For whatever reason, psychotherapists are assumed to be masters at navigating relationships. I completely understand this assumption, since we talk about relational health and vulnerability and honesty all day, but I’ve frankly never seen it play out in real life (certainly not in my own life, anyway). Our relationships are as challenging and nuanced and messy and human as everyone else’s – and because we spend all day talking about relationships, we don’t always leave a lot of energy for our own self-reflection and growth.
So that’s what this blog post is about – intentionality in relationships to promote healing, honesty, and nurturance. These are some considerations on better ways to go about human relating, thoughtfully and intentionally.
1. Reflect & Assess.
Simply put, we won’t get what we want and need if we don’t know what that is. In order to stay on top of that, we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and our relationships on a regular basis.
Some important questions to start with are:
- What do I want from this relationship?
- What unique and positive elements does this relationship bring to my life?
- How is this relationship enriching me and helping me to grow?
- What keeps me choosing to be in relationship with this person on a consistent basis?
- Am I respecting myself, and being respected, in this relationship?
- Are my wants and needs being met? If not, is there room for them to be attended to in other ways, or can I ask that they be met?
- Are there ways that I can better take care of myself within this relationship?
The answers to these questions will change over time, but the important part is that they are being asked on a regular basis. And, of course, the flip-side should be considered by asking for the other person’s perspective, too.
Ah, communication. It is the key to a healthy relationship, but can also be tedious, time-consuming, and exhausting. Many of us desperately wish that our partners and friends could read our minds so we could skip all the confrontation and vulnerability involved – but they can’t. Frank communication can’t be avoided if we are aiming for health in our relationships.
In talks with my own husband, I’ve sometimes been completely surprised by how detailed I need to be in order for him to “get” what I’m saying. I make assumptions that he already knows the gist of how I think or feel, and I just need to flesh out the broader strokes for him to see the full picture. This is false (and my husband is a very perceptive guy). Assume nothing, start from the beginning, and be honest and open. Provide context and background. Use I statements (“I feel ___ when ___ because ___. What I want or need from you is ___. What I am willing to do is ___.) Be kind, but be honest. If you need something different out of the relationship, name it. Don’t expect that your partner will know what you need, no matter how many hints you drop. Hinting isn’t effective. Say what you mean.
3. Keep Evolving.
No good friendship or relationship worth its salt stays the same forever. People change, and for relationships to remain real, fruitful, and worthwhile, they must change, too.
I had a friend that used to do everything with her partner – get up, have coffee, go grocery shopping, socialize…all of the things. This made her very happy, until one day it didn’t. After some agonizing about how to bring up her desire to live a bit more independently, she nervously admitted to her partner that she no longer wished to have an escort all day, every day, and suggested some intentional separation to allow them more space. She was shocked to learn that her partner was not only open to but excited by her proposal, and both found themselves happier in the relationship once the adjustment was made.
Sometimes we fear change so much that we end up settling for something that becomes stifling or unsatisfying rather than taking the leap and trying something new (and a little scary). This short-changes us and the people we are in relationships with by keeping us stuck in places that we’ve grown beyond. The things that seem hard and scary are often the things that end up encouraging depth in our relationships. If something seems right, but is a little bit terrifying, consider getting uncomfortable. You might be very grateful that you did.
4. Be On Each Other’s Team.
I end with this one because we sometimes forget to remember that ultimately in relationships, nobody is happy unless both people involved are rooting for one another’s happiness. Sometimes people want different things, and sometimes this requires compromise, sacrifice, or change.
When working with couples, I’ve sometimes noticed that, when one member of the relationship begins to ask for something, the other tenses up or immediately becomes defensive. This reaction is natural; being asked to stretch or change is Scary, and many of us initially feel the urge to dig in our heels. Sometimes this is a totally appropriate response.
But sometimes, we lose out on the opportunity to help our friend or partner develop as a person or, or for the relationship to evolve into something better or more honest, because we are holding on too tightly to our own notions of what we want. There might be room for self-examination, change, or growth here. Maybe it’s worth taking some time to consider.
Relationships, friendships or otherwise, are hard, and we are none of us experts in how to best navigate this tricky space. Luckily, there’s room for consideration, for communication, for growth, and for change, should we get intentional about taking care of ourselves and each other.