Relationships are critically important in our lives. On a professional level, being a good team player and getting along well with others enables us to maintain our jobs and receive such perks as bonuses or promotions. Also, connecting with the right people can advance our careers providing we have good interpersonal skills. How people feel about us on the job plays an important role in how successful we are professionally speaking.
In our social lives, relationships take on another vital role. Being able to form and sustain healthy bonds with others impacts the number and nature of our friendships, provides opportunities in social settings, allows for ease of living in our neighborhoods, improves our health, and contributes to our overall enjoyment of life.
On a personal level, strong intimate connections bond people together in marriage and secure the future of the human population. Intimacy of an emotional nature holds families together during life’s most challenging times. It also multiplies our happiness and sustains us through our darkest moments. It allows for a deeper understanding of all parties which foster personal awareness, compassion, and growth. We are challenged to become better people as a result of knowing others intimately.
Humans are social creatures by nature and therefore need a strong skill set in order to develop and maintain mutually satisfying and healthy, balanced, long term partnerships. Getting along well with others lessens the chance of damaging conflict from erupting, eases tensions between both parties, enables the individual to forgive the indiscretions of the other, extends support and compassion to each other, and genuinely enjoys the company of one another. Learning to work or cohabitate in close proximity with others is not an easy task but certainly one that is attainable and definitely rewarding.
In recent studies it has been shown that those in healthy relationships are not only the happiest but the healthiest as well. They also have a longer projected life expectancy than those who are loners or who have difficulty interacting successfully with others.
For the most part people put forth a sincere effort in trying to get along with others. After all, it’s just common sense that the more gratifying our interactions are with others the less stress between us. Healthy friendships are easier on every level and people seek to avoid drama as much as possible. When we truly care about others and the nature of our interactions with them, we treat them in a manner that benefits all parties. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This philosophy has served mankind well for centuries.
Yet even with our best efforts we still find ourselves arguing, fighting, hurting one another, and becoming frustrated, disappointed, and disillusioned to the point where relationships suffer or fail. Many people are clueless as to what went wrong. Instead, of taking ownership for their role, they find fault with the other person: “You’re never satisfied with anything I do for you! I was a good husband/wife – there was no reason to leave me.” “I put my heart and soul into my job. How could they possibly fire me? This is so wrong!”
It’s difficult for individuals to fully comprehend their role in why a relationships didn’t work. We praise ourselves for everything we do right, for all of the effort we put forth, and for everything we overlooked in the other person. We’re also quick to criticize the other person for their imperfections and the mistakes they made. And in doing so, we remain oblivious.
Relationships are like mirrors: they reflect back to us aspects of who we are that we may not be aware of. If I want to look my best, I cannot see precisely what I look like without the assistance of a full length mirror to reflect back to me my own image. If I want to be the absolute best person I can be, I need others to point out to me what they see that I may be blind to. Yet when others comment on what they view as an imperfection, we fail to listen objectively to their comments. I do not deny the physical image the mirror reflects back to me. On the contrary: I am grateful that if I see something I do not like, I have the opportunity to correct it. Yet if someone points out a perceived flaw or defect, rather than appreciate their input, I become defensive and lash out at them. In essence, I deny myself the opportunity to learn something that may enable me to become a better person.
If you want to have strong, healthy, loving, joyful, respectful relationships you must be courageous enough to ask the following question. (And no, it’s not “What don’t you like about me?”) The question is: “Tell me what it’s like being with me?” This question is not for the faint-of-heart and if you are not fully prepared to consider the response, do not venture down this road.
The difference between the two questions I posed is that question number (“What don’t you like about me?”) opens one up to criticism, a perceived attack from the commentator on what they believe to be the shortcomings and liabilities of the listener. Few people are willing to hear such comments and may respond by attacking the integrity of the other party stating that they should be looking at their own faults rather than commenting on someone else’s. The second question, (“Tell me what it’s like being with me?” ), focuses on the individual’s personal experience of being in your presence.
Think of it from this perspective: imagine they are relaying their experience of being in the rain. They are not criticizing the precipitation itself but instead are speaking objectively about their first hand encounter of getting wet. Likewise with communicating their feelings about being with you, the inquiring party: since the focus is not on you, there is no need to become defensive and retaliate. You can simply listen to a recount of that person’s feelings about their encounter with you. Though not necessarily easy to listen to, it can be one of the most insightful opportunities of your life. “When we’re together, I feel uncomfortable, as though I need to monitor everything I say.” Or it can be positive: “When I’m with you, it’s like being with an old friend – very easy.”
Keep in mind: this is not a question for the fearful or insecure. One must be willing to listen quietly, open-mindedly, and without interruption to a complete recount of what the other person encounters when in your company. In doing so, you are able to see yourself through their eyes and gain some deep personal insights into the manner in which you portray yourself. The way we perceive ourselves is rarely the same as others do. Most of us live in denial about the way we behave or are eager to make lame excuses for our actions that we would not afford others.
This exercise is critical in determining whether or not we fully know ourselves and are portraying ourselves accurately (i.e. we are living authentically, do our actions perfectly reflect our intrinsic nature?). Additionally, we will discover what works well and what doesn’t with the other person. I may have a very strong energy that for the majority of people does not present a problem. But for my best friend I may project myself as aggressive or angry. Knowing this allows me to adjust the way I interact with her in a way that she can better relate to and feels more comfortable with. Doing so naturally improves the quality of the relationship.
If I want to look my best then I need a full length mirror to reflect back to me what I cannot see on my own. If I want to be my best, then I need the assistance of others who also mirror back to me what they see that is troublesome so that I may remove it from my persona or improve upon it. Only in doing so can I become the best version of myself possible. I owe that to myself, to others, and to the One who created me. So take the plunge: inquire of others “Tell me what it’s like being with me?” Then sit back, close your mouth, open your ears, and listen with the intend to understand and evolve. What others think of you really does matter.
In each of our relationships, let the well-being of the other person be our primary concern. Always be certain that their lives have been enriched for having spent time in our presence.
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