I think about friendships and relationships a lot… especially now that I’m home by myself much of the time. Our relationships are so important! We all have a basic need for love and belonging, and yet it seems sometimes we are not as great at investing in our relationships as we could be to get the most out of them.
I mean, think about it… Anything we want to be really good at — whether it’s playing an instrument, sports, our profession… you name it — takes practice. It takes consistent effort. Keeping our bodies fit and healthy takes consistent effort. Our personal growth stagnates if we don’t give it consistent effort. Planting and growing a garden takes consistent attention and effort or the plants literally shrivel up and die.
So why do we seem to have this idea that our relationships can be fulfilling, rewarding and meaningful if we don’t do what is necessary to excel in literally every other aspect of our lives?
Certainly this isn’t true for everyone. There are people who do invest in themselves in their relationships and put consistent effort into being the best they can be. Kudos to you! Unfortunately I’ve observed many who do not. I’ve seen men and women who, once they get married, seem to have the idea that they don’t need to put effort into developing their relationship anymore. As if the task has been completed, the box has been checked, and now they can just sit back and “cruise”.
I’ve had friendships that have faded away because I didn’t put consistent effort into them the way I needed to for them to continue to be deep and meaningful… I’ll bet even you, dear reader have at least one of these you can name.
Not being consistent in tending to the relationship aspect of our lives creates dissatisfaction and disharmony. It keeps your relationships (and you personally) from growing and becoming all that they (and you) can be.
I realize that some of the reason we don’t put effort into our relationships is because they can be messy. There are these things called emotions —ewwwww! And there can be wounds from our past that can be painful to look at and resolve so that we can move forward with a new perspective and a more whole heart to invest in our relationships.
In addition, elements from our current relationships (and those pesky emotions) can even bring up those past wounds, causing us to hurt the ones we most care about. Whatever it is, the ‘stuff’ can feel too uncomfortable to face… and we don’t like that one bit. Best not to go there… no sir! So, we just let our relationships suffer, because it’s easier than dealing with it and growing as a person.
It’s not fair! It’s not fair to those we love and ultimately, it’s not fair to us either.
But I’m here to tell you that facing those inner demons and putting them to bed once and for all is SO worth it… so freeing! To have those things not have control over you anymore… and what it does for you AND your relationships (and not just romantic ones) is amazing.
It is worth the effort to consistently work on our own ‘stuff’ to grow and be the best person we can be, so that we can also bring that to this most important aspect of our lives. Whether it is “working through issues”, or just the simple act of investing your time and attention in your relationships, your best self (who knows how important consistent effort is) can tend the garden of your relationships and watch them blossom into something rare and beautiful.
Just in case you’re wondering what “consistent effort” in a relationship looks like, here are just a few quick thoughts to get you started. Every relationship is different, but there are some elements that always apply, do them regularly and see what happens:
1. CONNECT. Regularly and often. And when you do, make eye contact. Really “see” and be with your friend or loved one. Put down the electronics, get rid of the distractions and spend TIME together.
2. BE PRESENT. Really listen to people when you are talking with them. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next, or what you want to have for dinner tonight. Give them the gift of your undivided attention. You might be surprised at what you learn!
3. Seek to UNDERSTAND what they are saying to you. Don’t just assume… if you need to, repeat back what you heard them say (and not in a mocking way) to ensure you got it right. If not, ask them to help you understand better. Ask engaging questions (sometimes called “open-ended”), not just ones with a yes or no answer.
4. Make a point to let those who are important to you know that they are important to you. There’s a line from a movie… “I told you I loved you when I married you… if it changes, I’ll let you know.” And while it’s kind of funny, sadly there are way too many people who actually take this approach. People want to be valued, they want to know they matter. TELL THEM OFTEN!
5. Show appropriate AFFECTION. Hug the people you care about. Not just a fluffy hug with a couple pats on the back, but a real, heart-to-heart, warm hug. A warm smile, a hand on the shoulder, things to let people know you see them, and you care also go a long way.
With the challenges we have in the world right now, this may be physically impossible, which makes finding ways to show you care more important than ever! Get creative and find ways to let people know!
6. BE KIND. It is so easy to take people for granted, and because of that, we don’t always treat them the best… especially if we are stressed, or in some kind of conflict with one another. Consciously take a breath and choose to be kind.
7. Most importantly, just remember to come from LOVE in all you do.
Make these things a habit. Slow down and take the time to nurture those relationships which are important to you. You won’t regret it!