Let’s play a game. Ask yourself:
What if your relationships could be deep, rich, full of joy and meaning?
What if you could talk out your issues without arguing?
What if you could really enjoy being with the people you’re connected to…spouse, kids, relatives?
What if your relationship with yourself was strong, secure, boundaries intact and defenses no longer needed?
What if you were able to be your best self at home, at work, with others?
What if you felt loved, and could give love?
I hope you know the answers to these questions. Maybe you’re one of the fortunate people on this planet who has the relationship struggle sorted out.
But if not, read on. I have a few suggestions to share.
Not because I got it all right…please understand that! No, most of my suggestions come from lessons learned the hard way. First I got it wrong. Then I got it wrong again, maybe even a third time, or a 50th.
But eventually, I got it. I grew, and my relationships grew and flourished.
This is what I know, so far.
It isn’t secret, this knowledge. Mostly, it’s about being thoughtful, consistent, listening, slowing down, and asking a few questions of myself, before reacting or speaking my mind.
- I’ve learned to be honest, always. Acting out of personal integrity is essential to healthy relationships. You must be honest with yourself, as well as others. Sometimes it’s harder to be honest with self than the rest of the world. Being honest isn’t code language for being brutal with your words. You can be direct without being unkind. Message: Relationships must be built on a platform of integrity; without that foundation, nothing will be as it should be, or what it could be. But, never use honesty as a weapon.
- I’ve learned to ask myself “how does this help?” I’ve learned to run a little video of the scene I think is about to play out…Example: I’m frustrated, I speak my mind, the other person fires back, conversation escalates. Or we both retreat to our corners to stew a bit. Not good. If the little scene I can see playing out in my head is going to be triggered by the words on the tip of my tongue, maybe I need to choose different words? This isn’t about not confronting appropriately. It’s about choosing how and when I make my points. Message: Think before you speak. It really does help, it prevents drama and angst.
- I’ve learned to listen. Most of the time, I listen fast. Example: by the time the words are out of my husband’s mouth, I’m already in response mode. I’m either feeling defensive, or mentally I’m off in my head, prepping my answer to whatever he’s saying. The better way to talk with each other is to listen with full attention. When I do that, I slow my response time, which gives me time to think, time to absorb his words, and really consider what I have to say. I may give the same answer, but whatever I say, it will be with more thought and intention than a knee-jerk response. This also works well with people who are not my husband. Message: Slow down and listen to learn, not to formulate a response.
- I’ve learned to think through, be proactive about whatever’s going on. By doing what I can to help the situation, I can often solve issues before they’re big enough to be a real problem. I would rather do a little extra work up front to prevent a bigger mess to clean up on the other end. Message: Don’t wait for problems to be overwhelming before you act.
- I’ve learned to be consistent. I don’t always do this perfectly, of course. Who can be perfect?! But I try to be consistent in my behavior, in my choices, and with the way I interact with my husband and family. If I’m consistent, they know what to expect, and I know what to expect. Few surprises, and I like that! Message: Begin with the end in mind. Consistency is key.
- I’ve learned to pay attention to the story I tell myself. Example: sometimes I hear my husband say something, and I find myself drawing a conclusion that doesn’t really match what he said. I have a certain point of view, a world view, that came from my upbringing, and all the things that have happened to me since I grew up. Out of this background, there are scripts running in my head that I’m barely aware are there. But they’re definitely on board. These scripts are what cause me to hear one thing and internalize it as something different. Message: Asking myself if I’m operating out of a “story” paradigm that I’ve projected on a situation is healthy and helpful. Since I started doing this, I’ve discovered all sorts of “stories” that have lived in my head, buried so deep, I’m only just now recognizing they exist.
- I’ve learned to draw and keep boundaries in all relationships. Boundaries, like fences, make for good relationships. When I know myself, my values, my limits and my lines, I can be very clear about what I can do, and what I can’t do. I know what lines I will not cross. Boundaries are healthy for families with children, between spouses, extended family, and even between co-workers. I have to know my boundaries and be comfortable sharing them. Message: Limits (boundaries) can set you free, shorten arguments, provide healthy context for discussion.
I hope you’ll check back often to see what we’re talking about on this page. Some helps will be from other sources, some posts will be more personal. The goal is to be honest, positive, and share hope.
You’re always welcome to share your story and insights too!