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The Simplicity of Healthy Relationships


16Mar 2008

I don’t mean to sound snub or condescending but, in a lot of ways, having healthy relationships is not that big of deal. Having positive relationships doesn’t have to be as difficult as people want to make it.
I often tell my friends (and sometimes, my clients) that the work I do is not rocket science. Helping families and business families “get along” is not that tough, from a conceptual point of view. The concepts are fairly straightforward.

But the real challenge is in the implementation — in getting individuals and families to do (regularly) those behaviors and tasks that build health in relationships, and to minimize those actions that damage relationships. And, being forthright, it is in the area of implementation that I am worth my weight in gold (ok, maybe not that much — I weigh a fair amount and gold is at $1,000 an ounce.) Probably the one thing I do best is help families do what they should being doing.

Recently, I have been working with some families who are good people, who mean well and have good intentions, but some of them do what they are supposed to occasionally, others practice positive patterns but inconsistently, and some seem afraid to do what is right (almost strictly out of the fear of conflict.)

I previously have written about the six steps to positive relationships, so I won’t repeat those principles. I have some other observations I want to share here.

First, it is amazing to me to see individuals and families who say they want to have good relationships with one another, but they seem to rarely spend any time together. This is true for parents with children living at home, adults who are brothers and sisters, or extended families. Everyone is “busy” (the apparently acceptable excuse for almost anything in our culture). Ok, so let me put it to you bluntly: If you want to have a healthy relationship with another person, it helps (a lot) to spend time with them regularly.

Time is good. But spending time together watching TV, sports on TV, or movies/DVDs is not really going to build your relationship a lot. Talking is good. Talking about something meaningful in your life is better. It is a good start to with sharing about events in your daily life. But you can go to a deeper level if you share about what you are thinking about the future or the challenges you are facing in your daily life. If you are really brave, you might venture into the area of politics, religious / spiritual beliefs, or where you think our country or the world is heading.

There are three intertwined characteristics that I repeatedly observe in healthy families. If you have one of the three, it is helpful; two of the three is really quite good; and if you are “three for three” I am convinced you and your family will enjoy each other for a long time.

Accepting differences, and understanding that disagreeing doesn’t mean someone is necessarily wrong, is a great attribute.

Being able to resolve conflicts in a non-damaging manner is huge.

Forgiving others and learning to “let go” and move on is at the heart of healthy relationships.

Look at the converse of each of these and you will see what I mean. Think about a family (or a relationship) where everyone has to be, act, think, dress or believe the same in order to be OK. Early in a family’s life, this can look ok, but the fabric quickly unravels — because people in family’s are different — they think, act, dress and value things differently. So either you learn to accept, and embrace, the value of differentness or you blow relationships apart.

One of the most common patterns I see that creates major problems in families is their unwillingness or inability to confront one another in a way that allows the relationship to continue. More frequently, families “avoid” confrontation (they don’t actually avoid it, it actually either goes underground, builds up and blows, or goes through indirect channels). Often my role is to help family members sit down and talk about concerns they have with each other and attempt to facilitate the discussion in a manner that both feel “heard” and allows the opportunity to dialogue and problem-solve about the situation. (NOTE: being ok with the other person thinking, acting or believing differently than you is key.)

Families who live without forgiving one another are filled with hurt, anger, resentment and broken relationships. Let’s face it — we all screw up (some of us more than others) and many of us have deeply hurt those close to us. Unfortunate, but true. And I don’t know of any real way someone can “make it up to” another person — either through compensatory actions, apologizing, or admitting they were wrong. The bottom line need is the ability for the offended and hurt to “let it go” and move on. Otherwise, the relationship will always be tainted by “Yea, but you …”

I’m sure there are other aspects we could add, but realistically speaking if you:

*Spend time together
*Talk about meaningful topics
*Accept the other person as being different from you (and that is ok)
*Choose to deal with conflicts constructively
*Forgive others when they hurt you

Then you are going to have a darn good relationship. Not that tough, conceptually. Living it out is a challenge, no doubt. But give it a try. You can do better than you have been, I bet. We all can.

(By the way, it won’t be that helpful to print this out or send it to someone in your family and say “Here are some things you should work on” [or some other more indirect wording]. Rather, work on yourself. That’s the place to start.)

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