Michelle, a 30-something attorney, speaks frequently about struggles in her relationships with her women friends and boyfriend of two years, Kyle. While kind and generous in many ways, Michelle emanates an edginess with hints of anger, which inadvertently pushes the people in her life away, especially the ones she loves. She often feels remorseful after one of her episodes with either Kyle or a dear friend. Michelle does not know how to change this pattern of behavior. Although she has suffered from feelings of loneliness and isolation over the years, she has not yet learned how to nurture herself and her relationships.
Here are some strategies that, when properly orchestrated, create a fertile ground for self-care and the building and strengthening of the relationships that matter most.
1. Be your authentic self and speak your truth.
Speaking your truth is vital to your authenticity as a person. However, that does not give license to be hurtful to another person. When you speak out of anger, what frequently follows is regret. It is wise to take a few deep breaths to feel calm and clear before speaking your truth. Then you are poised to speak with greater thought and care, regardless of the message to be delivered.
When you deliver a message, begin by saying something positive about the relationship, then express the problem that you are experiencing, and then close with something kind and compassionate. For example, "I love spending time together. I would just really appreciate your showing up on time when we have a plan. This would help my stress level and probably yours too." Consider how what you are going to say will help the relationship.
2. Practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion occurs when we tune into our own needs and feelings. We are usually hardest on ourselves. While others might receive the overflow of our negativity, we take the hardest hit when we are lacking in self-compassion. This can be cultivated by thinking about how you would treat your child or a loved one when they make a mistake or fall short of expectations.
With self-compassion, we recognize who we really are, including our limitations and strengths, and still find a way to practice self-love and acceptance. We all share the human condition. None of us are perfect, and most of us are doing the best that we can.
Being kind to yourself has a way of being contagious, and opens space for others to do the same.
3. Remain open and curious.
Be curious rather than judgmental about what your friend or loved one shares. It is much more compelling and informative to listen carefully when someone is speaking to you. Judgment and criticism can be toxic to any relationship. At times it is easy to assume that you know what your friend is about to say, or even to complete their sentences. When you remain open to the possibilities, you may find yourself surprised by the outcome. People feel cared for when they are truly heard. Pay attention to their words, the nuances of their body language, tone of their voice, and eye contact. Remember, "tone over content" matters most.
4. Assume the best of the person with whom you are talking.
Our minds have a way of taking us to weird and sometimes paranoid places. Often, we think the worst without considering the alternatives. Odds are we will discover that our friend or lover is well-intended if we allow ourselves to listen with an open mind and heart. Try to understand the other point of view and assume the best, even when you disagree. You stand to gain powerful insights about your friends when you understand their perspective. When you assume the best about the other person, she or he tends to step into their best selves.
5. Laugh often.
Deliberately craft fun experiences, for these times together create the memories that bring meaning and sweetness to our lives. It's been shown that laughter may lower stress and the risk of heart disease. While there is not much hardcore data about the health benefits of laughter, most of us have experienced a reduction in tension, anxiety, and pain -- and an increase in hope and other positive mood states -- when indulging in a good laugh.
Think of a time when you had a great belly laugh with a friend. Chances are not only did you feel better physically, you probably also felt more connected with that person. There is a form of yoga based on the practice of laughter with deep breathing. The idea is that you don't even need to be in the mood to laugh, but once you start practicing the "he, he, he," "ho, ho, ho," and "hah, hah, hah," notice what happens, especially when you are in the presence of others. Not sure of the science behind this, but I can tell you that by mistakenly landing in one of these classes that this practice works magic!
Be quick to apologize when you have hurt or offended another. Apology is an important way of showing compassion, respecting another person, and letting them know that their feelings count. An apology can heal relationships and alleviate suffering. Although the past cannot be undone, a heartfelt apology can work wonders to repair a damaged relationship. Apologizing means digging deep and taking in how you have wronged another and letting them know that you understand and that you are sorry. You will benefit by not carrying around the guilt and regret for having said or done something that caused someone else pain. They will benefit by being recognized and feeling that they can more readily move past the offense or wrongdoing. An apology also clears the path to forgiveness.
Forgiveness requires a shift of perception. We make the decision to look at the person that has wronged us through a different lens. It does not mean that we forget what happened or that the person is off the hook for their behavior. It means that we are ready to let go of the wrongdoing and of the past so that we can move forward in our own lives. Sometimes forgiving another person deepens the relationship, and sometimes it means that the relationship is over and you are choosing to no longer look back. Either way, forgiveness liberates us from the pain, loss, and disappointments of the past. Learning to forgive can be cultivated with practice and the passage of time.
8. Express gratitude.
Be grateful for friends, loved ones, and acts of kindness by others. Expressing gratitude by saying thanks and showing appreciation in all kinds of creative ways keeps the relationship wheel well oiled. We are fortunate to have people in our lives that love us, and we must do whatever we can to honor these crucial relationships.
Focus on the areas in which you can improve your relationships and discover the myriad possibilities that will unfold before you. Let this be the year that you deepen your relationships and find the love that you truly deserve.
What are your secrets to building and strengthening your relationships?
For more by Randy Kamen Gredinger, Ed.D., click here.
For more on conscious relationships, click here.