Throughout your life, you will have many different types of relationships e.g. friendships, intimate relationships and working relationships etc. While each relationship type works in different ways, each works best if it is a supportive relationship. If you look at any relationship which has lasted a long time, you will find that it is generally a supportive relationship. A supportive relationship is a relationship which brings mutual benefit to both parties helping them to cope with the tough times and maximise the good times. Simply put, a supportive relationship enables you to achieve more than you ever could on your own.

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5 Critical elements of a supportive relationship

The following 5 elements are critical to building a supportive relationship. You can improve the quality of your relationships by making sure that each of these elements is present.

1. Commit to supporting the other person


Just like an Irish country road, a supportive relationship can be bumpy with lots of twists and turns. It is easy to help somebody once, and it is even easier to call yourself a friend or say that you care. Words are cheap. If you want to build a supportive relationship, it requires commitment. You can’t always be ready to spring into action but it does take some effort.

This is where it Is really important to realise that there are different degrees of supportive relationship you can offer to everybody you encounter. There will always be people with whom you are friendly, but you are not friends; and there is a difference. You need to choose wisely who are your true friends so that you can give your very best to those relationships while still offering some degree of support to others. We are willing to be discerning in most areas of our life but when it comes to people and relationships, we can be too quick to give our time to anybody that comes along.

Related article: Friends or friendly - The importance of relationship boundaries

 2. Build your relationships on a bedrock of honesty, openness and trust


When you have a supportive relationship, you can speak your mind freely. Both parties trust that the other is speaking from a position of honesty. Communication is driven by compassion. You care about the other person and you want the best for them. This allows you to speak openly, knowing that the other person will see positive intention in your words, whether they agree with them or not.

The converse is also true. In a supportive relationship, you must also respect the other person’s right to make their own choices and decisions. You offer your advice without condition, so they are free to decline it.

We are living during a time when people are desperate for approval. They want to be loved and respected by everybody. While they want the best for others, they are not willing to risk being unpopular to speak the truth.

This is dishonest, and you cannot have a supportive relationship based on dishonesty. Telling a lie or ‘sugar coating’ the truth is not being supportive. If the people you love are to make the best decisions, they need to hear all sides of the argument. If you have told them what you believe to be true and, they choose to ignore you; that is fine. They own the decision and they will have to own the consequences, but you do them a disservice when you choose your popularity over their need to hear the truth.

Besides, most of the time, they will know that you are holding back. You don’t have to be cruel and, you don’t have to insist that they agree with you, but you do have to be honest.

Resource: To improve your communication, check out How To Talk So Others Will Listen.

3. Do not accept responsibility for their life


A supportive relationship allows you to help another person to live their life to the best of their ability. It does not require you to live their life for them. You can help them to determine the appropriate course of action in any situation but if you try to take that action for them, you are crossing the line into being controlling rather than supportive.

As I mentioned in the previous point, you don’t have to insist that other people agree with you and do everything you want. Your duty is to be honest and present them with the necessary information. After that, it is up to them to determine the best course of action to take. A supportive relationship is free from attachment.

Of course, if they make a bad decision and suffer some rough consequences, you shouldn’t throw it in their face. Remember, you are detached from the outcome. And, you don’t have to turn your back on them. You can support them through a tough period without taking ownership of their consequences.

Related article: How being responsible can change your life

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 4. Believe in them


There will always be times when people doubt themselves. These are the times when support is needed most. Being supportive does not mean that you help others to set unrealistic expectations but you can help them to see that they are capable of more that they are currently achieving. You can believe in them during those difficult times when they struggle to believe in themselves.

Believing in others also requires that you challenge them whenever you feel that they are selling themselves short, or letting themselves down with their conduct. When 2 or more people have a supportive relationship, they hold each other to account and ensure that the required standards are met.

Believing in people can really move them to act. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King when he gave his great ‘I have a dream speech’. There were no invites sent out giving people all of the details they needed to attend. In terms of promotion and ease of access, there were none of the following:

  • Internet
  • Social media
  • Email
  • Cheap internal flights

In fact, just about any of the main methods we use for promoting major events were unavailable back then. Despite this, hundreds of thousands of people turned up in Washington that day, to hear one of the greatest speeches of all time. They turned up because King believed in their ability to change America for the better and; he helped them to believe in themselves and each other.

He had a supportive relationship with each of those people, even though he didn’t know them. His words gave them the support they needed to create real change. 50 years after his death, his words continue to offer support to the masses.

5. Base relationships on equality


This is a lesson which I learned very early in my working career. I worked for a bank during the time when Ireland changed currency to the Euro. Working in the training department, we had to make employees aware of all the necessary information for the changeover. Part of the job was to put together the information packs, which was a very tedious job. As the junior member of the department, it was only to be expected that I would have to do the tedious work. However, every morning when I arrived, I would find that my boss, Gary, had already put some packs together.

Gary demonstrated to me that he would not ask me to do anything that he was not prepared to do himself. He showed me that although he may have had the seniority; our relationship was based on equality. In all of the time that I worked with Gary, I do not recall a manager-employee conversation. We always talked man to man and my opinions were afforded the same respect as his. Although I have not met Gary in many years, I have never forgotten the equality with which he treated me.

Equality doesn’t mean that you get to ignore the need to make decisions. Gary would always have the final say on everything, but he wasn’t hesitant in asking for my views or, the views of my colleagues. He would hear us out if we had something to say. Then, having gathered the necessary information, he would make his decision.

In a supportive relationship, you will consider others as equals though you may have to disagree and act against their wishes. The consideration and respect you afford them will ensure that the relationship remains, healthy, even after disagreements.

How to Talk So Others Will Listen

Learn excellent communication skills so that you can develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with the people whom you care most about.

To learn excellent communication strategies, check out
'How to Talk So Others Will Listen'.

How to talk so others will listen 3d left


Supportive relationships help you through the tough times; help you to enjoy the good times; and, encourage you to demand more of yourself, thus improving the quality of the results you achieve in relationship. Building a supportive relationship requires effort and commitment but the rewards are amazing and long lasting. The 5 critical elements of a supportive relationship, outlined above, can be used to help you build a supportive relationship. They can also be used to assess the quality of an existing relationship, helping you to identify any fake friends whom you may need to wave goodbye to.

Image credit: Claudio Lerici


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