Certified High-Performance coach, speaker, author, husband, adventurer, former commando-paratrooper, and tsunami survivor.

6 Key Elements to Building and Maintaining Strong Relationships


Building and maintaining strong relationships is crucial to creating success and fulfillment. With nearly 8 billion people on the planet, you can’t avoid human contact (except if you live secluded in nature). We are a social species, we are not meant to live completely alone, and we thrive better in groups (that doesn’t mean you have to be in a group all the time, though). Because we can’t avoid human contact, communication is inevitable, and so is miscommunication.

Are you in a relationship? Do you want to be in a relationship? How did you get there? Or how are you going to get there? Ok, nowadays, there is a lot of swiping left and right, but eventually, you’ll have to start talking (my wife never stopped…). Communication is at the heart of everything, not only with your lover but with your family, friends, kids, colleagues, etc.

In this article, you will learn the six key elements to building and maintaining strong relationships with the people in your life (friends, family, partners, colleagues,…). The first part of the article will focus on how to build solid foundations, and the second part will explore how to get good at conflict resolution.

This article addresses one of the key topics featured in the no-bullshit guide to creating success and fulfillment in life and business, where you’ll uncover the 3-part formula to design and live a more rewarding life. It may sound too good to be true, but it’s a system that actually works. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you do so now to gain a better understanding of what it takes to reach excellence. Additionally, you can read the 4 steps to reach excellence and learn a methodology you can apply to any subject to speed up your progress.

6 Key Elements to Building and Maintaining Strong Relationships

Man pointing at pictures on his screen from friends and family

Part 1: How to build solid foundations

Contribution vs. Responsibility

At 15 years old, I entered a relationship that would last for seven years. As the years passed, neither of us was fulfilled anymore. Breaking up was liberating. And it also made me realize that I like to share my life with someone. So I went on a quest with high expectations; I wanted to find someone who could make me happy!

I thought, “if I want to find the ONE, I have to try them all!” (I’ll skip some details…). Being in the military really helped; at 20, everybody is charmed by the uniform. I had no issue meeting girls, but nothing was ever meaningful. Being in the army is sexy for a while, but it’s quickly less attractive when you realize what it implies regarding social life.

 Eventually, I gave up. I decided to focus on making myself happy, and if I would find someone, great! If not, no worries; I would still be happy! Then something special happened.

Since I was a kid, I have wanted to travel and explore uncharted places (yes, Indiana Jones style!). Every time I had the opportunity, I took a plane ticket to go abroad. Secretly, I wanted to quit everything and take a one-way ticket.

I was happy in the military, but deep inside, I wanted more. Leaving was unrealistic because I had everything; salary, career, fun, certainty,… But what if you don’t have the only thing you need?

When I met that beautiful blond girl on a tiny island in Indonesia and shared my dream: she cheered me up and asked me when I would do it. Then She told me that her dream was to go live in Nepal. Needless to say that we clicked! We fell in love and went into a relationships with a plan to make each other’s dream come true. We were both very clear on what we wanted and weren’t expecting the other to make us happy but only be there to offer support.

I was looking for someone to make me happy, but I realized nobody was responsible for making me happy. This is MY job. People can only contribute to our happiness, and we are the only ones responsible for it.

This implies that you figure out what makes you happy and go create that in your life! No, it’s not selfish to put yourself first and do more of what makes you happy. Because if you don’t, you expect other people to make you happy; you make them responsible for something they are not. This is selfish.

Expectations vs. Agreements

My wife is from the Netherlands, and I am from Belgium. Those countries are next to each other, but still, we have lots of differences; the language, the culture but especially different expectations of a relationship. 

When we met, she lived in Spain, so we started a long-distance relationship. I flew from Belgium to Spain once or twice a month to spend time together. I still wanted her to feel loved and cared for when we were not together. So I would text or give her a call, so she knew I was thinking about her, especially when I was going out with my friends. And when she was going out, I would keep looking at my phone…crickets…

When she was spending time with a friend, she was fully present and found it disrespectful to start texting or calling. She was right. And I was right. The problem is that we created a conflict because we had different expectations. Look at these examples. Slide: you had one job – variations.

Expectations lead to disappointment. You must turn those expectations into mutual agreements to bring your relationships to the next level. Not only in love relationships but in any relationship (at work, with your siblings, friends, parents, etc.).

Your desires vs. Their desires

A year and a half later, my wife (still girlfriend at the time) got a job in Costa Rica, and I decided to finally leave my life in Belgium behind. I quit my job, sold my stuff, put everything I had left in a backpack, and we moved in together. Finally, I was on my way to make my dreams come true! We decided to stay in Costa Rica for six months before hitting the road and traveling around the world! I learned Spanish, did sports, and…got bored. 

I was not allowed to work, so I did everything else I could to contribute: clean the house, prepare delicious home-cooked meals, and do the groceries… Whenever she came back from work, I ran around setting up the table and ensuring everything was perfect. But she was standing there, frustrated. The only thing she wanted was a hug.

I was frustrated, I spent the whole afternoon cooking and cleaning the house, and she didn’t care. We realized that we don’t express love and want to receive love the same way. In his 

book “the five love languages,” Gary Chapman explains the different ways people share their love and what they need to feel loved.

That solved everything! We started clearly communicating our needs so we could be there for each other. There is this saying, “treat people the way you want to be treated.” This doesn’t work! You should treat people the way THEY want to be treated. But we cannot expect others to know what we need, so we need to have those conversations and train them.

To build and maintain healthy relationships, you need to remember that nobody is responsible for your happiness, and you are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. We can only contribute to it. Expectations lead to disappointment; it is unfair to expect people to do things you never agreed upon. You must create mutual agreements and learn how others want to be treated while communicating how you want to receive love.

Part 2: How to get good at conflict resolution

Let’s face it; conflicts are part of every relationship. Why? Because it is the expression of our differences. It is an active disagreement that comes from seeing the world differently (values, ideas, desires, motivations,…). But conflicts don’t always have to be negative and trigger undesired emotions; they can be healthy and support the growth of the individual and the relationship.

Disagreement doesn’t mean hate. I can’t entirely agree with everything with my wife; we still love each other deeply. We all have different perceptions of the world, and no one is “totally right.” We need to control our ego and the urge to be right to show up with love and compassion and avoid turning conflicts into fights.

The easiest way to avoid a quick escalation of the argument is to stick to “I” statements and find what is right instead of trying to be right. Keeping that in mind, you’ll see below three distinctions that will help you navigate conflicts

Group of people building and maintaining strong relationships and Dealing with Conflicts

Changing yourself vs. Changing others

Have you ever tried to change yourself? I bet you did. We all try eventually! Quit smoking, eat healthier, start exercising, reading, setting boundaries, and saying no more often…

If I asked you to make a list with all the times, you said, “I should….” and didn’t do anything about it; I bet the list might be long! It is hard to change ourselves (ask the new year’s resolutions!), so don’t even think about changing others!

When my wife and I realized that we had different ways of expressing and receiving love, we agreed to provide each other with what we needed. The problem is that although I knew I had to give her more hugs, it was not an automatic behavior. Instinctively, I was still doing acts of service (by the way, healthy home-cooked meals, clean house, etc., who would not like that, seriously?). But the only way for her to truly feel loved, seen, and heard was via physical touch. So we made an agreement that she asks when she needs a hug. 

To change my behavior, she had to adapt her behavior. In the end, everybody wins. Trying to change other people is mission impossible. The only thing you can do is create a supportive environment for change. Don’t let your ego get in the way; I am not asking you to sacrifice or tolerate behaviors; I am simply suggesting that you try another approach to get what you really want. Instead of trying to change others, try to change yourself first.

Emotional vs. Rational

During my paratrooper training, I remember doing simple moves over and over again. We learned how to jump out of a plane and rehearsed the sequence for hours. We practiced a drill for every scenario. And we spent days doing that; it was exhausting and boring. Do you know why we did it?

Because when we are emotional, we can’t think rationally. Jumping from a plane doesn’t come naturally, and your mind will let you know that! With the emotions and the adrenaline running through your system, it isn’t easy to think clearly. Imagine, on top of that, if we had to jump during the night into enemy territory; that’s intense! So we prepared ourselves to react without thinking to be able to make life-saving decisions in a split moment.

One of my clients wanted to become a better dad. I would often lose his temper when his kids were not behaving well. Have you ever said something you regretted later when being mad and frustrated? Yes, I sure did, and I bet you too.

After gaining awareness about the situation, he decided to take a deep breath and slow down whenever he felt like going into the emotional red zone. He trained himself to stand in the gap between the trigger and his response so he could choose not to react. 

And when he couldn’t catch himself early enough, he would apologize and say, “Sorry, I am being a bit of a jerk right now,” and take the space he needed to calm down and show up as the loving father he was.

When you are emotional, you can’t think rationally. Don’t try. Instead, when you feel triggered emotionally, slow down, go in another room, get some air,… Come back to the conversation when you are ready to talk with each other and not at each other.

I am not suggesting running away from the conflict, but stepping away from it momentarily to come back and face it when you can behave rationally.

Group of people building and maintaining strong relationships and Understanding vs Being Understood

Understand vs. Being understood

Last week – this is not a joke – I opened my calendar and saw that I had a session scheduled on Thursday. I didn’t expect any client to schedule a call, and I hadn’t sent the link to anyone. When I clicked on the meeting, I realized that my wife had scheduled the call. Yes, I was in trouble. Even though she did it as a joke, she probably didn’t feel heard enough and wanted my full attention.

In the introduction, I made this cliche that women talk too much. And to this, they would probably answer that men don’t listen. Well, this is partly true! Do you know which part? No, I’m joking. There is a common problem, though: we are both not good listeners. 

Per default, we are full of ourselves. The world turns around us, and we look at everything from our perspective. I think something; then I say something. Seems easy, right!? Except that, do you sometimes find yourself saying,” It’s not what I meant!”? Or does what you say don’t come across the way you intended to? It happens to everyone. Putting emotions, feelings, and thoughts into words is not always easy. 

But that’s not all. The person in front of you hears something and then thinks something. What they hear is processed in their mind to make sense of it. But the processing is not totally objective. Our perspective, mood, emotions, and past experiences distort it. We tend to quickly create conclusions and connections when sometimes there is none. We interpret everything. It is how our brain works, and it can become a problem when we fail to understand why others say or behave the way they do by judging too quickly, assuming that we know.

Most communication problems are, in fact, listening issues. We must train ourselves to listen to the words behind the word, pay attention to the tone of voice and the pace, read body language and genuinely try to understand the other person. 

If you want to be a better communicator, you have to be a better listener! In his book, “The Seven habits of highly effective people,” Steven Covey said: “seek to understand before being understood.” Remember that you have two ears and one mouth.

The only way to really understand the other person is to be more present. Offer to the people around you the gift of your full attention:


    1. Listen actively: Listen with an open mind, without judgment, and without interrupting.
    2. Ask questions: Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand the other person’s perspective. Be interested.
    3. Be compassionate: Imagine how you would feel in the same situation.
    4. Be patient: Show patience when the other person tries to explain their feelings or point of view. Every word is a clue; pay attention.
    5. Accept differences: Respect the other person’s opinion, even if it differs from yours. 
    6. Show kindness: Show that you care by speaking kindly and offering words of encouragement. People need more encouragement than advice.

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Download Chapter 1 of my new book: "The Illusion of Time"

After nearly dying in a tsunami, I dove deep into personal growth, trying to find answers to my questions. I promised myself to live every single day to the fullest and inspire others to do the same. But for that, I had to get better at life. In my book “The Illusion of Time,” I put together 11 lessons to not suck at life and make the most out of it.

Download Chapter 1 of my new book: "The Illusion of Time"

After nearly dying in a tsunami, I dove deep into personal growth, trying to find answers to my questions. I promised myself to live every single day to the fullest and inspire others to do the same. But for that, I had to get better at life. In my book “The Illusion of Time,” I put together 11 lessons to not suck at life and make the most out of it.

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