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A week ago, my two teenagers returned to fully remote online learning.
As the internet sputtered along, barely able to support all three of us on constant Zoom, cries of anger, frustration, sadness (from a lacking social outlet), and understandable angst permeated throughout our home.
Despite it all, we have had to navigate being in each other’s space a lot more than usual for over seven months now. As online school and working from home have become the norm across most countries—more time at home in general—it is not surprising that relationships have been tried, tested, and put through the wringer.
Circumstances have truly forced people to reevaluate what is important and what needs to change in all aspects of life. For many, fall can be a time for organizing, including decluttering space, but just as important may be taking stock of personal relationships.
As a single mom working two jobs and a new school hall monitor, my time has become even more precious and sacred. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is that life is too short to be wasted on aspects that don’t support me. Holding on to petty grudges is no longer an option, and, most importantly, I need to evaluate how supportive my relationships are, whether it’s friendships, family, or romantic.
When measuring relationships, it’s essential to discern what is working, what can be improved upon, and who needs to go.
The following are three simple yet powerful steps to declutter your relationships:
1. Let Go of Toxicity
Relationships come in all different shapes and sizes. There is no right or wrong way to be in a relationship with someone. Not all friendships have to be deep and emotionally connected. However, if you have a relationship that drains you, makes you feel horrible, or you know somewhat at a soul level is one-sided or unhealthy, it is time to let that person go.
Relationships ebb and flow with support, and it is not always a 50-50 split when it comes to needing consolation or talking. Still, it should feel equal in the sense that both parties are heard and held when in need. If it feels one-sided, as if you are always there for the person and it’s never reciprocated, you might as well charge a fee because you are essentially that person’s therapist.
Relationships should never feel like a drain on your energy. Ask yourself how you feel after time with the person in question. In general, after spending time with someone, you might feel somewhere in the realm of calm, centered, elevated, joyful, and content. Of course, there can be moments of disagreement and discord, but these should not be the norm. If arguments happen, they should be resolved in a healthy manner that leaves both parties feeling supported and heard.
If you feel worse after being around them, more often than not, it is time to end the relationship. And by the way, this does not exclude blood relatives. If you need to cut a family member out of your life for the same reasons, then do it!
2. Open Communication: Say What Needs to Be Said
Time and time again (and I am guilty of this too), we expect our partners, friends, and family members to read our minds and anticipate our needs. When those needs are not met, we often become angry and resentful. If the frustration is not communicated, we hold onto this resentment until it festers into more profound anger. This usually leads to a freak out over something so small that the level of anger is disproportionate to the actual situation.
If you need something, ask for it. If you are frustrated, angry, or irritated about a situation or something that was said or done, communicate your feelings. Try using what therapists and other relationship experts like to call “I” statements. Instead of saying “You did this” or “You made me feel,” put the focus on yourself—your experience and feelings.
Anytime a sentence starts with “You did…” it tends to put the other person on the defensive. If you focus on your personal experience or how a situation made you feel, it will open communication channels in a much more loving and productive way. When you say, “I felt hurt when…,” it shifts the ownership onto yourself rather than blaming the other person.
Lastly, the energy of resentment only leads to more anger and resentment. If you can truly speak your mind in a healthy communicative way, there is no need to build unnecessary anger. Work through the issue, and then let that sh*t go! Don’t bring it up as fuel for a different fight. If both sides have spoken and were heard, work through it, and then release the situation.
3. Allow Yourself to be You
Many times in relationships, we behave differently with different people. Often this looks like adapting to another’s personality in order to connect or fit in. How you behave around your mother may look different than your best friend or work colleague. This is a natural and healthy adaptation of the human psyche to a certain degree.
However, this should not be so extreme that you are changing who you are at the core just to be with someone. We all have different sides of ourselves. Sometimes I am serious and intellectual, and other times playful and goofy. While I may present my different sides with different people and at different times, I never change who I really am at my soul level.
If you are in a relationship that makes you feel like you have to change who you are, that is not a healthy person to be with.
This reminds me of a relationship I had in my early 20s. I pretended to love extreme outdoor sports to keep up with my partner. In reality, I hated it; it was not me. I would have much rather spent time together, connecting in a less death-defying and frightening manner. For quite some time, I kept up the pretense of loving it just to hold onto connection and slowly began to resent the person for not seeing me for who I really was.
In the end, it was not the right fit. But, had I stayed in the integrity of who I was and been honest, maybe things would have been different. It wasn’t his fault that I was pretending to be someone I was not. It’s okay to step outside of your comfort zone to try something new. But pretending to love something you actually hate, just to remain close to someone, will be a slow death in any relationship. Likewise, if you have to mute, dim, or change your personality in any way, this person is not worth your time.
If you cannot show up as the beautiful human you are, and if that person can’t see you or really appreciate who you are, flaws and all, it is time to let them go.
All in all, only you can be the judge of your relationships. The most important piece is to honor what is true for you. Decluttering a relationship can be as simple as cleaning up the ones you have or as final as ending ones with people who no longer support you. Whatever you decide to do, trust your intuition and inner knowing. It will never lead you astray.