Tuesday Relationship Tips: Play to Your Strengths

How I found a friend in someone I didn't get along with at first

In the fall of 2008, I was a young missionary in Great Britain. Each day I worked and lived with another missionary, also known as my companion. Every few weeks or so we would change companions and sometimes even areas as well.

October and November of that year were particularly difficult for me because I wasn’t getting along very well with my companion at the time. I wanted to work as hard as possible, to a fault, and he was having some health struggles that made that hard for him. Being young and naive, I kept pushing us to work harder.

But it wasn’t working, and we weren’t getting hardly anything done.

I was very homesick, and the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder were settling in, although I didn’t know it at the time. This was one of the most challenging times of my 24-month mission.

Knowing that our relationship wasn’t working very well, I mistakenly kept trying to fix it by trying to get us both to do more. It took me a few more weeks until I figured out the secret to our eventual success—focusing on what we had in common, not our differences.

After finally getting sick of my own stubbornness, I gave up trying to be so hard on both of us and just tried to enjoy our time together. I quickly noticed that we had very similar interests, and we focused on those rather than our differences. We had more fun together, and, oddly enough, this also helped us improve as missionaries.

Today, although time and work keep us apart, that former companion is one of my best friends. I feel like he is a brother to me.

Whether it’s in your marriage, a relationship with your child, or even with a coworker, you can improve whatever relationship you want by focusing on what you have in common with each other, not how you are different.

Because I learned this lesson as a 19-year-old, it’s stuck with me in every relationship I’ve had since, and now helps me keep my marriage strong.

My wife and I are noticeably different in some ways. I love to plan and organize things, and she is spontaneous and fun. As we focus on our relationship strengths rather than our differences, though, we grow closer together and have a much better time taking care of our little family. We talk about our relationship assets regularly to stay close.

Actionable Advice: Think of a relationship you’d like to improve. Take 5-10 minutes on your own to think of and write in a note on your phone some of the strengths of that relationship. You might ask yourself:

  • What do you have in common with this person?

  • What do you both like to do together, or talk about with each other?

  • When have you enjoyed working on a project together?

Maybe you’re great at communicating, or getting work done together is your strength. Take the time to focus on what you do well, and you’ll begin see that relationship improve just as I did with my companion and now experience with my wife.

What is Tuesday Relationship Tips? The second of the 4 pillars of a well-balanced life is relationships. Monday through Thursday we’ll go over one of the pillars, and Friday we’ll talk about ways to have fun in each. Check out our About page for more information.

When I was younger and setting goals according to the 4 pillars, this was named “social” and referred more to my relationships with my parents and siblings. Now that I have a wife and kids of my own, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a few lessons that help keep family relationships stronger.

My goal is to help you develop deeper, more loving relationships with those you love the most, and each week I’ll give tips on how to do that.