The toughest part about relationships (intimate or otherwise) is that your behaviour, thoughts and emotions are affected by and have an impact on someone else. Yet, it is only your behaviour, thoughts and emotions which you can adapt, alter or assert. Being mindful of how our friendships feel to us can be an important part of maintaining our own emotional wellness. I recently spoke on the Chrissy B Show about how I am learning to live with the discomfort (or even guilt) that some people I was close to are no longer wanting to be close to me, OR are unhealthy for my wellbeing.
Whether thinking about a business relationship, a romantic one, or a friendship, here are some questions to keep you aware of your feelings.
1. Am I happy right here right now?
First think about what being happy means to you. Is it feelings of contentment? Is it laughing a lot? Is it comfort? Forget all the “expert advice” – what makes you happy is unique to you. With so much access to information, it is very easy to forget what you truly connect with, mindful reflection on this question alone can help bring about some clarity.
Once you know how you define happiness, ask yourself if you are feeling that within your relationship.
If you are then move on to the next question.
If not, ask yourself what can you do to make the change you need? With a business or romantic partnership, this may be worth discussing, ideally at a time and place when you are both able to talk openly. WIth a friendship, if you have grown apart, you may wish to decide if you need to take any action.
2. Are you both heading in the direction you both want?
Again, good for boardroom and bedroom relationships - have an open discussion about how you hope the relationship will progress. While this may result in an unpleasant realisation that you are not on the same page, it is always better to find out early so you can perhaps find a means of returning to or heading towards the same path. If not, you may end up allowing expectation and disappointment sour the good and then breaking up on unpleasant terms.
3. Do you and your partner or your friends/family express love in a way that suits you all?
Dr Gary Chapman identified the “5 languages of love” (there may be others unique to your relationship too):
Acts of service
Words of affirmation
Often we enjoy giving and receiving love in all these ways, but we often have a preference for one or two in particular. If you enjoy being told you are loved, but your parents prefer to give gifts, then it may feel like they do not “love” you. All that may be happening is that you are expressing your feelings differently. Perhaps your partner does not really enjoy the expensive meals you want to give (gifting), but really appreciates it when you take the time to cook beans on toast instead (acts of service). Maybe your friends want to spend time together, but you are ok with telling them they are amazing on social media.
If you - or they - are feeling under appreciated, this is a good discussion to have. Identify your preferences and see how you can work within your preferred means of expression. Then show appreciation when it happens.
4. Are you able to forgive?
Every relationship has ups and downs, but when you hold a grudge, it can be like carrying a hot coals and waiting to throw them at someone. Practicing forgiveness is about acknowledging you were hurt by the behaviour, reflecting on what you have learned about yourself from it, and recognising that the event occurred often because of an askewed belief or choice of reaction from yourself and/or the other person – both of which have reasons.
It is not emotion that will help understanding, but listening, talking, and then finding a way forward where you feel you can collaborate.
5. Finally, remember, solving relationship issues is not just about talking
Talking helps – you need that awareness that there is something that needs to be worked on. However, just saying “X is wrong” is more likely to lead to frustration and upset. Having an idea of what you would like as the solution then allows you to offer a means of moving forward. Of course, be flexible and prepared to listen and perhaps work with suggestions from those you are speaking with too.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt