Photo by Greg Raines

Why we fail to foster healthy personal relationships (and what to do about it)

Human beings are naturally sociable; we enjoy the company of our fellow human beings. That’s why we fear ending up sucking on the fruit of loneliness. And yet, it happens to all of us.

We grow up and our circle of close friends shrinks instead of expanding. We feel we can’t relate to others and there are very few we can trust. We often feel lonely when we’re not alone.

The time we are able to comfortably spend with other people is shrewdly calculated depending on how long it takes to trigger our less good-looking reactions and behaviours; the dark side that we don’t want anyone to see. Maybe we become irritated easily, we lose our temper when we aren’t in control of a situation, we struggle to keep intimacy, we are obsessed about some of our routines or unreasonably moody, we cringe or we demand too much attention.

Whatever the issue, people who are familiar with us know they can’t poke our sensitive spots, and they avoid them to make their lives easier. Only the naive eyes of a new arrival in our surroundings would directly approach “the elephant in the room” and when they do, we simply can’t take it. Therefore as soon as we perceive someone heading for this direction, we build a wall, dig a moat, blame them for whatever and call it a day.

We’re masters of shell-protection and self-deception.

People soon get tired of our stubbornness, stop confronting us and let us sink in our own incongruences until we hit reality hard enough to realize by ourselves that we’re flawed, if we ever do. That’s precisely what keeps us stuck where we are.

By slightly tweaking my attitudes towards personal relationships I’ve got extraordinary results. They’ve become stronger and more fulfilling than ever before and are improving day by day.

These are the tricks I’d like to share with you that have worked amazingly well for me:

Listen to everything the other person wants to say to you, or that they need to express

Listening means listening: Not reacting, judging, or assuming that we know better than them. Let every word soak in, feel and observe the emotion arising from your body. Is it fear? Is it shame? Is it joy? Is it euphoria? Every single emotion gives us information about our current ability to handle things.

If what is being said makes you angry, then listen to it more attentively, because that is where you’re setting your limits on self-awareness and mutual respect right now. It might not be where you really want to set them. In fact, I assure you, it isn’t.

No matter what the other person says we should be able to comfortably manage listening to it. If we fail it’s because there are things we don’t assume about ourselves. We’re all humans, we aren’t aiming to being perfect, we’re aiming to be more spontaneous and more real. The kind of person with whom we’d be delighted to spend 24 hours a day, every day, for the rest of our lives.

Set your boundaries

We want to experiment in life, we want to have our space and give others their own, but we live under the assumption that we all know what friendship, partnership or loving relationships are about. Therefore we accept tacit constraints based on preconceptions. On the other hand, every single combination of two humans will produce a unique relationship, and only by expressing our feelings will we correctly set our boundaries in each. Otherwise we will easily burn out giving what we think the other person wants, pleasing without validating what we really feel like giving.

You can’t fix anybody’s life but yours. Make your terms clear and don’t give in. With friends and partners, we need to understand their needs as well as what is crucial for us and what is open for negotiation. It’s so blatantly obvious that it hurts. Rather than accept the pain, we avoid speaking about it.

Speak, express, communicate everything!

And

Keep your empathy low, very low… in silent mode

Empathy is a powerful tool that if used incorrectly can make you miserable. For those who are naturally very empathetic: Hit the brakes right now.

When I observe how I used to handle personal relationships, I was being too understanding, too flexible and in brief, too cool; too empathetic.That would make me feel like I was constantly suffocating.

Understand that the other person knows exactly what they want, just as much as you do 😳🙄… 🤔

It’s part of the human condition to go off the rails and fuck up. We can’t see clearly what we really want and we say things we don’t think or believe.

It’s no one’s fault that we fall into the trap of lack of self-awareness. But it’s irresponsible to comply with someone else’s lack of it when we identify it. The only way to help people out of their self-deception and confusion is by shaking them up and confronting them directly.

Empathy prevents us from remaining firm in our positions. Being empathetic is at first cardinal for us to understand the other’s perspective, but if ours is broader, we must not be complaisant if we want to help others grow.

We need to discern a real demand from one based on their confusion or with twisted intentions, and never cope with either.

Observe the facts because the rest is subjective and your conclusions are based on self-projections and past experiences. Facts show you where you’re at. And that is your guideline.

Last but not least:

Be super caring

If someone is in your life, it must be because you want him or her there. We all wish to be supported and loved in order to grow. While we learn to do so in a nurturing manner it helps to be wrapped in a hug or caressed for no reason.

We’re all fighting our own battles. One’s battle will be proportional to their current ability to perform on the field. Don’t spare words of encouragement.

Affection isn’t just the icing on the cake that most of us can go without.

If I don’t feel welcome in your arms just as I am, with all my insecurities and shame, and no rejection, will I ever be able to open up and share with you my deepest concerns?