It’s through relationships that I’ve experienced the greatest joys in my life. It is also where I’ve found myself in some of my saddest moments. I’d like to think it’s gotten easier – but the highs and lows are still there and my relationships still seem plagued with the same patterns of dysfunction they’ve always had. I’m trying to move beyond these patterns and find better ways of relating with others.
Relationships are one of the most important contributors to a person’s well-being. For example, spending more time with friends and relatives (e.g. from seeing them less than once a month to seeing them most days) has been shown to have a comparable effect on well-being as having £85,000 extra each year. That seems a lot – it is far out of reach for most people. Comparatively income is known to be a small contributor to our well-being yet many will put more energy into acquiring more money than working on more meaningful contributors to well-being like social relationships.
The message we – society – tell ourselves every day: Money and consumption in preference to relationships.
Sure, if we have our own financial means we may have the illusion of being “independent” of others and then perhaps we might not have to deal with others directly if we don’t really want to. But that can be lonely and we might miss out on opportunities to understand ourselves and improve on how we relate to others. In many ways we have become more separate from one another. Loneliness and social isolation is on the rise and to improve the quality of our lives we will have to find ways of supporting one another.
Relationships need time investment
How do we gauge improvements in the quality and depth of our relationships? Can we count our levels of trust and support in the same way we can count our money? Can our approach to relationships really evolve, and if so how do we do it? Relationships need work, they need constant communication, constant readjustment, and the results of our efforts to create warm trusting relationships aren’t always obvious. Not as obvious at least as say the extra work we might do which rewards us simply with cold hard but countable cash.
Giving reverence to emotions
From an early age I was encouraged to suppress my emotions. Don’t be sad. Don’t cry. Don’t worry. Be strong. I was judged too. That’s wrong. That’s naughty. Be a good boy. And through that I believe I lost a certain connection to my-self. I missed an early opportunity to connect to a rich emotional landscape that could have helped guide me in recognising when my core needs were not being met. Perhaps it would have prevented me from building up various avoidant strategies to cope with my emotional problems.
My emotions are important. And I don’t want to hide them from others. I just want to take responsibility for them – when I feel joy it’s because important needs are being fulfilled, when I feel sad it’s because some need is not being met. It is my responsibility to connect that emotion to the core need and if someone else is in a position to help support me in meeting that core need then it is again my responsibility to communicate that to them as clearly and directly as possible. My emotions are powerful signals – I am aware of that now after these years – and I give reverence to them.
Likewise I want to support others in that understanding of their-self; through creating space for their emotions to be expressed and heard. Reverence to those emotions reciprocated. Support for the other, but a support that does not lose sight of an own-self. This has been hard for me to do as I learnt – by watching and reacting to those in my early environment – that to “truly care” for other individuals is to put others’ needs above my own. And in my relationships I find my-self expecting my-self to do this indefinitely. Eventually I just can’t take it anymore and I’m responsible for that; for not being transparent about who I am and what I need to feel supported.
These days I am trying to create relationships that are co-supportive, not based around expectations and obligations, but respecting of needs and delighting in autonomy. In relationships that are plagued with transparency and openness to understanding the very deepest parts of our collective nature. It will not be easy but it is possible – I have glimpses that get longer and longer – and I’m near certain that the effort I will need to put into my relationships will be more fulfilling and more beneficial to my sense of well-being than any attempt to increase my means to consume. I’m journeying towards true nourishment and I’m not going to get there alone.
*** Here are some books that have helped me develop my relationship to self and others over the years
- Nonviolent Communication: A language of Life – Marshall Rosenberg
- Schema Therapy: A practitioner’s guide – Jeffrey Young, Janet Klosko, and Marjorie Weishaar