There are many out there claiming to have the perfect set of solutions to achieving a healthy, ideal relationship. But let's be honest - most of our relationships are not ideal and perfect all of the time. Like the rest of our lives, relationships can be complicated, messy, and frustrating even when they are often exciting, loving, joyful and comforting. I recently came across a list of "10 Ways to Have Peaceful, Loving Relationships" on the site "Tiny Buddha" that I like because they don't imply an end-result of perfection, but rather a continuous road of living lovingly together and overcoming any obstacles. This applies to all kinds of relationships, I think, not just romantic ones!
Here's the list - with my comments:
1. Do what you need to do for you.
This is so important, but difficult because it might seem selfish. The movie "Mom's Night Out" describes this like the oxygen masks in airplanes - you have to put on yours before helping others. It's true! If you work on making yourself a more healthy, content, joyful person, those positive strides will spread to your relationship as well.
2. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
I have to admit that this one can be very difficult for me. It's easy to jump to conclusions and get offended or to assume the worst of others. We have all been hurt at some point in our lives, so we create defenses around ourselves that include mistrust. That protection is valuable and caution is good, but in moderation. Wonderful, surprising things can come our way when we assume the best in others - often we are misunderstanding the situation, or they will be inspired by your expectations and rise to the occasion!
3. Look at yourself for the problem first.
Wow, this one is hard. I think this Bible verse applies:
(Matthew 7: 2-3)
2"For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3"Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
In my case, the last unsuccessful dating relationship I had led me to take a year and a half off of dating to self-analyze. I discovered after my hurt and anger faded that although I had definitely been justified in feeling angry about the other person's actions, there were definitely areas in which I was at fault. After I was able to acknowledge my own faulty attitudes in relationships, I was finally ready for a healthy, mutually-loving relationship when my husband came along!
Also this thought: more often than not, it's okay to apologize first! Unnecessary pride has been the unfortunate bane of many a relationship.
4. Be mindful of projecting.
Ah, a hidden trap! For this point, I'd like to quote the article:
"In psychology, projecting refers to denying your own traits and then ascribing them to the outside world or other people. For example, if you’re not a loyal and trusting friend, you may assume your friends are all out to get you. It’s a defense mechanism that allows you to avoid the discomfort of acknowledging your weaknesses. There’s no faster way to put a rift in your relationships.
"This comes back to down to self awareness, and it’s hard work. Acknowledging your flaws isn’t fun, but if you don’t, you’ll continue seeing them in everyone around you. And you’ll continue to hurt. Next time you see something negative in someone else, ask yourself if it’s true for you. It might not be, but if it is, identifying it can help create peace in that relationship."
5. Choose your battles.
I have found this to be valuable in relationships from friendship and work to dating, marriage and raising kids! Stubbornly sticking to your sense of rightness may well be justified, but sometimes not worth the result. First, there are times when been right matters a lot, and times when it really doesn't matter much. Second, is it possible that sometimes the other person may actually also have a point? Admit it - it's possible!
Here are the questions suggested in the article for when you feel like picking a fight:
"Does this happen often and leave me feeling bad?
Does this really matter in the grand scheme of things?
Can I empathize with their feelings instead of dwelling on my insecurity?"
6. Confront compassionately and clearly.
This is great advice! Sometimes confrontations are inevitable. In those cases, your approach is important. Even if you feel pretty heated, try to take a breath before approaching the other person. Think about how your posture, tone of voice and choice of words will affect the conversation from the start. What will make it most likely that you have a cordial, peaceful resolution? A cordial, peaceful approach, of course! Also, people are more likely to listen to your point of view if you demonstrate that you are ready to listen to theirs, as well.
7. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
Like #2, this point is difficult because it involves trust. Our impulse is often to nudge each other around trying to get into positions of power. But some of the best ways to connect empathetically with another person is to expose your own weaknesses and insecurities. Even in small doses, vulnerability can make the other person feel safer with you and maybe even bring your support that you might have felt too scared to ask for!
8. Think before acting on emotion.
This one takes a lot of self-control! It seems impossible sometimes, but is deceptively simple in practice. What works best for me is that when I feel a wave of frustration or anger taking over, I ask the other person to give me a minute. I walk away and take a few breaths, maybe sit in another room for a bit, then continue the conversation. You avoid rash words or actions that you will later regret, and often shift your perspective once you're not clouded by emotion.
9. Maintain boundaries.
It seems to conflict with #7, being vulnerable. But really it's about maintaining a balance, much like point #1. You shouldn't only be vulnerable, and only give all of yourself all the time. You are your own person - a valuable being who is worthy of love and respect. Sometimes that means setting a firm boundary for your own time or your own preferences on how you want to be treated. Try to get to know yourself, and don't be afraid to *lovingly* talk to the other person about how they can best respect you as an individual. How will they know if you don't tell them? Other people aren't mind readers.
10. Enjoy their company more than their approval.
The article puts it well:
"When you desperately need someone’s approval, your relationship becomes all about what they do for you—how often they stroke your ego, how well they bring you up when you feel down, how well they mitigate your negative feelings. This is draining for another person, and it creates an unbalanced relationship."
Sometimes I know I can get caught up in making sure that I'm getting what I need, being treated the way I want, or defending my own position. Like many others, I can also become fixated on getting affirmation or approval from others in all kinds of relationships. Wouldn't it be great if we were able to take some of that burden off of the other person and instead focus on being more accepting, loving and approving of ourselves? See that, it circles back to the beginning! Take care of yourself and you will be taking care of your relationship!