February 17, 2016

The Most Important Type of Work We can Do in this Lifetime.

Nadia Morgan/Flickr

“Work and love, love and work. That’s all there is.” ~ Sigmund Freud.

In thinking about life, fulfilment and happiness, Sigmund Freud, who some call the father of psychology, believed that happiness and satisfaction is dependent on our ability to have both loving relationships and meaningful work. Freud was quoted as saying, “Work and love, love and work… that’s all there is.” However, love and work are not really two distinct facets of life. They are, in fact, interconnected and intertwined.

If work is to be successful and meaningful, it’s best if we love what we do. And if relationships are to be loving and fulfilling, they need work.

Wouldn’t we all love the relationships in our lives to be more harmonious?

Perhaps it’s time to put more work into our love relationships.

Could anything be more deserving of this effort?

My nephew asked me this week, what qualifies me to write articles? On what research do I base my words? I thought these were insightful questions.

The answer, however, was not so profound.

I studied for eight years, including an internship in a psychiatric hospital, and I have worked in a private psychology practice for over 20. My own nuclear family consists of a husband, three children and a dog, and I also have a large extended family. All of this amounts to accumulated work and relationship experience. And that is the answer I gave him, that’s my research.

My nephew seemed to think that answer was justifiable.

The Lowdown on Relationships

Like many people, you may have taken the plunge into wedded bliss, or cohabiting with your partner, hoping that you’ve found everlasting love with your soul mate and best friend. And, like almost half the couples who say, “I do,” you may have later ended up saying, “I don’t.” Marriage statistics are dismal. Relationship issues are a primary source of despair, angst and stress. I can testify to that, both professionally and personally!

Likewise, you may also have taken the plunge into parenting bliss, hoping that you will be the perfect parent: calm, patient, kind, nurturing and playful. Like many parents, however, when faced with the pressure cooker of life, work, mortgages, and various other stressors that are so common in modern life, you may have fallen short as the perfect parent. Like me, perhaps you have spent too much time ranting and raving and feeling impatient, tearful and even neglectful. My children, as well as many of my young patients, are the ones who can testify to these failures in parenting bliss!

Below are some strategies I use to help me put the necessary work into the important relationships in my life.

I am not claiming to be an expert. I know how challenging relationships can be.

I hope these ideas will be useful for you too.

1. Love yourself first.

As Hillel, a philosopher, once said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, then when?” To be in great relationships we need to look after ourselves and have a lot of self-compassion. We need to take responsibility for our own happiness. Looking for someone to complete us or make us whole is futile; we need to feel complete within ourselves first!

Here are some ways to love and nurture ourselves:

  • Respect our bodies by eating natural whole foods from the earth, drinking lots of water and taking time out to exercise. It’s also important to take time out to simply smell the roses and relax.
  • Watch out for addictions, as they can creep up on us, and can involve any of the following: too much alcohol, coffee, sugar, pornography, gambling, shopping, food, Facebook, Netflix, etc. We need to get our act together and break free from our addictions. Twelve Step programs, therapy, and even rehab may be needed to help with these efforts.
  • Declutter our lives by getting rid of excess “things.” This applies to too many commitments as well. Having fewer things to keep track of and fewer commitments to keep gives us more time and energy for the people that mean everything to us.

2. View your loved ones through rose-coloured lenses.

Work towards accepting your loved ones as they are. As Bruno Mars aptly sings,

“When I see your face
There’s not a thing that I would change. 
Cause you’re amazing just the way you are.”

  • Rather than focusing on others’ weaknesses, let’s work on noticing what our loved ones are good at and focus our energy and attention on that.
  • Forgive them their transgressions. No one is perfect!
  • Accept them and appreciate them for who they are. Of course this is easier said than done.
  • Keep expectations realistic.

3. Give your time to your loved ones.

Kahil Gibran wisely noted , “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
The most wonderful times I experience are when I’m surrounded by my loved ones, eating, laughing and joking around. It’s when I feel most alive.

Giving time is not as easy when we are stressed or tired. When a loved one needs your time and you are exhausted, instead of shouting, “Not now,” or, “Take care of that yourself,” you might say something like, “Give me a minute,” or, “I will be with you soon. I just need a few minutes to unwind.”

4. Be Kind.

Showing our loved ones kindness, generosity and consideration makes them feel loved, and valued, and improves their sense of self, and thus their lives. Also, the more people are exposed to kindness, the more likely they are to be kind in turn. It’s creates a positive spiral of “paying it forward.” Stated in other words, kindness begets kindness.

Kindness is not a predetermined personality trait that people are born with, it can be nurtured and practiced.

5. Fight with Empathy.

Empathy is about being in touch and understanding the feelings and emotions of others. It’s saying or doing to another what you would want said or done to yourself. It’s about listening without judgement. It’s about showing compassion for the other. It’s about being in touch with your own feelings.

When you fight or disagree, do so with empathy. If you are angry at a loved one, instead of screaming: “Leave me alone” or shouting abusive and hurtful comments, stop, breathe and think about responding in a compassionate and empathic way.

Ask yourself: When I argue, disagree or fight, am I still empathic?

Relationships test us. Despite having studied much theory, I am by no means immune to getting triggered. My son once asked if he could video me as I was screaming at him like a banshee woman… just before I was about to run a workshop on effective parenting techniques. The irony was not lost on him!

We are all works in progress. It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey and finding the best route we can.

Relationships can be wonderful and a source of joy, or they can be fraught with difficulties. Healthy, fulfilling relationships require effort, so let’s work, and keep on working, to keep them healthy.




Author: Lynne Woolfson

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Nadia Morgan/Flickr 

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