We see life from different perspectives. The view from your top floor window is different from that of my room next to the front door, which is different again for the person who looks out onto the branches of a tree.
And although in a house I can go and look at your view, in life we cannot get inside each other’s heads and really experience another perspective. The best we can do is try to understand it.
Hence the difficulties so many of us have with relationships.
I was inspired to make a collection about relationships by a series Alison Wiley at Diamond Cut Life has been writing. Her most recent post Tips for living happily with others is about… well you don’t really need me to describe it, do you? Click here to read, and while you’re there, catch up with some of her other articles on the topic of relationships.
The introvert/extrovert divide
Perhaps one of the biggest areas for potential communication confusion is around the fault line between introverts and extroverts.
I enjoy Sophia Dembling’s writing on being an introvert and, being one, had a good giggle at her latest article You say “Friendly”, I say “Annoying”. I identify with pretty much every one of these, perhaps especially:
“Since you’re not doing anything…” Sitting quietly and staring into space is doing something. It does not mean I’m waiting for a nice chat.
Now in fairness and to redress the balance, I went searching Google for an extrovert’s perspective on how to get on with them. Didn’t find any, but assuming about half my readers are extroverts, would be delighted to hear some tips in the comments.
However I did find another article by Sophia, who has gone to the trouble of seeking out some extroverts, and has asked them their advice on this question:
…what if [you're an introvert and] you’ve got your heart set on a very special extrovert? How do you wow that person?
For the answer, click here.
Good relationships are as much about setting boundaries as anything else. Part of that, of course, is clear communication, but part is understanding what we want and need.
Life Hacker has an article entitled How to Handle Your High Maintenance Friends and Family Without Losing Your Mind. (Someone just popped into your head when you read that title, didn’t they???) Some really helpful tips there, from therapist Roger Gil.
Whether it’s letting that person know that you’re not comfortable talking about a particular subject or giving them rules about when it’s appropriate to call you (e.g. “don’t call me unless you’re bleeding”), you need to let this person know where your limits are. When they cross them, let them know in a respectful manner. Don’t let them bully you, but don’t be a jerk either.
I really like “don’t be a jerk either” – seems to me that’s around the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. If we bottle up our needs and desires for too long, they are likely to burst out as aggression.
Caring for others
As each successive generation lives longer, many of us will find ourselves in the position of caregivers, often for parents or a spouse. Those of you who have been or are in this position will know all too well the challenges.
I came across a very helpful article called Support for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Givers which talks about the rewards and challenges of this forced re-forming of our relationships:
When you approach an Alzheimer’s patient with respect, forgive the past, and celebrate the present, you’re more likely to have a positive encounter. Even if your history with the patient prevents you from connecting with a sense of love, exploring and encouraging connections can still create opportunities for untold joy.
And it gives a lot of solid advice, for example:
I only wish I’d known about this during my brother’s long death (five years ago tomorrow).
Caring for ourselves
I’ve always remembered Maya Angelou quoting an old African saying:
Never trust a naked man who offers you his shirt
We can’t hope to communicate well or to understand others without first understanding ourselves.
There are various systems which can help us do this. One which will be familiar to many of you is the Myers Briggs typology, based on Jungian personality types. You can take a version of the test here. (I’m INFP.)
Another is the system I teach, known as the Enneagram. You can take a test here, although I’m not convinced that online testing is that effective for this system. The Enneagram is a very subtle personality map in which mis-typing is common. Better to see if there’s a course being taught near you.
But I believe, and know from experience, that the single most important piece of self-care we can undertake is daily meditation.
This doesn’t have to be a religious or even spiritual practice, although it often is. There’s masses of research to show that regular meditation is hugely beneficial in numerous physical, emotional and mental ways.
How do you do it? Well Mary Jaksch at Goodlife Zen has an excellent starter article – click here.
And if you’re still not convinced that meditation will help you, and therefore everyone in your life, check out the following short video, which I found via my sometime coach, Sally Lever, herself a relationship expert.
(Reading this on your mobile and can’t see the video? Click here.)
So let me know in the comments what your ideas are for having happy and creative relationships, and meanwhile, have a great week.