Having friendships and/or family members you feel close to is often a primary part of living the life you want to live and is one of your biggest challenges. Interactions with others are often the most emotional experiences you have, both in rewarding and painful ways. If relationships are part of your life worth living, determining how to make this work for you will be important.
Keep Your Priorities in Mind
Relationships are naturally full of ups and downs. There are so many times you will have urges to break off a relationship and to never speak to a person again. In many cases though, that’s using avoidance and/or abandonment as a way of responding to a problem. You avoid the immediate pain of hurt and vulnerability but in the long run your relationship is damaged.
While one of your biggest fears may be about abandonment, it may also be the way you typically respond to others when they disappoint or hurt you. In this way you don’t have to face difficult emotions that occur when you work to resolve issues or accept situations/decisions that you don’t like. Perhaps it is a way of reacting to hurt feelings to protect yourself. The alternative of talking with the person to try to work things out creates vulnerability for most people and particularly for the emotionally sensitive. In the short run, avoiding discussing problems and deciding you are through with a relationship may bring some relief from fear and pain. Often though, after the emotion passes, you regret that decision and want the relationship back. When your emotions of the moment control whether you want to be in a relationship or not, that will create lots of ups and downs and chaos.
If having stable, supportive relationships is something that you yearn for, then find ways to remind yourself of this priority. This means reminding yourself of the long-term goal of having solid friendships. When you are emotionally upset this goal will likely not seem relevant and you will probably have urges to act quickly, so wait until you are calm to make any decisions. For example, when your friend Amy promises to meet you for lunch at restaurant, you will likely be very upset if she forgets and doesn’t show up. Sitting there alone, believing that the waiter and other guests are staring at you can be so uncomfortable. Thinking that Amy stood you up and that you aren’t important to her is not a good experience either. In the moment you may decide you are through with her, because obviously she doesn’t care about you. If you remember your priorities in keeping relationships for the long term, you won’t drop the friendship because of this one incident. Instead, tell yourself people make mistakes and remember all the times she has been a caring friend.
Supportive relationships are not always supportive all of the time. Sometimes people will disagree with you over issues that are important to you. People will not always be there for you when you wish they could be. Sometimes people who care about you will make decisions you don’t like. Relationships require radical acceptance that others will behave and have ideas that don’t make sense to you and may upset you. You will not always be able to get what you want and need from a single person. Radical acceptance means accepting that is normal part of relationships.
Perhaps you tend to hold onto relationships that are not healthy for you. Maybe you know a relationship is abusive and you hold onto it hoping it will be different, with no evidence to support that belief. Radical acceptance in this case is likely to be accepting that the relationship is harmful to you. Building supportive relationships may mean letting go of toxic ones.
Remember the Big Picture
Everyone can have bad days, grumpy times, and make mistakes. They may forget something that is important to you, not include you in something you wanted to be a part of, tell information you didn’t want told, spend time with someone you dislike, and make a hundred other missteps. If in the moment you see whatever wrong the person did as relationship ending or a horrible infraction and don’t think all the times that the person was a great friend, then practicing remembering the big picture is important. Remembering the big picture means finding ways to keep the whole relationship in mind, the positive and the negative. One way you might do this is to write down the positives of your relationships. Review your lists daily or weekly. Then when you think badly of someone who has been your friend for some time, ask yourself what the positives of that relationship are.
Express Yourself Accurately (Gently and Wisely)
For many reasons it is often difficult to bring up concerns in the relationship. Fear of confrontation, fear of the other person being angry, fear of being misunderstood–all those fears make it difficult. Yet unexpressed concerns build walls of resentment that lead to the relationship suffering. One of the best ways to manage difficult conversations is to separate your concern from the relationship and your friend. Keep in mind that you really care about this person and while you don’t like what happened, you don’t see them as a bad person because of it. You are not rejecting them. That’s really the truth, most of the time.
Imagine that your boyfriend decided to go out with his friends from college when you really wanted him to stay home with you–you had a very stressful day at work. Rejecting him as a selfish jerk is not really the way you feel. Expressing anger at him for going is not really being accurate. Anger is probably a way of not facing the hurt you feel or covering it up. Expressing anger will push him away. Expressing yourself accurately by telling him you were hurt that he didn’t stay home with you (accurate expression of emotions) is more likely to strengthen the relationship. You probably also missed him and could tell him that as well. Maybe you even worried that he chose his friends over you and you thought you might not be important to him. While likely more difficult to say than “you selfish jerk,” the expression of core feelings and thoughts will help solidify the relationship.