In my practice of working with couples and individuals, I observe many relationships that have struggles. Most of us do not go through life without some relationships that are challenging. What are some things that I observe that seem to be a roadblock to improving difficult relationships? The biggest challenge seems to be ego. Many people are caught up in feeling that they need to "defend themselves" to the end. When one person in the relationship voices a concern, the other person is often quick to try to turn it around on that person instead of hearing and listening to what that person is saying. It is important to hear that person and their feelings and respond with care to their concerns first. People often just need to feel acknowledged for their feelings. A mature individual in a relationship is able to say "I'm sorry, I hear you & we can work toward making that better". Unfortunately many people allow their ego to stand in the way of doing this and unconsciously feel if they apologize that they are "admitting that they are a bad person". They do not understand that this is not about being "bad" or being "wrong" but about being caring toward another and trying to resolve a relational issue. No one is perfect so it is okay to say "I'm sorry" so that things can heal in a relationship. These seem like such simple words but for some that lack spiritual maturity, they are just so difficult.
What else can be done in all relationships to help them be healthy and fulfilling?
It is important for all people in relationships to practice these things:
1. Gentle, kind interactions toward one another.
2. Being open to voiced concerns through out the relationship and an attitude of wanting to hear the other and resolve things. Easily saying "I'm sorry".
3. Showing that you care by having a "two way relationship". A two way relationship is when both people call one another, communicate honestly and kindly, both arrange time to spend together, acknowledge and validate each other's life experiences and express your fondness of one another through words and small tokens of affection.
4. Recognize that all people have challenging times in life and they may need you more during those times. Try to be understanding and steady.
5. Practice the gift of being fully present for yourself and others when in a relationship. What is worse than going to spend time with a loved one that you infrequently see and they are "tuned out"? Maybe they are watching tv and are not engaged in a meaningful way. True presence increases love and compassion. Simply by being attentively and openheartedly present- whether to yourself, work, family or others, more love is added to the fabric of life. And...love is the answer, no matter what the question.
6. Openess and accessibility are qualities of a quiet mind. We are naturally drawn to people who are open with us and are interested in us. Those whose ideas and emotions are accessible and readily expressed. This allows us to feel like we can genuinely connect with others. Meaningul connections are a lovely life experience.
Remember to practice mindfulness with yourself and in all relationships. Attention is an invaluable gift to give.
Colleen Montgomery is an individual and couples therapist in Severna Park, Maryland. Her office is at 821 W. Benfield Road, suite 10. She continues to feel blessed by the clients she works with to develop more caring relationships.