Relationships are tricky. From friendships to work acquaintances to romantic relationships, it can feel impossible to avoid people at times, and we all want to just get along. Here are three tips to keep your relationships healthy.
When we're thinking about relationships, there are probably a few people who spring to mind. Most people start by thinking about their partner if they have one, and then friends, before moving out to colleagues and acquaintances. The truth is that all of these relationships are probably fairly important, and all have the potential to go awry if we don't pay enough attention.
Healthy relationships are vital to maintain our own health. To exist in the world as it is means having to interact with people, probably on a daily basis, and these interactions are often important to be able to get our needs met. For the introverts amongst us (of which I am one), some things have made it easier to get our needs met without talking to others (self-service checkouts, online banking, etc) but most people still need a bit of emotional connection with other people on a regular basis. I occasionally feel so exhausted after a day of talking to people that I can barely speak to my friends, but I value my friends regardless.
Here are three things that I think are important to maintain healthy relationships with those you care about:
If I could get one word tattooed on my forehead for everyone I come into contact with to see, it would be communication! For a species that evolved language we are so often rubbish at using our words and telling people how we feel, and so much of my day job is taken up with helping people to realise that they (and the people around them) are not great at communicating important things. For example, imagine you needed some help with putting together a wardrobe:
"I'm not sure how I'm going to put that wardrobe together"
"Oh - I have to put the wardrobe together today. If only I had some help"
"Maybe someone will help me with that wardrobe later on"
*carries wardrobe box into living room and puts it down* *stares meaningfully at people in the living room* *walks away*
I hate to break it to you, but NONE of these things are direct communication - they're all very passive ways of relating to people. Relying on someone else to intuit how you feel or what you're thinking often doesn't end well. Of course, if someone knows you very well they may just offer to help - but that actually makes things worse in the long term, because you never learn how to clearly ask for help, and the next time you need help they might not be willing/able to offer.
"I need some help putting the wardrobe together. Will you help me?"
The problem that most people have with this is that it puts them in a position that they perceive as vulnerable - that is, the other person could say no and it's hard to save face if they do. But sometimes, vulnerability is a strength. It's not weak to ask for what you need, and it teaches those around you that if you are direct, people know where they stand - an important lesson for children in particular, who learn their communication patterns from us adults. Communication gets more difficult when we're not talking about wardrobes, of course - when we're asking our friends not to do something that annoys us, or wanting to make a change to a routine that we have with our partner - but passive, indirect communication will never be the best response to getting your needs met. And if you feel like you can't speak to someone directly, for fear of the response you might get, I would suggest that the maintenance of the relationship is something to think carefully about. You shouldn't be around people who scare you.
Of course, sometimes you want something and the person you're speaking to wants the exact opposite. Whilst we've just talked about passive communication, we also need to avoid going too far the other way and aggressively stomping all over other people's needs so that we can get what we want. Wherever possible, compromise is really important.
So often these days we're told not to compromise - we should argue our case and "beat" the other person in the conversation. And for some important issues, that's not a bad thing. But when you're talking about whether Marvel or DC is better, or whether Pepsi is better than Coca Cola, you're talking about an opinion, not a fact. And if you push your opinions on other people all the time, they're likely to start avoiding you (by the way, the "correct" answers to those questions are Marvel and Pepsi - you can fight me in the comments :p).
There are a few areas that I would say are not up for compromise, however. Where your personal safety is concerned, where you feel threatened or other people don't respect your right to feel safe, you should not need to compromise. Don't make yourself feel overly uncomfortable or unsafe just because you feel that you should compromise - that's potentially back to behaving passively because you don't want to upset people. Compromise, as with communication, is a difficult balance to strike - practice makes perfect.
There are lots of different ways to show that you care about someone, but when we're comfortable in a friendship or romantic relationship, we tend to fall back on just one or two.
So there you have my three tips for healthier relationships. If you have any more, let me know in the comments!
Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects