I mean it.
If you like yourself, you are happier in your relationships.
A good friend told me her husband was pissing her off. “I can’t stand him anymore,” she said. Sometimes, we adults can sound a lot like the complaints I hear from my kids about school. “She does this! She does that!” And a mom’s response, “Don’t think about what other people are doing. Take care of your business.” Or my personal favorite, “Cook on your own grill.” Bing! This isn’t that much different sometimes.
So my advice to my friend starts with this: Focus on you now.
Fulfill yourself first because when you are fulfilled and feel the security that comes with that, you are much less likely to get annoyed with other people, judge other people, get irritated by other people. This is especially true of an intimate partner. (A study in the Journal of Psychology, 2009, asserts this self-conception-perception of partner correlation…)
It just makes sense, doesn’t it? If you have a negative self-view, you are more likely to view others and situations negatively. The more insecurities you have about yourself or in life, the more likely you are to lash out at other people.
Self-Improvement Process Starting Point: You
- Go get your hair done (or something like that). Indulge in beauty treatments that make you feel good about yourself. You are worth the investment.
- Exercise and eat right. What we put in our bodies affects how we feel. Whole, unprocessed foods … lots of vegetables and fruit … and grab an herbal tea instead of a diet soda. See how you feel after a week of that. The better you feel, the better you feel about the world and people around you.
- Get support. A couples counselor is a good idea. An individual counselor for you might be an even better idea. Find a counselor who will be a good listener and offer objective strategies. You can also talk to friends, mentors, ministers or others who will listen and not judge.
- Detach with compassion. When I tell people to detach, they usually think this is a green light to cut somebody out of their life. No, we detach with compassion by emotionally setting up sturdy boundaries with the other person. So, instead of taking personally something that someone says in one of those looping, negative arguments that don’t get anyone anywhere, excuse yourself, take some deep breaths, put on some relaxing music, and then kindly tell yourself that their behavior is their choice, and it is not a reflection of your worth. It’s like putting a golden gate between you and the darker parts of other people.
- Find hope and encourage yourself. Everybody needs hope and encouragement. When we feel bad (and relationships can feel really, really bad sometimes), you need to mine for hope. Dig and find it. Difficulties are temporary. You will learn, grow and gain wisdom from your hard times. A better day is around the corner. I think the reason that Joel Osteen and other figures who are espousing hope and positivity have such a strong following because people are drawn to that right now. We need it. And there is a lot to be hopeful about, even if you can’t see it at the moment.
- Ask yourself hard questions. Are you annoyed and irritated because you are bored or dissatisfied with where you are in your career or your status in life? Are you judging yourself and projecting it onto other people? Or has your partner violated your trust by cheating or abusing … is your partner simply not around physically or emotionally … do you have different or conflicting values and beliefs? The quality of a relationship depends on many factors. Take an inventory of what means the most first. Counseling can help you focus on strengths and balance the view.
I like this saying: “Do valiantly, and hope confidently, and wait patiently.” (Carlyle)
Speaking of waiting patiently, a lot of relationships move in cycles. Sometimes couples have predictable cycles of negative issues they have to work through. Perhaps you are in a cycle. In that case, support yourself first with healthy choices and be patient. A lot can shift based on tensions at work and within one’s worldview day to day.
Sometimes doing nothing for a while and working on yourself is a bold and active move. Invest in some creative activities. Put together a playlist, do some painting, redecorate your bathroom. Arrange a beautiful bouquet for the kitchen table.
Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples, and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a new book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work.