Is it just me or are you also overwhelmed with all the relationship advice out there? Between books, magazine articles, TV shows and social media, it seems like there’s always some new secret that you weren’t aware of until now about how to have better relationships.
As a woman balancing your work life with your family life, you probably have your hands full with many different relationships to nurture and manage. But whether it’s with a romantic partner, your mother, your child, or someone you work with, relationships can be challenging.
Some of the popular advice that you may find is:
- Seek to understand before trying to be understood
- Listen more than you speak
- Try to see things from the other person’s perspective
- Listen for the other person’s unmet needs
Between movie scenes where you get the message that someone is supposed to “complete” you, the pressures of the modern-day parent/child relationship and issues with working in “toxic” work environments, it’s no wonder you may be confused about navigating relationships. Unfortunately this confusion can often add just another layer of overwhelm to your life.
If you have been considering improving any relationship in your life, it’s not as complicated as you may think. As author Marianne Williamson says, “It only takes one sane person to improve a relationship” and since you are reading this blog, you’re it!
This week I’m going to discuss what actually makes relationships challenging and how to improve any relationship.
What actually makes relationships challenging
When working with clients one of the areas that they most often want to be coached on is their relationships. No matter whom the relationship is with, improving it seems like the key to a happier life.
For example, if you could just improve your relationship with your mother then you wouldn’t feel so stressed and annoyed all the time. Or if you could just have a better relationship with your teenage daughter then you wouldn’t feel like such a horrible mother.
Even if you believe you have a great relationship with someone, there’s always some magazine cover at the grocery store checkout offering you “23 Little Ways to Make a Good Relationship Great”. It seems like a never ending story of repair and maintenance.
The truth about what makes a relationship challenging starts with your brain. Up to this point you have had various thoughts about other people which your primitive brain believes are facts; those thoughts then become a story in your mind with the title “What I believe about (fill in the blank)”.
Over time you accumulate many stories that fill the library of your mind. Your library shelves may have the Spouse Story with a chapter that reads “If my spouse helped out more around the house I wouldn’t be so stressed” or the popular Mother Story with a section titled “If my mother wasn’t so judgmental I would want to spend more time with her”.
Without being aware, you have been formulating stories and expectations of how other people should be and, when those expectations aren’t met, you believe the relationship is challenging and needs some work. Maybe you realize that you feel frustrated whenever your teenage daughter keeps her bedroom door shut or you feel annoyed when your boss is so moody.
Here’s the truth – the real reason your relationships are challenging is because you have made them conditional. Don’t believe me? See if any of these apply:
- You are happy when your husband comes home on time and annoyed when he’s late
- You love when your son texts you back right away and frustrated when he doesn’t
- You feel connected to your sister when she agrees with you but feel upset when she doesn’t
- You feel valuable when your boss tells you that you did a great job but worry when he says nothing
The good news is that if you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios, you now know why your relationships are challenging and why you believe they need improving. The better news is that it is 100% within your power to improve ANY relationship, no matter what the nature of the relationship is or what the situation is.
How to improve any relationship
In order to improve any relationship, it’s important to first get clear about what creates a relationship in the first place. Until you are aware of the truth about what creates a relationship, you will continue to be challenged.
The truth is that a relationship is ONLY made up of your thoughts about the other person and those thoughts are interpretations, not facts. Every single relationship you have in your life is based on your thoughts about the other person; about their behavior, what they say, how they feel and your beliefs about how this affects you.
To illustrate this truth, think of a person that you absolutely adore. You love them and maybe you think they are smart, funny, trustworthy, etc. If it was an irrefutable fact that this person is everything you think about them then everyone else would have the exact same thoughts about them, but that’s not the case.
Their spouse may not think they’re very funny and may get annoyed at their sarcastic wit or their son may think they are too judgmental and can’t be trusted to hear something negative. The thoughts you have about this person creates your relationship with them just like everyone else in their life has thoughts that create their relationship with this person; each relationship is as unique as the person’s thoughts creating it.
In order to improve any relationship you have to see the connection between the thoughts you choose to think and the feelings that are created by those thoughts. Once you have the awareness that you have the option to feel any way that you want at any time, you can improve any relationship.
Up until now your relationships have been based on the following equations:
- I feel happy when he/she does (fill in the blank) because I think that means (fill in the blank)
- I feel upset when he/she does (fill in the blank) because I think that means (fill in the blank)
- I feel happy when my mother pays me a compliment because I think that means she believes I’m a good mother
- I feel upset when my girlfriend doesn’t text me back because I think that means she doesn’t value our friendship as much as I do.
By believing your feelings are tied to another person, you have inadvertently made your relationships conditional. When your relationships are conditional you give away all your power, believing that other people holds the key to your happiness.
To improve any relationship you have to take 100% responsibility for how you feel. You cannot blame someone else for how you feel OR give them credit for how your feel.
Let’s say you are frustrated that your sister-in-law always wants to talk about her kids and never asks you about yours. The key is that it’s not your sister-in-law’s behavior that is causing your frustration; your thoughts about your sister-in-law’s behavior are.
The best news when it comes to relationships is that feeling happier, connected or loved has never been about someone else, you just didn’t know it. It’s always your thoughts that have been creating the relationship you have with someone and those thoughts are optional.
As I explained before, the reason your relationships are challenging is because you have made them conditional therefore the way to improve any relationship is to make it unconditional. When you understand that you create your experience of everything, including your relationship with others and with yourself, you have the secret to improving any relationship.
In order to have unconditional relationships, apply the following equations:
- I feel happy when I think (fill in the blank) about me/he/she/us
- I feel upset when I think (fill in the blank) about me/he/she/us
- I feel happy when I think I’m a good mother
- I feel upset when I think my girlfriend doesn’t value our friendship as much as I do
When you learn to take responsibility for how you feel based on the thoughts you think, you can improve any relationship. When you learn to drop your judgments about yourself and others, that’s when life gets so much easier.
So when you recognize that the relationship you have with the sister-in-law who likes to talk about her kids is only based on the thoughts you choose to think about her, you have the power to improve that relationship. She doesn’t need to change what she says or does, you only need to choose better feeling thoughts.
It’s incredibly liberating to know that you can’t control how others feel about you BUT you can control how you feel about them. You no longer need to wonder or worry about other people’s perceptions of you because it doesn’t matter.
Improving your relationships doesn’t even have to include the other person; they don’t need to know about any of the work you are doing to improve it and they don’t even have to be alive for you to improve it. The only thing you need to do is become aware of the conditions you have been placing on the relationships in your life and wipe the board clean.
Now it’s your turn – think about a relationship that you’d like to improve and ask yourself:
- What is the reason this relationship is challenging?
- How do those reasons make me feel?
- How do I want to feel in this relationship?
Once you are clear about how you want to feel, then it’s time to take your power back and choose a few thoughts that create that feeling for you. Begin to improve your relationships by making them unconditional.
For example, if the relationship you’d like to improve is with your daughter, your answers may look like:
- The reason this relationship is challenging is because she is a teenager, she doesn’t open up to me the way she used to and I’m not sure that I trust her judgment
- These reasons make me feel worried and disconnected
- I want to feel loving, open and non-judgmental
- To feel loving I could choose the thought “I love her no matter what”; to feel open I could choose the thought “I want her to know she can tell me anything”; to feel non-judgmental I could choose the thought “I want to be her soft place to fall so that she can come to me and not feel judged”
As you can see, improving any relationship takes awareness of the conditions you’ve been placing on the other person. When you take full responsibility for how you feel instead of needing other people to be different, you can have a better relationship with anyone and especially a better relationship with yourself.
- The real reason your relationships are challenging is because you have made them conditional.
- The truth is that a relationship is ONLY made up of your thoughts about the other person and those thoughts are interpretations, not facts.
- In order to improve any relationship, you have to see the connection between the thoughts you choose to think and the feelings that are created by those thoughts.
- When your relationships are conditional you give away all your power, believing that other people hold the key to your happiness.
- The only thing you need to do is become aware of the conditions you have for the relationships in your life and wipe the board clean.
If you’d like some help improving your relationships, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.