Relationships are central to most peoples’ lives, and much of the quality of our days depends on how we feel in our relationships with others. Even relationships involving bad feeling; perhaps anger and sadness, often show a deep strength of connection; otherwise why would there be any feeling at all?
Many people struggle on a day to day basis with relationships, whether it be with partners, children, parents, work colleagues, friends, or any other connection. There can be discomfort, misunderstanding, or clashes which causes pain and often unhappiness. It can be so easy for problems to escalate at these points, for relationships to break down.
So what can be done about it? How can we move towards having healthier relationships in our lives? Obviously therapeutic counsellors are on hand to help you through your own specific issues, and can support you in moving towards more harmonious relationships if you choose that route. But there are some things to think about and ways you could learn to interact with others in your life which might start the wheel of change moving.
Here are a few thoughts and ideas that could help you to understand relationships better.
1- Healthy relationships don’t usually happen naturally
We’ve been brought up with fairy stories, and movies where happy endings and happy families are happening all around us. This is not real life. Of course we can have happy relationships, but it is not usually something that happens naturally without any learning, time put aside, and some efforts. If we want to be happy and we want our loved ones to be happy, thought and time are needed. Read on…for some ways to use that time and effort.
2-Listen to others and look upon them positively; without judgement.
Whoever the other person is within the relationship, it is sure that your relationship will be improved if you give time to really listen to what they feeling and thinking. Don’t be waiting for a chance to say your point; or be thinking of your own opinion on what is being said. Be in the other person’s world as much as you can, calmly, listening. This can be practiced, and it is a sure way of gaining confidence from the other person. This is giving the true gift of support.
3 – Really understand, practice empathy.
The next step is to practice empathy, to get a feel for the emotions that s/he is going through, shelving your own issues, be a part of their world for a while. If you can be next to someone who is talking about how they feel, and you try to understand it deeply, this in itself is a way to bring trust into your relationship. Your friend or loved one starts to feel accepted, understood, and loved.
4-Be honest, be real.
This can be tricky. The idea is to be honest about what you see or feel your loved one is going through. For example, you may be told,”Well, it’s annoying, but I don’t really care”. Yet you see distress and sadness on the face of your loved one. You could say that you see that it makes them sad. Someone noticing feelings and reflecting them back can help people to open up more deeply about their true feelings.
5- Walking alongside each other is enough, you don’t have to solve their problem!
These first thoughts and ways to listen to each other may seem like you are not actually doing anything much; not advising, not solving the problem. If your tendency is to save others from what you perceive as the errors of their ways, the approach I’ve mentioned may leave you feeling incompetent, and powerless to help. But this isn’t so, offering space in a safe, understanding, non-judgemental way is very powerful, and can also strengthen your relationship. You become the safe, trusted one, find yourself more approachable in all kinds of relationships. The amazing thing is that the safety you are providing is often enough for your loved one to find their way through their own problems.
6 The P word; power.
There’s often an aspect of power struggle within relationships. Sometimes it’s obvious that one person asserts more power over the other, and sometimes there’s a struggle. It can be quite difficult for some personalities to allow others to be free to live in their own way, making decisions that suits themselves etc. This can happen in all relationships; brothers and sisters, friends, partners, managers and workers. There is a line between organising and taking responsibility, and enforcing power over others which is often difficult to recognise. If a person asserts power within a relationship, the other can often become resentful about being controlled, or in some cases, accepting and looses their sense of power and sense of self. In some situations, sharing opinions and advice is useful, but the giver should not feel attached to the advice they are giving, they help by offering an opinion, and then step back for the individual to contemplate and decide their own path. So it is important that people enjoy sharing time with others, without relationships becoming a space to assert control over each other. Respect of each others ways, choices, feelings and preferences, are perhaps even more important in close relationships.
7 Take time to talk with each other.
Taking time aside to talk about any differences means that problems are exposed and worked on regularly and the build up of emotions which damage relationships can be worked through. Many people want to avoid discussing the negative aspects of how they feel in their relationships because it is often difficult and painful, but the reality is that often problems are building up internally, and the day could come when the dam bursts. This is so much more difficult to heal and repair (though not always impossible!).
Having structured talks of about an hour once per week, where one person speaks for 10 minutes or so, before the other does (no interrupting!), using the tips previously mentioned, can help couples to stay aware of any issues and work through problems. If this is not helping, counselling can help you through difficult patches.
One thing is certain, with willingness and effort relationships have a better chance of being healthy and long lasting, and people concerned will be happier in them as a result.