We grow through our relationship with the world and others. In short, relationships shape us big time. They are a central aspect of our life whether we admit it or not. Relationships are also an enormous source of strength, as they support us emotionally and give us a sense of belonging, love and appreciation.
It is equally true, however, that relationships can be hard to balance and maintain in healthy shape. This is mostly because they can be complex, largely depending on the emotions, needs, intentions, likes and dislikes of the other person we hold a relationship with. Some relationships can grow fragile and difficult over time. Not surprisingly many people give up on their relationship when the road becomes too difficult to thread. What these people fail to recognise however, is that there are some fundamental things they are doing that have made that relationship difficult in the first place.
They have expectations:
This is what keeps most relationships from growing harmoniously and in balance. People have a long list of expectations of how the other person should behave or respond to their actions, demands and ideas in a given situation. They create a mental model in their head of an ideal their partner needs to follow in order to be in line with their own beliefs and inner desires. When these expectations are not met, conflict arises based on disappointment, grief or frustration. The more expectations one has about the other person, the more chances there are of having those expectations unmet. Dissatisfaction builds up the more they see that the other person deviates away from their own expectations. Sometimes unmet expectations can be shocking or result in anger and resentment. “I thought you would do this for me or for us!! How could you?” meaning I’m so shocked that your actions did not fit in my expectations of your response.
People who are in some of the longest, happiest and healthiest relationships will all admit this little secret: They have very little expectations of the other.
They trust, forgive and appreciate the fact that the other person has his or her own individuality, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. They expect less, meaning they are more open to the other person and the relationship as a whole. Also, and equally important, they have less expectations of the relationship itself. They do not have fixed ideas of how the relationship should be or where it should take them. The live it on a day to day basis.
They blame the other:
When people are frustrated because their expectations of the other fail to be matched, they externalise that frustration out to the other. They falsely identify that the cause of their resentment, grief or frustration is the action or behaviour of the other. This is in simple words blaming the other and finding fault outside of their selves. Blaming makes relationships difficult in two major ways.
First and most obviously, it hurts the other person’s feelings. It also sends out a clear message of lack of trust in the person and the relationship itself. It creates tension and friction which might turn that relationship in a downward path.
The second reason is that it blinds them from tracing part of the fault back to themselves as we shall see in the last point. They fail to see that their own action is always part of the equation. This is one of the hardest things to see in any relationship.
They rationalise too much:
Some people live their relationship in their head instead of their heart. They overanalyse and think too much about how things are going or what they should be doing next. Sometimes they mentally ‘grade’ the health or success of their relationship. They break down their relationship into parts and try to see those parts separately – communication, caring, sex, appearance, parenthood, number of common goals, etc. Their relationship with the other person is constantly assessed and evaluated just like a student’s progress throughout a scholastic year.
The danger with rationalising too much is that it forms expectations and as we saw, expectations create difficulty. More importantly overanalysing pushes people away from allowing the relationship to flow naturally and spontaneously – an important ingredient for growing healthy relationships. It blocks them from responding to the other from their heart because they are filtering their interactions with the other person through the rationalisation of their mind.
They judge too quickly:
Some people tend to judge too quickly even when it is uncalled for. Even with the best of intentions, judging someone is the fastest and most effective way of creating difficulty in any relationship. On many levels, judging is always erroneous. First of all, you can never make a correct judgment about somebody no matter on the circumstances, the information you think you have at hand and how far off the mark you believe the other person is. The truth is that the feelings and thoughts you might have about someone are always partial at best. Once again feelings and thoughts about somebody are filtered through your own emotions – which are subjective by nature – and through your perspective of the whole picture which is never complete because it wouldn’t be called perspective otherwise 🙂
Through judging, people send out a clear message of distrust to the other person. It is like voting down the value they give to the other in a very formal and concrete way. Judgement is also labelling and constricting the freedom of emotional response of the other person because in judging, one is saying “You are this or your are not this”. This shapes or distorts how both parties will view each other and themselves through that relationship in future interactions.
They fail to understand that relationships are in a constant feedback loop:
All the other things mentioned above that make relationships difficult are born out from one fundamental lack of understanding. The basic principle behind relationships is that thoughts, actions and words are reflected back through the other person’s response. In very simple words, it takes two to tango!
So what people commonly fail to understand is that the other person’s words and actions come very often as a reaction or response to their own. People’s actions are partial mirrors of ourselves.
Seeing it in another way, when we interact with others, there is always a bit of our actions in theirs because we reflect and respond back to each other’s actions like mirrors.
Relationships are in a constant feedback loop. Failing to understand this can create all sorts of trouble. Sometimes arguments escalate to dramatic heights because one person’s reaction is reflected back by the other with greater frustration and in turn this creates an even greater reaction and so on until it spirals out of control.
Keeping always in mind that relationships are in a feedback loop can help us open our eyes to avoid all the other things that make a relationship difficult. First it makes us recognise that before blaming or passing judgement, we can always find a part of our own actions reflected in the other’s, no matter how small. This creates more objectivity and balance which in turn helps in avoiding passing judgment or blame too quickly. Secondly and more importantly, with this knowledge of feedback loops in mind we can use it positively to our advantage. People in healthy relationship understand these dynamics very well.
For example, in the argument scenario, when the other person is mad at you because of something, you can hold back from reacting even if you feel you are wrongly accused. This will close the feedback loop in a positive way and soften things up. Soon the other person will find no solid grip for his or her negative emotions and your calmness and openness to the situation will be reflected back by the other and so on until eventually things equilibrate back into perfect balance.
I write about personal development topics on Soul Hiker. I have recently released an online course‘Simple Living Hacks’ designed to train people simplify their lives, declutter and organise their life in line with their true purpose.