Give me any area of your life, and I will show you how human relationships are at the core of your happiness in that area. You can't be happy in your career without a respectful and collaborative relationship with your boss and coworkers. You can't be happy with your financial situation until you and your partner have worked together to build a common financial vision. You can't have a good relationship to yourself until you are proud of how you treat other people.
Thus, it stands to reason that when I ask my clients to tell me what is not working in their lives, they bring me long lists of grumbles about judgmental mothers, untrustworthy friends, distant spouses, messed-up siblings, cold fathers and mean in-laws. Throw in an unfair boss and an inconsiderate neighbor, and that's a wrap.
What all these situations highlight is that we tolerate an alarming level of mediocrity in relationships with important people in our lives. Maybe we have tried to change the relationship and failed, or don't believe the relationship can change, or are convinced that we don't really care anyways and would rather spend our energy on someone else.
But what if there's a different way to conduct these relationships? One that is more fulfilling and less, well, lame?
What if, as a human, it is your job to carefully choose who your special people are and to make your relationship with them sacred? We call this your "ark," named after the fabled wooden boat built by Noah in anticipation of impending floods. Your job is to pick who is admitted onto your ark and then, once they are on board, you award each person the same bill of rights. Like membership to a club, once someone is in, they get the full privileges of membership. Maybe your ark is more like a cruise liner, serving all-you-can-eat jumbo shrimp and hosting nightly shuffleboard competitions. It is up to you to decide what this "membership" looks like. For example, I promise the members of my ark that:
• I care for your dreams and want them for you.
• I celebrate the best in you.
• I respect and support whatever choices you make, even if I wouldn't make the same ones myself.
• If I am upset about something with you, I will tell you and resolve it immediately.
• There is nothing about me I wouldn't tell you.
• I think about you often in my daily life and feel close to you.
What is so powerful about the concept of the ark is that it doesn't allow you to have different categories of "loved ones." A person is either on the ark, making them a sacred loved one, or off the ark, making them them a casual friend or acquaintance. A person can't have one foot on the ark and one foot off, or be granted temporary membership until they "screw it up." Once someone is on, they are on, and it is your sacred job to make the relationship great until the day you die. There is no room for grumbling, judging, hiding or keeping someone at arm's length. You have to deal with everything in the space of a relationship and bring your relationships to new levels of depth, care, understanding and love.
It gets better. Some people are awarded automatic entry onto your ark. Can you guess who? Your parents. Your siblings. Your step-parents. Your in-laws. Like Angelina Jolie at a club, they get to cut the line and come right on board with their loud Hawaiian shirts and Igloo coolers of Bud Light and set up shop. If this thought doesn't horrify you, then I salute you. Because the truth is that these people are sacred by the sheer spiritual role they play in your life. As much as you may want to toss them overboard, or lock them in their cabins, I promise you that you can't possibly love and accept yourself or your partner, unless you love and accept these family members.
Who is on your ark? What do your membership privileges look like? And what do you need to take on with your ark-mates to make those relationships sacred?
Samantha Sutton is the Vice President and Director of Courses and Seminars at the Handel Group and will host "Learn the Key to Successful Relationships by NYC's Top Coaching Firm The Handel Group" on June 20, 2012 during S.H.E. Summit Week. S.H.E. Summit Week, taking place June 18-24, is New York City's first "women's week," with 35+ events designed for, by and about women to inspire each other in work, life & everything in between. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit shesummitweek.com.