Invest in Your Relationships

The better you are able to get along with the people whom you associate with, the more you will be able to thrive in your everyday life. Sometimes clients will come to me wanting to examine the extent to which a relationship can be improved. It may be to a sister, a mother, a child or a partner. For example, they might ask whether it would be an advantage to be more honest. Or would that jeopardize the relationship? 

Just being able to talk about a relationship with a third person or a professional may clarify for you what it is you can contribute to the relationship.

If You Experience Frustration or Boredom 
Some people are fine with not thinking too much about what their communication is like. They like being spontaneous and being able to say whatever pops up in their mind without giving it too much thought. If you are that kind of person and that method works best for you then there is no reason for you to examine the various communication-models in depth.  

If, on the other hand, you are looking for more depth and you tend to find spontaneous communication boring you may enjoy familiarizing yourself with the various ways in which you can strengthen and take certain steps to make a change in your communication with others.  

In my book, ”Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World:
How to Create a Happy Life.” I have described how you can move up or down through four different degrees of depth in a conversation and how you can practice giving and receiving more careful responses to the signals people tend to send out in their communication with one another. Since there isn’t enough space in this book to give a full description of the various models, I will make do with referring to ”Highly Sensitive People.”  

When There Is a Distance between the Two of You or a Sense of Hostility 
If there is a distance between the two of you or even downright antagonism, there are two ways you can deal with it. You can either focus on the problem or you can try to awaken a sense of joy in the other person. If you choose the former you will most likely try to talk it over with the person. At best, both you and the other person will get a chance to express what it is that is distressing or irritating you in the relationship and hopefully you will both be willing to compromise a little bit by equally taking responsibility for the negative aspects and regretting the things you have contributed that were inappropriate or not constructive for the relationship.   

But it is not always possible to talk about a problem with one another. If you start out by telling what it is you are sad or upset about, you risk the other person shutting down completely. And not everyone is ready to take their share of the blame for a problem. Some people are not strong enough to take on any responsibility for anything in which case talking about the negative aspects will not have a liberating effect. 

Another possibility is to initiate positive feelings in the relationship. If you are angry with your partner doing  something that would awaken his sense of joy may not come naturally to you. But try anyway. Give him a kiss and smile to him and say what it is you like about him and then see what happens. Perhaps his reaction will awaken so much joy in you that whatever it was you were angry about will lose its significance and may not even have to be mentioned in the future, or if it does, perhaps it can be done in a humoristic way.

When it comes to couples, I have noticed that it is typically the woman who wants to talk things over while the man would rather buy a bouquet of flowers and say something nice. The best thing is if you can switch between these two strategies. And then there are some relationships where talking the problems over just doesn’t work.

Examine the Relationship with a Farewell Letter 
Whenever a client wants to work with a relationship I usually start out by giving them a letter writing assignment. Write a farewell letter to the person in question. The letter should not be given to the person, you are writing solely for your own sake. In the act of saying good-bye to someone we are more clearly  able to sense how important a role the other  person played for us and in the process we become more aware of our own feelings in connection with that person. 

The reason why it should be a farewell letter as opposed to an ordinary letter is that when we say good-bye we tend to see things in a clearer light just like a person who is facing death does when he or she reflects on his or her life and discovers connections that were not apparent at the time that they were experiencing them.   

You will most probably experience yourself stepping back and looking at the person from a distance as you are writing the letter. This distance makes it possible for you to see him or her not through the usual filter consisting of your own wishes and needs but rather for who they are as an individual. This form of distance is often an eye-opener and can give you a greater perception as to what the nature of your relationship is and what you can do to improve it. 

After that you may feel like giving the letter to the person whom it was intended to. But in most cases it is better to write another letter for that purpose. Because there happens to be a big difference between writing a letter straight from your heart in order to gain more insight into yourself and expressing your feelings and  writing a letter with the intention of opening up someone else’s heart. Imagine what it would be like to be the person on the receiving end. There may be something entirely different that he or she needs to hear.   

Choosing Between the Relationship and Your Personal Goal 
You could also ask yourself what is more important: the relationship or your personal goal. Is the most important thing getting what you want right here and now or is it having a good relationship to the other person? Some people are so focused on one aspect that they forget the other.

If you seldom reach your goals because living up to other’s expectations is very important to you, you should perhaps practice going determinedly after getting your wishes fulfilled even if it means risking that your friends or co-workers will become dissatisfied with you.

If, on the other hand, you tend to run into conflicts it may be because you are so focused on reaching your goals that you tend to oversee the significance of having a strong connection to another person. If the latter is the case, you can practice being more focused on the relationship. For example, choose one of your friendships or relationships and decide that for a period of time you want first and foremost to be focused on the relationship and less focused on reaching your end-goals or needs. You will most likely discover that this will provide you with a new kind of happiness for the both of you. And that the chances that you will reach your goal in the long run will actually increase.   

From the book: The Emotional Compass: How to Think Better about Your Feelings.
The book  is available in English, Russian, French, Chinese, Spanish, Korean, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Ukrainian.
During 2019 and 2020 the book will be published in Simplified Chinese, Romanian and Turkish.

Read more about the book here

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