Life is all about relationships. If you don’t believe me, imagine your life without any. Almost everything good and bad that happens to us concerns our relationships at home, at work, and at play.
Who would disagree? But ask how they manage their relationships and most people are at a loss for words. Only when things go wrong do they try to fix it by focusing on a single issue, like money or honesty, and approach it as a logical problem.
Understanding how we relate is one of the most useful things we can learn to make our life more fulfilling. There are five crucial elements.
If you don’t expect much of others, you probably don’t expect much of yourself
If you don’t expect much of others, you probably don’t expect much of yourself. It’s seems easy enough to accept bad behaviour or put up with someone you don’t like in order to keep the peace, but there’s a cost. You’re entitled to decent, respectful relationships, and to drop bad ones.
2. Recognize your feelings and how you process them
Are you sometimes unsure what you’re feeling? You’re not alone. People lose touch with their emotions when they stubbornly expect something from life that’s not going to happen. When you don’t admit it, something shuts down. It’s surprisingly easy to lie to ourselves and avoid the unpleasant truth, but it’s unhealthy. Stay in touch by talking frankly about your feelings—but not just to anyone. That’s where ingredient #3 comes in.
Listen to yourself
3. A support system
We are social animals. Our greatest asset is the ability to think, and that depends on our ability to communicate with others. We are who we relate to. We all have some sort of support system, ranging from toxic to nourishing. When we accept the unacceptable, it’s usually because we’re afraid of the alternative: a change of career, a divorce or another huge life change. You need empathy and support to take these drastic steps, to deal with the fallout, and to move forward with confidence.
If you want to be a real friend, you’ll sit and listen without judgement and without reaction. Most friends try to fix your situation rather than listen and empathize. What really helps is a friend who understands that life is unfair. By feeling with you they help you stop blaming yourself and enable you to move forward. Empathy is the greatest skill of all. If you don’t have it for yourself, practice it on others.
self-help books, for all their popularity, don’t change much
And that’s what it’s all about. Nothing here is new. You could probably have figured it out for yourself, but just figuring makes little difference. That’s why self-help books, for all their popularity, don’t change much. The key to all the above—developing self-respect, understanding your feelings, building a support system and listening to yourself and others—is practice. These are skills you learn, like an instrument or a language. The more you do it, the more your brain develops, and the better you get at it. It becomes second nature.
If you take this approach to relationships: that they’re something to manage, nurture and develop, then the very fabric of your life will change. Everyone thinks they can do it alone, but nobody can.