One unique feature that separates us from animals as humans, is our ability to have relationships with each other. Because this makes an essential part of us, what are we doing to actively improve our relationships?
To me, relationships are very important, whether between friends, family, with the one you love or even professionally. I believe they make or break you, because of the time and effort one needs to put into them. Every stage of my life has been influenced very strongly by the relationships I have had. My most influential have affected who I am today, starting with my family (who are my pillar of strength) my friends, who during my university days and in my 20’s influenced my life. Thirdly, in my love relationships, because they have taught me a lot about who I am. Finally the lessons I have learned from my past and present colleagues.
Firstly, my family who make a big part of the foundation of who I am as a person. We have gone through so much together and we have taken the time to ensure we communicate well with each other. I know that I can call them for anything at any time and I know they will drop whatever they are doing to listen and support me. I feel having such a foundation in my life and such unconditional love gives me a great base to build better relationships.
Secondly, I have gained a great sisterhood with my 5 girlfriends who taught me what it means to be a real friend. They also taught me what it takes to be a strong and independent woman. Stood by me through the most difficult part of my life when I lost my brother. They supported me and pulled me up when I seriously needed it. This gave me the strength I needed to move on with my life.
Thirdly, my love relationships taught me so much about myself and what I needed to improve or change in me. Have you noticed that when you are in an intimate relationship, a different side of you comes out that you didn’t know you had? I believe relationships are mirrors of ourselves or reflections of who we truly are. When we see it we have to decide if we want to change it, improve it or ignore it. Whatever you think will make you a better person.
Finally, my relationships at the workplace have taught me what diplomacy truly is and how you can use it to your advantage. It has also taught me how to be a good judge of character. This was a skill I am still trying to improve since I have a sad trait called being gullible. I had to learn the hard way that you need to know when to put on your protective glasses and see through people and when it was not necessary. This is a great skill to learn to prevent being taken advantage of (which has happened very often in my life).
I have taken to reading and researching on how to improve my relationship skills and these 5 points have stuck with me through the years. I hope one or two could be useful to you.
1. When Someone Shows You Who They Are, Believe Them the First Time
By Maya Angelou
I love watching Oprah and her shows because I always seem to get really cool life lessons from them. One of those was the above statement said while she was interviewing the late Maya Angelou (amazing poet and author). This one hit me because of its raw truth. Have you ever been in a relationship where the person told you point-blank, “I’m not a nice person” or “I’m not kind” or “I can be crazy”? But, because you were so into them and in love, your thoughts are “Oh stop saying that, you’re not those things”. And you say that because you are thinking you can’t like someone with those traits. After a few months of being together with your partner, they do something that is unkind or crazy and you get shocked and hurt. Your partner then says “Hey I told you I am these things and you didn’t believe me.” Maya Angelou said, when someone tells you who they are, believe it because they know themselves better then you do. They are openly telling you who they are and you are the one blocking the truth (until it hits you the wrong way). Be aware of what you are being told and protect yourself from getting hurt.
2. Don’t Make Assumptions
From the book “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz
This book is a must-read. The author takes you through 4 simple agreements or simple life rules to practice. The impact they have is immediate when you start practicing them. In connection with our topic, the third agreement relates well to love relationships, when we make assumptions about our partners.
Here is a simple example. You and your boyfriend have been together for one year now. Your birthday is coming up and you want to keep it simple. Reason being you don’t want to seem too pushy. But deep down you hope he will do something romantic and special. So what does he do? Nothing much. He gets you a gift and you stay home for dinner. There you are steaming like crazy thinking how insensitive he has been when in truth, you made the assumption he knows exactly what you are expecting. All you had to do was communicate what you really wanted. But we don’t do that do we. We assume our partners should know us and should figure out what we are thinking. Then when they don’t meet our expectations, we get disappointed and we get mad at them. I remember a saying that goes when one assumes, you make an ass of you and me. No one wins.
To avoid assumptions Don Miguel Ruiz suggests we should ask questions. Inquire more and assume less. This will clear any problems in any situation. Communication is always the key to any great relationship.
3. You Are Not Responsible for Someone Else’s Happiness
By Will Smith
I love me some Will Smith. I’ve always liked this man since his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days and I love his wife even more. So a few months ago he started a youtube and Instagram channel which is filled with a lot of silly stuff but also very inspiring info. One video really touched me and it was on “Love and happiness with your partner“. He says very simply, you cannot make your partner happy and it’s not your responsibility to do so. Good and healthy relationships only work when two people who are already happy come together to make a happy relationship. I know I have fallen into this trap, thinking I needed to make my partner happy. And what happened? I failed every time. Make yourself happy first. Be your own source of happiness and then watch how easy it is to have a happy relationship.
4. You Teach People How to Treat You
I don’t remember where I heard this but it must have been from a number of authors. I got this as a huge AHA moment while in my 20’s. In my past relationships, I saw first-hand that I was the solemn reason why my partner treated me in ways I didn’t like or appreciate. Simply put, I let him do as he wanted and not as I wanted to be treated. People will always try to put their crap on you and see how you react. Even someone who cares about you (and I’m not sure why). Be aware, if they can get away with bad behavior like raising their voice while talking to you, or dismissing you when you are trying to make a point. I realized if I do not take responsibility and stop my partner, my friend or colleague from doing something to me that I don’t like immediately; it is only my fault when it happens again. Be very aware of how you want to be treated and communicate it clearly.
5. Seek First to Understand Then to Be Understood
By Steven Covey author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”
This is a life-changing book which needs to be read once a year to refresh your mind and spirit. This book has sold 25 million copies since it was published in 1989 and there is a huge reason why. Each habit intertwines so well in our everyday lives and he gives simple examples and exercises to help us learn these habits.
Why I like the habit of “Seek first to understand then to be understood” is it’s so easy to get, but the effect on my life has been huge. Think about it, most of us listen not to understand but we listen with the intent to reply. This is done in personal and professional relationships. Mr. Covey suggests that we should take the time to listen what the other person is trying to communicate. Not just with their words, but their body language, their expressions. When we do that we can fully hear and understand what is being communicated. In the end, this will help in your reaction and how you answer others. It only takes a few seconds to stop yourself from thinking what you should be replying and actually listen and understand what is being communicated to you.
When I learned this and actually put it into practice, it changed my relationships completely. I remember a friend telling me “I don’t know how to explain this but I feel like you were truly listening to what I was saying”. In the end it’s the feeling of compassion you give to the other person that really matters and not what is being communicated. It eases the tension in the air and makes conversations so much easier. Just try it.
Being concious of how we relate to the people around us will radically change our approach. One doesn’t need to use all the tips. Just focus on one or two that really relate to you and see how that goes.
I end with this quote from Maya Angelou says “When you know better, you do better”. Now we know 🙂