We all long for authentic relationships, but, even in our overly connected lives, these relationships are hard to find.
We meet people and socialize online, but these connections tend to lack a necessary dose of human intimacy. We work beside people in crowed office buildings, but our communication is work-oriented and not relationship-oriented. We may be lucky enough to have friends and family in our lives, but when we are distracted by social media and busy with work, those relationships take a hit.
So what does it take to create and nurture an authentic relationship? That’s a question Angel and I help our students answer on daily basis. After a decade of coaching individuals and couples, and researching how people build authentic relationships, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes, and we’ve also learned a lot about the mistakes people make in the process. It’s a subset of the latter – the mistakes – that I want to touch on today.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in our relationships is denying the truth. We deny the truth about how condescending we are. We deny the truth about how unavailable we are. We deny the truth about how little effort we put into our most important relationships. And so it goes.
But the good news is, we can change. All of us can.
Right here, right now, we can start by admitting that…
- Our relationships are filled with unnecessary judgments. – When we judge, we learn nothing. Realize this. Open your mind and heart. Don’t judge people just because they sin differently than you. The world is changed by your example, not by your judgments. Be kind. Ask about people’s stories. Listen. Be humble. Be teachable. Be a good neighbor.
- We look down on people when we disagree with them. – When someone upsets you, this is often because they aren’t behaving according to your fantasy of how they “should” behave. Take a deep breath. It’s OK to disagree with the opinions of others, but that doesn’t give you the right to deny any sense they might make. Nor does it give you a right to accuse them of poorly expressing their beliefs just because you don’t agree with them. Learn to appreciate different perspectives, lifestyles, and opinions, even if it means overcoming your pride and opening your mind beyond what’s initially comfortable.
- We have a tendency to dwell on people’s weaknesses. – Be present. Be kind. Compliment people. Magnify their strengths, not their weaknesses. This is how to make a real and lasting difference in your relationships.
- There’s a whole lot we don’t know about the people in our lives. – It’s impossible to know exactly how another person is feeling or what kind of emotional battles they’re presently fighting. Every smile or sign of strength hides an inner struggle every bit as complex and extraordinary as your own.
- We carelessly gossip about our relationships. – Don’t give in to the unnecessary negativity, drama and gossip around you. Be positive. Give people a piece of your heart rather than a piece of your mind. And listen carefully to how a person speaks about other people to you – this is precisely how they will speak about you to other people.
- Our “busy” lives often get in the way of our most important relationships. – The people you take for granted today may be the only ones you need tomorrow. Never be too busy to make time for the folks who matter most. Truly, the best gift you can give someone today is the purity of your undivided attention. Just be present with them, and pay attention to the little things. (Read Hands Free Life.)
- We try to hide our flaws, even from those closest to us. – As imperfect as you might be, as small as you sometimes feel, and as out of place as you imagine you are, you don’t have to hide the flawed pieces of yourself. Remember, you attract other people to you by the qualities you show them, but you keep them around based on the qualities you truly possess. Personal flaws are a part of everyone’s life. If you try to hide them, you don’t give the people who care about you a chance to truly know and love the real you.
- Our relationships aren’t as easy as we want them to be. – Good relationships require work. Good relationships require sacrifice and compromise. They are amazing, but rarely easy. Resisting the hard times and seeing them as immediate evidence that something is wrong or that you’re in the wrong relationship only aggravates the difficulties. By contrast, finding the willingness to view the challenges as opportunities to learn will give you the mindset you need to nurture your relationship to new heights.
- We try to “fix” the people we care about. – The act of sincerely caring for another person is rooted in love and respect. This means listening to them wholeheartedly and letting them know by your complete presence that they are seen, heard, and valued. It’s not a space where you try to fix them – it’s about being a witness to the totality of who they truly are.
- We resist change within our relationships. – Healthy, authentic relationships move in the direction of personal growth: for the relationship and for each person in it. Growth and change are a part of life and you must embrace it. Even when you are concerned that a relationship may dissolve if things change, you must embrace the fact that your paths may diverge for all the right reasons. (Angel and I discuss this further in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Our failed relationships are far more important than we realize. – Everyone has something important to teach you. Every relationship builds upon the lessons of those before it. Life doesn’t always give you the people you want – it gives you the people you need… to learn, to grow, and then, eventually, to fall in love.
- We take too many things too personally. – There is a life-changing amount of inner freedom that comes to you when you detach yourself from other people’s negative gestures and behaviors. The way others treat you is their issue, how you respond is yours. You know this. You simply can’t take things too personally, even when it seems personal. Rarely do other people do things because of you – they do things because of them.
- We like to get even with those who have wronged us. – No matter how much someone seems to deserve it, nothing good ever comes from an act of revenge. Getting even doesn’t help you get ahead. If you’re feeling pain, don’t take action that creates even more pain. Don’t try to cover darkness with darkness. Find your light. Act out of love. Do something that will enable you to create a more fulfilling reality. Forgive. Let go of the resentment, learn from the incident, and move forward with your life (and hopefully you can move forward with your relationship too).
- We are (unknowingly) in deep emotional relationships with anyone we hate. – To hate someone is to hold on to them tightly – to notch out a lifelong space for them in your heart and mind. So let today be the day you stop letting the ghosts of yesterday haunt you. Let today be the day you stop poisoning yourself with hatred. Forget about getting even with those who have hurt you, and instead get even with those who have helped.
- We are rarely as kind to others as we could be. – All the hardest, coldest people you meet were once as soft as a baby. And that’s the tragedy of living. So when people are rude, be your best – be kinder than necessary. What goes around comes around. No one has ever made themselves strong by showing how small someone else is. Remember this, and communicate accordingly. (Angel and I build mindful communication rituals with our students in the “Love and Relationships” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
- We place too much blame on our relationships. – You have to stop telling yourself that other people are your excuse for being unhappy, unsuccessful, etc. It’s not anyone else’s job to fill in your empty inner space. That’s your job and yours alone, and until you accept responsibility for your own emptiness and pain, your biggest problems will persist.
I want to close this post by reminding you that you need to create enough space and time to nurture the relationship you have with yourself too.
Your relationships with others are important, but you also need time alone with yourself, because when you’re in solitude you’re free from external obligations and pressures. You’re free to be YOU without being fancy and putting on a show. You’re able to hear your own thoughts and act on them, effectively.
So go ahead and find a quiet space. Cherish your personal time. Take long walks and drives by yourself. Watch sunsets and sunrises silently in peace. Teach yourself something new. Read books. Write stories. Sing along to your favorite songs. Check your instincts and follow them on your own time, without other people’s influence. Decide if fitting in 24/7 is more important than discovering who you truly are and what you’re here to do. Once you’ve got a handle on this, I guarantee that your relationships with others will get a lot healthier.
Which of the points mentioned above do you sometimes struggle with? How have you coped? What other relationship truths have you learned and accepted that have helped your relationships thrive?
Leave a reply below and share your thoughts and insights.
Also, our next annual Think Better, Live Better conference is taking place February 18-19, 2017. Sign-up here to be notified when tickets go on sale, and you will also be automatically qualified for a discounted VIP ticket while they last. Note: you can watch short clips from our 2016 event here and here.