One of the most difficult things to learn is choosing relationships well.
There is all of the factual, cognitive information we take in, but that doesn’t seem to have as much power as the “chemistry:” That inexplicable connection that happens between souls.
In social work school, we used to comment that people of equal health attract. If you had a room with 1,000 men and women in it and there were only two who were dysfunctional, they would be sure to meet and get together.
In my career as a therapist, I have noticed that relationships tend to dissolve if one person becomes healthier and the other doesn’t.
So then, what are the secrets to choosing the healthiest friendships and associations we can?
*Take time to check in: Is this person hooking you in that part of your soul that is hurt, sad, angry or wounded? If so, a red light should start blinking.
If, on the other hand, this relationship seems to bring out all that is strong; the best of who you are, move forward.
I myself can be a bit slow to hear and understand what my inner voice is saying, so I give myself all the time I need to get through the “dead zone” of numbness, confusion and ambivalence.
*Listen carefully; then observe: I have certainly been caught by people who talk a good line, but as my father would have said, “They’re all talk; no do.” I need some reminders from time to time, but one thing I know is, I want to see some action before I really buy their authenticity.
*Pace yourself; match the level of commitment: I still have a hard time with this one. I tend to over invest, jumping right in to give all I can, while others are not yet engaging. Eventually, I have to deal with the reality that there is little to no reciprocity in the relationship; I am definitely pedaling the bike while others are along for the ride. This one bites.
My counsel on this is, invite, offer; then allow time for others to respond and make invitations or offers in return. If you find that you do all of the calling, doing, etc., take it as a warning that the relationship is unequal and probably needs to be adjusted, if not ended. A warning sign that I have learned is, if I find myself trying to strategize and change myself to solicit responses, I’m working too hard and the relationship really isn’t there.
There is the fact that relationships take time, so some of this can be rather insidious. When I finally do recognize that I’m the one putting in all of the effort, I will try to talk to the person; then, I set a deadline for myself: If there is no change by ____, I will move on.
*Take responsibility for yourself; allow others to be in charge of themselves: some people seem to do a really good job of “passing the buck,” while others are great at picking it up, whether it is theirs or not. I learned a good rule of thumb on this one: “If I don’t have power, I don’t have responsibility.” We can’t MAKE another person think, feel or do anything; that is in their basket. Each of us is responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behavior. That also means that I have the power to agree with them or not. Again, some disagreement is part of relationships, so a bit of negotiation or compromise might be in order. If the place and role that others have for us really don’t work, however, we may have to look elsewhere.
*Know who you are: “The clearer you are about yourself, the less power others have over you.” Know the deal breakers, warnings, flags and signposts. What says, “Go,” to you? What tells you this is not a good match? Find all of the reminders you need: Once you’re trying to build a relationship, these things can slip away or get a bit confusing. Enlist trusted friends and family: They can spot for you; in fact, they are vital. Meeting people and becoming friends needs to happen in the context of community. This is especially true if the relationship you are entering is potentially more intimate.
*If you fall, get up, heal and try again.