Psychologist have found that one of the strongest predictors of emotional well-being is having good relationships in your life. We are born with a need to interact with others. We need other people for support, friendship, collaboration and reality checks. But like everything else, relationships have their ups and downs. We have misunderstandings that we aren’t sure about how to resolve; we say or do something that we wish we hadn’t; or someone that we care about says something that offends us and we don’t know how to correct the problem. It pays to work on ways to smooth over relationship difficulties and salvage the relationships that we value. Remember, even the snags between people are meant to teach us something—mostly about ourselves. Research has also shown that supportive relationships have been linked to better health, higher self-esteem, and fewer psychological problems in general. Following are some thoughts on how you might sail more easily through the challenges of relationship maintenance.
Count Your Relationship Riches
Have you ever gone through a relationship “dry spell”; a time when it seems you are disgruntled with just about everybody in your life? The negativity with overall social unhappiness is that sooner or later you begin to turn the problem back onto yourself, and question if there is something inherently wrong with you, since you feel like everyone is letting you down in some way. One friend is not there for you when you need her; another seems only to call you when he needs or wants something from you. Certain family members are a little bit too judgmental. To top it off, members of your immediate family are giving you a hard time, causing you to second guess your role in their lives, too. A simple solution to the relationship blues is to write out a list of your relationship riches. Starting from the premise that no “one” person can be everything to another person, make a list of the people you have the most contact with on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Next to their name, add what the relationship to you is (friend, son, partner, cousin, etc). Leave a few spaces beneath their name, and then write only the positive aspects of how that relationship enriches your life. For now you are not allowed any complaints, justified as they may be. You can, if you prefer, write the positives about each relationship in bulleted points. Think of as many positive characteristics as you can about how having that person in your life makes your life better. And since pets have been shown to decrease stress and increase emotional health, include your pets. Here is an example from my own list:
Bella My pet Shih Tzu
Ways Bella enriches my life:
- Great walks in the sunshine
- Makes me laugh when she hides her toys so that I won’t get them
- Jumps into my lap and cuddles when she perceives I am upset over something
- Looks up at me with her little trusting eyes
- Brings out my playfulness
- Unconditional companionship
Remember to include immediate and extended family members, coworkers, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and any other relationships that play a role in your life. You will immediately begin to feel a wave of gratitude take over as you count those relationship blessings.
Define What the Difficulties Teach You
Okay, now you get a change to grumble about some of the negative aspects of certain relationships. Like the mother-in-law who makes comments about how you’re raising the kids; or the friend who made a cutting remark and then forgot she ever said it. Before deciding to disconnect totally from relationships that have a worse effect on you than you can handle, there are a couple of things to consider. The first is that all relationship difficulties present you with the gift of learning something about yourself that you need to learn in order to evolve as a person. That something might include the opportunity to practice patience, forgiveness, the ability to defend yourself dispassionately without slamming the door, or refining your capacity to care about someone outside of yourself. Second, ask yourself if you can salvage the relationship if you were able to resolve the difficulty. Finally, decide what to do to resolve the issues between you and the other person in the most respectful way to both of you. Often people don’t know when they are crossing the line or when they are having a negative effect on you—especially if you don’t let them know what they are doing that is causing the problem! Let’s take as an example, a friend you’ve had for several years, who has an irritating habit that seems to be increasing with time. Let’s say she is a rigid proponent of allopathic medicine and often criticizes you for seeking alternative treatments when you are ill. Here is how you can lay out and resolve the problem if you have decided you want to salvage the relationship.
Name: Trudy (fictional)
Problem: Criticizes me for visiting a Naturopath (chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc)
What is my lesson? To increase my assertiveness with respect to Trudy’s criticisms of me.
Salvageable? Yes. In every other way I enjoy Trudy’s company. We have fun when we go to the movies or out to dinner, and it means a lot to me to have a friend I know would be there for me in a pinch.
Solution: Practice assertiveness skills. Firmly but gently tell her we will just have to differ in this respect; that I have my beliefs and so does she. I will add that it may be best not to discuss this topic and that there are plenty of other things we can talk about that make us both feel good.
There. That’s not so hard, is it? You’d be surprise how much more satisfying your relationships can be if you learn to recognize the gift in them. Doing so will take away the hostility and increase your sense of confidence in being able to transform difficulties into treasures.
Make the First Move
How many times to people take their grudges to the graves with them? Hurt feelings between brothers, sisters, parents, and people who were at one time our best friend? Barring a legitimate trauma that this person might have caused you, most often if you trace the relationship snack back to its origins, you’ll find it was over something so petty that you might not even remember what it was. John cancelled out on you the day before you were supposed to go to a concert together. Your mother told you she would baby-sit and then decided that she was too tired when the actual day rolled around. Your friend Marsha was angry that you didn’t seat her next to the guest of honor at a surprise party you threw for another friend. Why do good relationships break off for reasons as petty as these? Pride. It’s anything but pretty, but that is what it is. Each of you begin to feel righteously offended, hurt, angry, saddened—whatever the reaction is, and with the passage of time, those feelings get exacerbated as you think them over. Often, because memory is such a creative process, we begin to think there were implications that we hadn’t even thought about at the time. There are no winners in long-held grudges. Both of you lose. Today is your challenge to pick up the reigns and be the more evolved party, the one who can look beyond the silly details and see the greatness of what the relationship can be. Your assignment is to make the first move. You can only do this, however, when you make peace with letting whatever in the past go, and tell the other person of your intention to do so. Call. Write an email. Send a note card. Go and visit with a batch of cookies. Invite that person over for coffee and cake. Do it anyway that is least traumatic for you but do it. Tell the person your relationship is valuable, that you have missed him/her, and that you would like it if both of you can put the past behind and mover forward. Most often the other party will be overjoyed that you made the first move. But don’t despair if you don’t get this reaction. Feel good about having tried your best and move on. You are building relationship competence and confidence, with each interaction you attempt to improve. Congratulations!
The Revival Technique
You know the feeling. That nagging sensation that a relationship is petering out through inattention, neglect, or just plain boredom. The solution to this lies in doing the opposite of what caused the problem. If it is inattention, make a phonecall, and a date to get together. Play more attention to your friend and really listen when she wants to talk about what’s going on in her life. To bust through boredom try a few things you haven’t tried before, like send a ticket to a Broadway matinee and tell him you have the other one—what about it? Or send her an invitation to a theme dinner, which you will cook and the both of you will adhere to—Italian night for instance can consist of a wonderful pasta dinner to which your friend can supply the Bocelli CD. What about signing up for an adult enrichment class at the local high school together? Or going on a museum tour in the nearest metropolitan area? Put some energy into that relationship and it will bring you years of satisfaction and joy.
NOTICE: Tune into my radio show this Monday morning at 7AM for everything you always wanted to know about riding a motorcycle! “The Art of Living Well” on 88.7FM, or stream in live www.wnhu.net .
If you’d like to pass my original articles on to others, feel free, but please give credit as follows: copyright Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. http://raeleenmautner.com Hope you enjoy these inspirations as much as I enjoy writing them for you! mille grazie.