3 Steps to Building Winning Relationships

Our culture glamorizes grit by celebrating feats of endurance like the Tour de France, IRONMAN triathlons, and the Super Bowl. You know, the kind of grit that gets talked about on the news and gets people medals and accolades. And for good reason. Training for, competing in, and accomplishing these feats of endurance takes an incredible amount of determination, planning, and, well, grit. 

In the excitement of such popularized grit, it’s easy to miss another kind of grit. It’s much quieter, hardly ever celebrated, and rarely even noticed. It’s the grit of showing up for loved ones day in and day out. Of creating a healthy lifestyle and sticking to it so you have the energy and strength to show up. It’s dealing with your emotional baggage so you’re healthy and whole and have the capacity to be there for others. And it’s creating a life filled with joy, driven by purpose, and enriched with love.

I call this grit “being a faithful presence.” It’s sticking things out over the long haul and taking time to build winning relationships that last. It’s investing in a local community and doing life with a group of people. It’s choosing to show up for people in person instead of watching more TV or scrolling deeper into infinity. 

This takes grit because being a faithful presence in relationships means showing up in good and hard times. It’s easy being a friend when things go well. You get to spend time with fun people, laugh a lot, and share dinners and movies. But in every relationship flaws show up eventually. Maybe they dropped a hurtful comment or talked about you behind your back. Or maybe you forgot their invitation to dinner or gossiped about them and they heard it and ghosted you. Or it could be a thousand other things that happened and drove a wedge into the relationship. 

Now there’s a choice. The knee-jerk reaction is to pull away, hurt and resentful, and internalize the pain or spout it onto other people while pushing away those who hurt us. And just like that, a friendship that was so much fun at first can turn into a resentment-making fiasco that makes you wonder why you ever became friends in the first place.

But what if flaws didn’t drive us apart so quickly? What if we learned how to be adults, have hard conversations, and show up anyway? What if our faithful presence could stand the test of time? What if we chose to see the good in each other and call it out instead of harboring resentment? What if we pushed past the flaws to discover the beautiful people behind the masks?

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That’s where grit comes in. It’s easier to bounce when friendships go sideways. The problem is, we treat relationships much like we treat the rest of our fast-food culture. We want them quick, easy, cheap, and full of sugar. As long as friends make us feel good, we like them. As long as they make us feel less lonely and more happy, they’re okay. But when they let us down, or hurt us, or don’t show up to make us happy, we’re just as quick to discard them like the paper wrapping on a burger. There are always more people to be shallow friends with and it’s more convenient to stay shallow with a bunch of people than to go deep with a few. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. 

Deep down, we all long for fulfilling, life-giving friendships where we can be known for who we are and we know others for who they are. We all want those ride-or-die friends who have our backs and show up in the good and hard times. And we all want to be those kinds of friends to others. 

The problem is, lots of us don’t think we have value to add to others’ lives. We don’t think we’re worth being around. Or we don’t have time because, well, life. And so it’s easier to live with the longing but take the edge off with more work, more scrolling, and more escaping from the reality we’ve created. 

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The challenge of building winning relationships is a big one and I’m not pretending like I have it figured out. It’s a journey of risk, adventure, and grit, and there’s no 12-step formula that gives you a guaranteed outcome. But that’s okay. Formulas are boring when applied to humans. It’s way better to jump in and figure it out as we go. 

So here are a few things I’ve learned in building winning relationships. These aren’t just theories. They are time-tested principles earned with sweat, blood, and lots of tears.

I have to do what it takes to be healthy and whole as an individual so I can show up for others.

If my primary motive for finding friends is to fill the loneliness inside me, I’m going to look for people to make me happy. That always ends in burnout. It’s true that loneliness can be a good motivation for finding friends, but when I try to use people just to make me feel more happy and less alone, I’m demanding something from them they can never give. 

On the other hand, if I show up looking for ways to serve my friends, I add value to their lives. This builds trust, shows I care about them, and invites them to do the same. And when friendships are built on people serving each other, incredible things happen. 

As the great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

Consistently showing up is key to building winning relationships.

Once I know the value I can add to others’ lives, I get to show up again and again. It’s practicing politeness and kindness. Asking questions to get to know people better. Learning how to express my feelings and stories in ways that contribute to conversations. Showing up to parties when I’d rather stay home. Inviting people over for dinner or a movie. The point is, showing up means inviting people into our lives as we are and letting them know they can do the same. And it’s doing that over and over again. 

Always add value to the lives of people around you.

I can show up but if I make every interaction about myself, I won’t have friends for long. The way to build great relationships is by listening to others, seeking to understand them, and expressing a genuine interest in their lives. It’s also learning how to tell my stories and share my opinions in ways that further conversations and don’t just bring the attention back to myself. A good tip for building friendships is to make the other people feel like the most important people in the room. When your interest is genuine, you show them you care. Some people will return the same interest to you and that is how you find great friends. 

It’s also worth noting that some relationships are toxic and require separation and distance. I’m not saying we ought to intentionally put ourselves in unhealthy relationships and hope for the best. That’s unwise. However, we all have flaws that make it easier for us to pull away from each other. Our challenge is to see past the flaws to the people behind the masks, to show grace and forgiveness, and to help each other grow. 

Grit isn’t just the flashy endurance stuff that gets TikTok views and likes. It’s in you, the parent showing up every day for your kids and creating a stable environment for them. It’s in you, the spouse who chooses to show love every day and believe in your partner that, come hell or high water, you’re sticking this out. It’s in you, the individual showing up every day to your students, to your team, or to your customers and making a difference for them. And it’s being faithful and excellent for as long as you do it. 

It’s not glamorous and that’s okay. The real stuff of life rarely happens in the spotlight. But you’ll end up with fulfilling friendships and a lifetime of memories. Best of all, you’ll know what true connection is in a world that has settled for fake connections and escaping from reality. And once you’ve tasted true connection, you won’t settle for anything less than the real deal. 

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