When we think about building healthy relationships, there are so many different types of relationships in life. We encounter relationships at work and home, with family, peers, children and friends. Building healthy relationships allow for individuality, bring out the best in people, and invite personal growth.
Getting Close While Building Healthy Relationships
Developing meaningful relationships is a concern for all of us. Getting close to others, sharing our joys, sorrows, needs, wants, affections, and excitements is risky business. What is it that interferes with us getting close to each other? Often it is one or more of these common fears:
- Fear of becoming known as we really are. Opening ourselves to others and their reactions is not only difficult for us, but is puts a demand on others to be likewise.
- Fear of pain and disappointment. Mass media and advertisers have tried to convince us that we should be 100% happy 24 hours a day. Hurt, pain, disappointment, and loneliness are not comfortable feelings, but they are human. Without the risk of experiencing them, one can never experience loving and being loved.
- Fear of losing our freedom. Can I risk giving up some of mine to care about you without you wanting to take it all away? Can I be both close and separate with you?
- Fear of being a taker as well as a giver. It is difficult for most of us to receive, yet if we don’t, no one can experience the joy of giving to us.
- Fear of judgment. People are reluctant to disclose themselves because they dread the moral judgment of their friends, family, minister, and the law.
- Fear that showing love and affection is not proper. This is especially true for men, but NOT restricted to them. Somehow we have been convinced that this is a sign of weakness rather than a sign of courage.
REWARDS For Conquering Our Fears of Getting Close
If we learn to communicate effectively with others and are willing to risk sharing our own feelings and respect other’s feelings, many rewards will await us as we learn to get close to another person.
Obviously, the reward of a very special relationship. Getting close means I can need someone else and he/she can need me. It means when I feel discouraged or upset, someone is there to comfort and care about me, and I can do likewise.
I learn to acquire faith in myself, faith in others, and an ability to be faithful to others. It enables me to live fully in the present and to have meaning and purpose for your own existence.
I become more sensitive to myself, with choices about how, when, and where I wish to share my feelings. I know when I’m experiencing love, joy, anger, etc.
The Art of Communication
When people are asked what the most important ingredients in a relationship are, communication almost always is on the list. Yet we rarely are taught how to communicate effectively. Communication with others boils down to either expressing ourselves or responding to someone else. Yet the methods for doing each are quite different.
When stating an opinion, making an observation, or expressing a feeling, the most appropriate format to use is called an “I-statement.” Hopefully this communication technique is already being practiced.
I-statements allow us to state things in positive terms, to express ourselves directly and honestly, and to take responsibility for what we think, feel, and need while avoiding blaming or accusing others. In contrast, “You-statements” blame the other person, put him/her on the defensive, and often cause communication to be blocked. To simplify things, we can use a kind of “formula” for I-statements.
Responding to Others
When other people are expressing themselves, it is not appropriate to use I-statements when responding. A more effective technique is called “Reflection.”
Reflection is saying back, in your own words the content and/or feeling of what the other person just said.
Reflection does not question, challenge, argue, approve or disapprove. We can use an even simpler formula for Reflection. Reflection requires us to listen very carefully to what the other person is actually saying. Yet we also do not have to be right in identifying the emotion or reason we hear because the speaker will automatically clarify it for us (and sometimes for him/her in the process).
What we need to remember is that when we use Reflection, the other person is going to continue talking about what he/she is experiencing, so we need to make sure that we have time to listen.
When we first begin using I-statements and Reflection, it can feel artificial. It doesn’t take long for them to become automatic. Experiment with them and you may find that your discussions with other people become much more productive and satisfying.
A major stumbling block in any relationship is settling disagreements, which often result in emotional shouting matches rather than caring problem-solving. Basic ground rules for effectively facing conflict in a relationship include:
- Maintain a spirit of good will – remember you care about this person.
- Avoid attacking one another – discuss behavior, not personalities.
- Share your feelings – explore and discuss them.
- Focus on the present – past disappointments cannot be changed. Concentrate on here and now.
- Choose a time to have the discussion – make it an appointment. Avoid those times when either of you are fatigued, ill, or under pressure.
- Be specific: take time to reflect on what you are upset about and focus on specific actions, feelings, and attitudes.
- Listen carefully. Allow each individual uninterrupted time to explain his/her viewpoint.
- Work on one issue at a time. Decide what is the uppermost concern and discuss it.
- Ask for reasonable change. Determine what you really want from the person, then ask yourself if it is realistic and authentic. Give the person a chance to correct the situation.
- Try to accept and be open to the other person’s feelings. Accept them without being judgmental.
- Be willing to compromise and avoid trying to win. Try to find a solution that is satisfying for you both.
- Realize the need to accept an incomplete resolution of a conflict. At times, completely resolving an issue is impossible.
- If you have extreme difficulty expressing your feelings, try writing them down in a note or letter.
- After the discussion is over, express your appreciation for the other’s listening to and discussing the issue with you. Reaffirm your respect and affection for each other and finish on a positive note.
Codependency is unhealthy love and a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively care-taking ways that negatively impact one’s relationships and quality of life. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including in families, at work, in friendships, and also in romantic, peer or community relationships. Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, and/or control patterns.
The irony is that the beginnings of enabling and codependency exist in selflessness. An inclination to get something done for another, to be considerate, and to be forgiving are all reasonable and positive traits. A problem surfaces when two criteria are revealed. The first is when a pattern of behavior occurs wherein the “dysfunctional” person does not comply with their end of the agreement. The second is when an individual is not able to adequately assert themselves or experiences exceedingly elevated uneasiness to request, challenge or require that their employee, child or spouse come comply with their commitment. People are often not aware of this discomfort or disturbance and are reluctant to address this issue. Nevertheless, enabling and codependent behavior is a pattern of under-performance by one person with a pattern of tolerance and acceptance by another which makes them complicit in the dysfunction.
Attempting to assign blame for this pattern of unhealthy behavior will not resolve the issue. In most circumstances neither party feels good about this pattern of interactions, which tends to become more enmeshed as the relationship continues. Because this problem usually involves people that have relationships through home, work or social circumstances, it is frequently hard to gather insight to resolve these conditions. In addition, this problematic coping strategy will usually be repeated in several relationships over time, if new living skills are not learned.