and hope of a future positive relationship outweighs the reality of the present experience. Living in either situation often is not easy, but we can’t put relationships into neat little boxes and store them on the shelf when they are turning sour then take them down when everything is fine. In many given situations the choice to endure, to hope, to work on a relationship should not be seen as a counter to what is described in this continuing section, but as a gauge whereby time and events can be collected as influencing factors that fit somewhere within the paradigm of positive relationships or within the paradigm of negative relationships.

There will be no doubt that within a lifetime both types of relationships will be experienced; knowing how to identify, engage in, and nurture the true positive relationships can help us understand how benefits to well-being come about and adds to our overall experience of a subjective definition of a good life and enhanced well-being. In her 2102 book Positive Relationships, Sue Roffey describes relationships as the heart of a person’s life; for the most part, simply because we are surrounded and interact with other people each day2. We rely on others for care, for love, for laughter, for a shoulder, for confidence etc. The question to understanding the nature of a relationship, what characterizes a positive relationship?, is two-fold: what do I add to build the relationship in positive ways, and what good things come back to me by being in this relationship? To want to add to a relationship means there is a motivation to do so, but be careful as adding can become very lopsided if the relationship is not a two-way street and not characterized as positive relationship outcome to both parties. In positive relationships, adding, or the desire to add to the relationship is a cylindrical process: I add because I receive back something that positively supports me as a human-being—the connection makes me feel good about myself and about the relationship.

In reality, if you have answered this question in your head already then we have put the cart before the horse as these are outcomes of a relationship already formed. So what factors support the process of a positive relationship, and how can we perpetuate actions that support positive relationships? Remember we talked about the two-way street, so to effectively work on a relationship and make it one that gives you a positive benefit, you have to be willing to develop some introspective insights and to purposely construct your half of the bridge while at the same time acknowledging and respecting the other half of the bridge coming in your direction. Below are just a few ways to open up to the idea that positive relationships are vital to well-being and that we can actively be a part of creating and maintaining relationships that are good for us.

Techno-monitor, prioritize, and think of the message you are sending

We live in the 21st century and technology can be either a good or bad influence. The key is to be able to truly prioritize your calls vs. conversations. If you take a call in the middle of a conversation to “chat” with another friend, what does that tell the person right in front of you? It would probably fall in thought pattern range that they are less important than the audio-voice emitting from the cell phone. Your time is valuable, their time is valuable, and when you give your uninterrupted time you are strengthening the sense of commitment, self-worth, connectedness, and in return the probability of good things coming back to you from that person.

Hear with your eyes then talk with your heart

Body language and actions are often the first cues of disconnect or something being wrong. Being able to cue in tells the other person that you are in tune with recognizing their emotional patterns. Talking with you heart involves hearing past many of the negative signals and verbal messages the other person is giving off. Talk to the person you know, not to the behavior you see. There is nothing more valued than to know that in a relationship the other person accepts you as a whole person, emotions and all.

Embrace and celebrate differences

Did you know that there are over 100 ways to cook potatoes? That is exciting to know as right now I can only think of about six. I cannot wait to explore the 94 ways I have yet to experience. Imagine how boring life would be if we were all the same. While difference can create uneasiness and even conflict at times, differences are also what often attract us to another person. They often possess a trait we see as lacking in ourselves or compliment the differences in us. To give off that signal of acceptance, support and unconditional recognition of the unique human being they are, supports and deepens feelings of security, self-esteem and acceptance of self; exactly how we would want someone to treat us.

Trust and share

This is a tough one because it can come at a devastating cost when the trust is broken. Sharing deep experiences with a person you are in a positive relationship with has many return outcomes. Sharing can create a deeper intimacy and empathy; it connects people through experience and emotion. To trust or to be trusted in a positive relationship solidifies confidence and reliability to support, be supported and creates a source of dependability. Trust and expectation of trust is not a given and must be nurtured over time, without trust, we lack connection or the ability to connect at a deeper level.

Never stop showing gratitude

Now I bet you are thinking that this is only to and for the other person in the relationship, absolutely not; express gratitude to yourself for being a positive part of the relationship. Being happy with yourself is just as import as tending to the other person’s happiness. Gratitude for the other person certainly is a great reminder that you value them as part of your life and that they have positively impacted you. In return, in a positive relationship, this tango of gratitude becomes a lasting dance of the heart and soul. Yet again, we see the cylindrical process of putting in and getting back.

I would be remiss to say that this list is exhaustive, so I will just tell you that these touch on only a few of the factors that support positive relationships. The end result of a positive nurtured relationship is that we feel a sense of value in ourselves that stems from the actions of others, while at the same time; we feel that same value of self by the action we perform to enhance and build the relationship.

[1] Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Published by Free Press.
[2] Roffey, S. (ed.) (2012). Positive relationships: Evidence based practice across the world. New York, NY: Springer Publishing

‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’



Find out more about positive psychology courses and training at 

Share This