“Relationships never die a natural death. They are always murdered by attitude, behavior, ego or ignorance.” ~ Anonymous
We all live in a relational world.
We derive our identity from each other, and no matter how many worldly possessions we have, they don’t matter if we don’t have anyone to share them with.
Our world is defined and shaped by these relationships right from the time we arrive screaming and kicking into this world.
The first and foremost relationship that has a significant impact on our psyche is the one we have with our mother; slowly, other relationships begin to exert their influence on us.
What a cold, empty world it would be without these relationships that render different kinds of meanings and qualities to the various aspects of our lives.
We need each other in various roles to fulfill various needs for us. Our emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual needs lead us to (and bind us with) each other. And our job at every step is to nurture these connections that we have with each other so that the bonds can grow from strength to strength; we have various companions on this journey of life. Then, we can continue to grow, thrive, and derive more meaning out of life.
But doing all this isn’t easy because there are twin sides to everything. Every relationship comes with its own unique challenges as well. When two or more people with different personalities, ideologies, and experiences come together, clashes are bound to happen. Conflict is inevitable between humans. And conflict in itself is not the problem.
The way we handle it is.
While we enjoy the similarities that we share, we need to be able to stomach the differences as well. We need to understand that different people look at the world differently; they have different needs and perspectives.
Any relationship is not about being similar or alike. We can’t be clones of each other! It’s about respecting the differences yet being able to be on the same side, for the benefit of the relationship in general.
How many of us truly understand that? Not many I guess.
Most of us end up turning our relationships into a battle ground where there’s always one against the other—be it our parents, kids, siblings, or partners. There’s always some kind of one-upmanship going about. We’re always on this quest to prove.
I find this to be exhausting.
There was a time when I, too, was doing this. I would get into any argument or discussion, fearing that someone would try to overpower me and thinking I must be prepared to not let that happen. After all, I, too, had a voice. Two things would happen—either the other person would give in or I would. Nothing would get resolved and I would be mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. This continued till I realized that it was utterly useless.
A healthy equation between individuals demands seven elements:
1. Listening. No matter how mature we are, a lot of us don’t have the ability to truly listen. We are busy forming replies in our heads, waiting to interrupt and prove our point. How can you expect to have good relationships when you’re not willing to give space to the other person? For that, we need to listen with an open heart and mind without forming stories and scenarios in our minds.
2. Expressing. We don’t express. We scream, shout, yell, attack the other person, and that doesn’t fare well for the majority of us. Expressing simply means being able to state your own discomfort, concern, opinion, suggestion in a way that is respectful to the other person’s world as well.
3. Acknowledging. We need to be able to own up to our own mistakes and contribution to the situation instead of finding ways to pin it on the other person.
4. Validating. We can’t have a relationship without the presence of another person, and that presence needs to be validated. We need to be able to disagree respectfully. We need to be able to tell the other person that their opinion, emotions, experience is valid even if it’s different from ours.
5. Establishing common ground. It’s about finding a neutral ground to stand on—together. In a healthy relationship, we are together as a team, and despite the differences we need to operate as a team. This means finding a way out of that gridlock.
6. Letting go. You can’t build a happy, healthy, strong relationship by holding on to grudges and mistakes. A relationship requires that we learn to treat each other as humans and let go of certain things so that the relationship can breathe.
7. Forgiveness. Yes, we need to be able to forgive ourselves and people for their mistakes. Holding onto them only makes it difficult for us to honor the relationship. Forgiving doesn’t mean that you need to tolerate inappropriate or uncomfortable things. It means that you’re choosing not to be gripped by the impact of your strong emotions like anger, jealousy, and so on.
But what do we end up doing instead?
“We can improve our relationships with others by leaps and bounds if we become encouragers instead of critics.” ~ Joyce Meyer
We engage in some faulty behaviors (on autopilot) that cost us our peace of mind, impact the quality of the relationship, and disregard the other person’s reality as well. In the end, relationships perish because we aren’t mindful enough.
Typically, we end up displaying the following behaviors:
1. We dominate. This need to prove ourselves right is both rewarding and damaging at the same time. It’s rewarding because you end up overpowering the other person; when they succumb to you, you win. Victory is rewarding, isn’t it? But this victory doesn’t come without a price and that price is the voice, emotions, space, and well-being of the other person. In trying to dominate, we don’t see the other person at all. We take away their space to be heard, seen, validated, i.e we strip them off their fundamental needs as human beings. It kills the relationship. So if you’re someone who wants to be right all the time, ask yourself if you’re truly ready to pay this price.
2. We run after being right. When two or more people get into a conflict, emotions run high, and what that conflict really needs is emotional regulation before resolution. We can’t think logically when our emotions are all over the place. When we become preoccupied with the idea of being right, we invalidate everything about the other person. It’s only when we give the other person the space to speak their mind (even if they are being unreasonable) that we allow the emotional override to settle down and wait until we are in a better position to be heard and able to listen well too. It’s not about being right but being the right kind of person that someone would be comfortable approaching—especially with their mistakes.
3. We want to prove the other person wrong. We are only preoccupied with finding faults with the other person. We don’t take accountability and are just looking to put the other person under the spotlight, leaving them feeling small, insignificant, and invalidated.
4. We go quiet. We surrender, suppress, and endure. We make ourselves small and pretend that our feelings and opinions aren’t that important. We give in even when we don’t want to and we keep doing it until we can’t take it anymore. While we may think that doing this will preserve the relationship, in reality, it only keeps it going at the surface level and erodes all connection underneath.
5. We dismiss. Sometimes our own and at times the other person’s concerns by claiming “It’s not a big deal” or “It’s a part of life. Just get over it!” We don’t listen, don’t empathize, and end up blatantly invalidating important concerns.
6. We bring up past hurts. We think that if we use this as an ace, we’ll win the game, i.e. the argument or conflict. What we don’t realise is that bringing up past hurts and incidents to simply attack and counter leaves the person bruised and shattered; it hurts them and the relationship. It takes away their trust, and without trust, there can’t be a relationship.
“You can’t lift a relationship if you keep walking over the other person’s mistakes.” ~ Anthony Liccione
Wouldn’t the quality of our relationships change if we became a little more mindful of what we’re doing and acknowledged the presence of another human being in a way that is respectful and comforting?
But for that to happen, we need to switch off this autopilot mode that we’re always on.
We need to see the discomfort that someone is experiencing, listen to their complaints, and express in a healthy way.
And we can do it for the relationships that truly matter to us; we just need to start from somewhere.
We also need to honor our own voice and needs. Sometimes we need to be all in; sometimes we need to be a bit detached; at other times the relationship needs to end.
Relationships demand presence at all levels. It’s the quality of this presence that can truly transform or break our relationships.
So what kind of impact would you like your presence to have?
“When we love somebody, we show it by doing something nice. In a relationship learn to serve: find a need and fulfill a need. Surprise people with a good deed they hadn’t planned on.” ~ Russell M. Nelson