It’s the relationships we have with others that give our lives purpose, meaning and joy. It follows that when we struggle in our relationships, we struggle, period. Conflict or disconnect from those who are important to us may leave us feeling angry, sad, anxious or unsettled. As we can’t control other people, we can easily feel helpless. Yet, the good news is we have more power than we think.
The following are three simple (but not necessarily easy) resolutions to consider adopting. While they require some effort, they will positively impact your interactions and improve your relationships.
#1 Don’t Assume
The world is constantly bombarding us with information and experiences. In our attempt to understand and manage it all, we are required to sort, organize and compartmentalize. During this process, we are looking to make sense of our experiences. We need answers, and if we don’t have them, we make them up. While this allows us to function throughout our day, it can create all sorts of problems in our relationships. We process our interactions with others through our own experiences, worries, and perspectives. We often lack insight into what might be influencing the words and behaviors of another. Furthermore, we tend to personalize other people’s actions and create meaning that relates to us. When we make our assessment of the “why” behind someone’s hurtful actions, we must recognize it’s an assumption and probably wrong, at least to some extent. If a friend, spouse or coworker does something to create frustration or hurt, it’s important to check in with them. If that’s not possible, then we must remind ourselves to let go of our assumptions and find more peace with the experience.
#2 If I’m Right Then They May NOT Be Wrong
When we don’t like someone’s words or behavior, we often see it as wrong. This is especially true when we also see our part in the interaction or experience as “right.” This “black and white” thinking is not only overly simplified, it usually isn’t true. Human behavior is complex, and even when we feel justified in our outrage, there is usually a part that we are missing. When I find myself ruminating about a behavior or interaction with my teenage son, (when I’m pretty darn sure I’m right), I will stop and ask myself “What part of this am I missing? What about his perspective do I need to consider?” Or, “Where is my ego playing a role here?” Amazingly, there is usually something I can come up with that serves to calm my emotion and shift my perspective, if only a little. Even if you have a hard time figuring out what you may be missing – it can still be helpful to acknowledge that there could be more to the story. Remind yourself that while you may feel justified in your “rightness,” the other person isn’t necessarily all wrong.
#3 It’s Not About Me
When I was first married, and my husband was busy establishing himself in his career, he would often arrive home later than what he had promised. This would drive me crazy, especially as I had usually prepared dinner. My first reaction would be to get upset. “He TOLD me 6:30. Doesn’t he care that I made dinner? His work must be more important than me!” Eventually, I came to understand that his being late (and twenty-one years later not much has changed) was not about me. He wasn’t trying to upset me. His intention was not to diminish my culinary efforts. He just tended to underestimate the time it would take him to finish and being more “Type B” than “Type A,” wasn’t focused on the clock. This realization helped solidify a very important relationship skill… it’s not about me. Every single one of us has a complex structure of personality and psychology from which we operate. We do what we do because that’s the way we do it. Most of the time we are not trying to hurt or cause grief to another person (particularly the people we love). Instead, we make choices and decisions based on the unique way we see the world and manage life. Sometimes, our personal limitations or lack of life-strategies gets in the way of always doing things “right” or at least the way others want us to. We need to accept that our spouse’s, child’s (or anyone else’s) choices and behaviors are not about us, even if we are affected by them.
Like with all resolutions, it takes some work to change the way we think and act. However, relationships are a vital part of our lives. Doing what we can to create healthier, happier relationships is, and will always be, well worth the effort.
Also offering services as a life and relationship coach, she works with people outside of the therapy setting to increase positive communication, set goals, make decisions and solve problems.
Additionally, she supports those clients who are considering, experiencing or recovering from divorce.
Jennifer has a B.A. from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and an M.S. from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.