When our relationships are going well, they’re a source of unequalled joy but when they’re not, they inevitably cause us worry and hurt.
In an ideal world, we would always listen and communicate from the best part of ourselves and we’d monitor our behaviour when we’re tired and grumpy. We’d bite our tongues before making a snappy comment and we’d recognise and change controlling or judgemental tendencies.
Despite the best of intentions, we’re human and we all have bad days so it’s inevitable that there’ll be times when we say and do things that are damaging to our relationships.
Keep your relationships happy and harmonious by taking the time to step back and reflect on the small changes you can make to rebuild a sense of trust and goodwill.
1. Communicate openly
People are sometimes afraid of open, clean communication because they fear offending, but in truth, a passive or manipulative comment or look does significantly more harm than a direct, but thoughtfully phrased, communication.
If you’re experiencing frustration (within yourself or with someone else) think about how you can express your feelings and needs in a way that isn’t attacking or blaming but rather, honest and non-judging.
If there’s a genuine issue, prepare the other person for a conversation by asking if now is a good time to talk and if not, ask when you can catch up in the next 24 hours (it’s best not to leave it too long so you don’t lose your nerve).
Let them know that the relationship matters, but you have a concern. Explain how you are experiencing the issue (e.g I feel hurt when you speak to me with a frustrated tone) and keep your own tone measured and calm. Make a request for how you’d like things to be different (e.g If you’re feeling irritated with me or you want some peace and quiet, I’m ok for you to let me know that so you can have some space and we can talk later).
2. Apologise early
If you’ve been snappy or said something hurtful, don’t leave it too long to say sorry. Make sure your apology is sincere and avoid adding ‘but’ at the end of it. It’s tempting to apportion some blame to the other person but a genuine apology is simply about owning up to the part you played without expecting anything in return.
3. Accept and make room for your differences
Sometimes we’re attracted to people who are different to us – and then we spend our time trying to convert them to our way of thinking.
Instead of trying to change a partner or friend, find out why they have a different opinion. Ask open questions (e.g Can you tell me why you think that way?) and do your best to understand and accept another perspective.
If you find you genuinely differ and the topic isn’t critical to the wellbeing of your relationship, remind yourself that it’s ok to respectfully agree to disagree.
4. Give of yourself
When a good relationship has been tricky for a while and you find your needs are no longer being met, try shifting the emphasis away from yourself. Remind yourself of the things you love about the other person, consider the ways you can be supportive and give of yourself without any expectation of receiving anything in return.
It won’t happen overnight but the energy of a relationship can improve when one person behaves differently and it becomes possible to renew your sense of connection.
5. Know when to let go
Not all relationships are destined to last a lifetime. A good way to determine if a relationship has run its course is to weigh up how you feel after an interaction. Are you energised or depleted? Inspired or drained? Do you feel accepted or misunderstood?
Give yourself permission to move on if a friendship or a partner relationship has run its course. Don’t feel the need to make the other person wrong – move on, and in your heart, wish them well.