One thing that I have firmly come to believe is that a critical component to our success and happiness is the health of our relationships—not just intimate relationships but all the different types of relationships in our lives.
Think about it for a moment: When you are in conflict with a significant other, friend, parent, sister, co-worker, etc., doesn’t it consume a majority of your energy and mental clarity? Doesn’t it siphon a ton of energy and enthusiasm out of your day?
How often do you find yourself in these types of conflicts? I hope seldom, but sadly, as someone who consistently works with people to reach their greatest human potential, I have discovered that most people are in constant conflict with others and especially with themselves.
Exploring this topic is a book in and of itself, but I am going to keep this article simple and hopefully create a heightened awareness of behaviors that break down relationships, so then we can begin to rebuild our perception of what healthy relationships are and how they are achieved. Once they are achieved, we can thrive on a whole different level, with greater success and happiness in all aspects of life.
1. Complacency is the first saboteur I would like to explore.
Think back to the days when you first started dating someone or discovered a new friend you really enjoyed spending time with. Now think about all the effort you would make to engage in that relationship, the amount of time you would invest, the thoughtful little gestures you would do, essentially in the hopes to “win that person over” as a loyal addition to your life.
Or think about a time when you started a new job, and you thought to yourself, “This is such a great job! I love my boss and all of my co-workers.” And everyday for months, you showed up as the best version of yourself and everything was amazing.
These are primary examples of how most relationships begin, and then, complacency sets in. We become comfortable in the dynamics of those relationships.
Let me note: comfortable is a good thing, when it doesn’t lead to complacency.
Complacency is when you stop doing and/or being the person you were when you got into those relationships. That, my friends, is false advertisement. We have all done it, but I think it’s time we stop if we want to create better standards for ourselves and the health and happiness of our relationships. I find a good activator for empathy to learn in these types of situations is the good old role reversal scenario.
For example, if you started dating someone and they would always bring you flowers, which you loved, and then after they got comfortable in the relationship, they hardly ever brought flowers, you would probably get upset, right? Instead of feeling more significant as time went on in the relationship, you would probably begin to feel less significant, correct?
An interesting thought I suggest everyone ponder:
Why is it that, as we begin new relationships, we often do more or go out of our way more for people we barely know than we often do for people who are supposed to be a significant part of our lives?
I would like to challenge you to reflect on that thought and apply it to all the relationships in your life, and be honest with your contribution in complacency and commit to getting back to the “bringing flowers” mindset (metaphorically speaking, of course). Because relationships are a two-way street.
Also, reflect on how you respond when people go out of their way for you and do thoughtful things, big and small. Are you grateful? Do you openly express gratitude, show appreciation, and inspire that person to want to do more? Expressing appreciation and gratitude through actions and words is the primary way to keep from falling into the complacency trap.
2. Expectations of others
I believe the thing that causes us the most self-inflicted pain in relationships is our expectations of others. This concept took a long time for me to formalize and articulate, but once I did, it honestly set me free. Free of needless pain, stress, anxiety, and unwanted drains in my energy.
What exactly do I mean by this?
Stop expecting others to be what YOU want them to be and accept them for who they are.
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I can hear egos flaring right now, but the truth is that most relationships fail because we go into them expecting others to be who we want them to be, respond the way we want them to respond, and give love the way we want to be loved, but in reality, that is impossible and, quiet honestly, unfair to the other person because that person did not share the same life experiences as you; therefore, it is impossible for them to have the exact same perspectives as you.
I think when people have a lot in common and share similar value systems, we trick ourselves into thinking the other person must think exactly the same way, and that is not realistic. Think about siblings. How many siblings do you know who are polar opposites? Lots I am sure! Siblings usually have very similar upbringings yet can see the world and function in it in totally different ways. So if that’s true, then what on earth would make you think someone who grew up in a different family or different part of the world should behave the way you would expect them? I am guilty of this, too. We all are. But once I learned how ridiculous this train of thought is, it helped increase the intimacy and compassion in all of my relationships and, more importantly, helped me teach others how to set themselves free of these relationship prisons they had created.
I will share with you an example that resonates with most people to get this concept.
A girlfriend of mine was going through a period of her life where she felt lost, and the more lost she felt, the more chronic illnesses and injuries were showing up in her life and the more miserable she became and the more difficult she was to be around. I witnessed this whole time period from beginning to end. I knew the trigger moment of this time period and pointed it out to her many times, but she didn’t want to hear it. She would ask for advice all the time, and I would give it to her, over and over and over again. The rest of the friends she was going to for advice allowed her to wallow and complain, point fingers at others for her unhappiness, and would happily participate in the complaint sessions. I live in the “drama-free zone” where I won’t participate in this behavior, so eventually I removed myself from it. Once she realized I wasn’t around anymore, she got mad at me. Very mad at me.
One night, she texted me asking for suggestions for books she should read to help guide her out of this bad place. I responded with the names of three books and a link to a mediation I thought would be good for her. A few days later, she asked me to meet her for dinner. I did.
Before she was even in her seat, she was telling me that I was the worst friend ever. She laid into me that she had texted that she was in a bad place and I didn’t respond. I said, “Not only did I respond, but I responded with the names of three books and more.” She said, “Any good friend would know to pick up the phone in that moment and call their friend!” I said, “I absolutely would not know that because, when I ask for something, I ask for what I want not for someone to read between the lines.”
How many of us have been on either side of a situation like this? Probably all of us. Before I go any further, I want to point out the projections and expectations here that are not healthy relationship behaviors.
First, she was asking me to read between her lines. She asked for one thing but EXPECTED me to read her mind and give her something else. That is unfair and manipulation of the other person.
Second, she EXPECTED that any good friend would know to call, even though she texted for a specific request. The reality was she grew up in a family/household where that was the taught behavior. Her family life was very calm, easy, loving, and supportive. I was not raised in that type of environment, and, ironically, she was reaching out to me for advice because I have different survival and coping skills. So essentially, she wanted me to think like her AND think like me. Have you ever done that to someone before?
Instead of becoming defensive for her attack, I calmly said, “I see you are in pain, and I am sorry you feel that way, but your pain has nothing to do with me, and you can project all your blame and anger on me, but that will never help you get out of the pain you are in. The truth is that your issues are yours and have nothing to do with me, and they begin with exactly the issue that was just exemplified—your expectations [and blame] of others is causing you even more pain than you are already in, and it’s getting you further from the truth of what’s really going on.”
That moment (in an abbreviated story) set her on a path to healing because I made her realize her expectations of others was her own self-inflicted pain. She “woke-up” that day, and a year later, she is a happier person with healthier, happier relationships. Notice that expectations of others is usually about expecting others to make you feel a certain way or give to you in a certain way when only we can do that for ourselves by being whole and happy within?
The bottom line is: We must appreciate people for who they are, have compassion for where they came from, and celebrate their positive attributes.
I do not believe we can change people, but I KNOW we can inspire people to awaken to see different perspectives. We can also encourage growth in others’ emotional intelligence, and we can challenge people to want more or different for their lives. However, we cannot achieve this through attacking someone else, being mad at them or judging them, or being hurt by the fact that they aren’t being what we expect. We can have a positive impact by being a model of positive behaviors and by creating loving and supportive environments even when we don’t agree with the choices the other person is making.
3. Defensive behavior
Defensiveness includes things like blaming others, always having to be right, and shutting down and emotionally withdrawing to punish the other person. This is probably the biggest offender in ruining relationships and the hardest one for people to change.
There is a famous Buddhist saying, “Would you rather be right or happy?”
It took me awhile to figure out exactly what this meant and how I could quiet down my ego enough to make this a choice in many circumstances. Once I did, it was so profound. I realized the secret to a happy life is happy relationships with depth, trust, and love. Mastering the art of empowered communication became way more important to me than “being right.”
When someone is mad at us, it’s because of “something we did to them.” Most often, we instantly become defensive—defending our position in our choices and behavior. Once this happens, a dance of defensiveness begins between two people where blaming sets in and then someone withdraws and emotionally shuts down to the other person. This withdrawing behavior is an emotional defense to remove ourselves from the situation, but more often than not, people take it a step further and withdraw as a way to punish the other person. They will withdraw love and affection and other typical behaviors to prove their unhappiness with the other person.
What most people don’t realize is these are not behaviors to get what you ideally want. Whichever side of the situation you are on, ultimately, people get mad at others because they want to be treated “better.”
Remember, “better” is relative to your own perspective; however, “better” usually means more attention, more affection, more appreciation, more consideration, etc., so when you are on the receiving end of someone being mad at you, keep this in mind.
When the other person expresses their anger and/or disappointment with you and you respond with defensiveness, you just create a bigger wall between you each and every time a situation comes up. Remember, defensiveness is like a sledgehammer on the foundation of relationships, fractionalizing trust and intimacy every single time it is used (which is typically the opposite of what either person really wants).
So what do you do when someone is “attacking” you because they are mad?
First, acknowledge that this is their cry to be treated better (as we talked about earlier, that is their expectation).
Second, take a deep breath and get calm before you reply so that you do not respond in a defensive manner. This definitely takes practice because most of us have been conditioned otherwise, but trust me when I tell you, once you master this, your relationships will be so much more rewarding and fulfilling.
Third, say something like, “I am sorry you feel that way, and that wasn’t my intention. Obviously, there is a deeper issue here that needs to be addressed, and you don’t feel I am doing [fill in the blank].” This type of approach begins to diffuse the defensiveness on both sides and can better open an opportunity for empowered communication to occur, and instead of fractionalizing trust and intimacy between two people, you will actually learn these moments can bring two people closer together (like in my example above with my friend) and increase trust and intimacy in all of your relationships.
If you feel like the one who’s been hurt, before you attack, blame, withdraw, etc., go through a series of questions in your mind.
What am I really mad at here?
What is the underlying issue?
Is this a trigger from pain I have had in the past that I am projecting on this person?
How can I express this disappointment in a way that’s effective?
As I mentioned: Ultimately, people are mad at each other because they aren’t getting what they desire from the other person or situation, but if you attack another person, you usually get the opposite of what you want and push that other person away.
Instead of being mad at someone, choose to communicate with them.
Interesting concept, right? Communicate to them how you feel without making it their fault. When you do this, people are more open to listen and take responsibility for their actions and want to compromise and understand where you are coming from. This type of communication brings people closer together and builds a greater sense of trust and openness.
Begin journaling around the relationships in your life. Evaluate the health of them and reflect as to how you can contribute more and add more value to them on a daily basis by eliminating these behaviors and committing to mastering the art of empowered communication.
It is important to note that some relationships are not repairable and are toxic—these are not the relationships I am asking you to exert more effort. As a matter of fact, these are the types of relationships that are often best to let go of so you can make space for more productive, fulfilling relationships.
The health of your relationships are the foundation to your success in every aspect of life, so make nourishing them a priority.
Top media mogul and business expert Jen Groover has been tagged by Success Magazine as a “One-Woman Brand” and “Creativity and Innovation Guru” and as a leading “Serial Entrepreneur” by Entrepreneur Magazine. She has gone from guest hosting spots on QVC to linking deals with some of the industry’s biggest heavyweights. Jen is a top business and lifestyle contributor and content creator for major networks, such as ABC, CBS, CNBC, NBC, Fox News, Fox Business News, and The CW. You can also connect with Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
*Image courtesy of greekadman.January 27, 2014