It’s All About Relationships

As humans, we are fragile.  Physically, we break bones and sprain joints. We experience muscle pain and headaches. More seriously, we get sick, sometimes so ill that we look death in the eye.

Our fragility also extends to our emotions. Just as our bodies can be hurt, so can our feelings. When we misunderstand another’s intentions or our expectations are not met, we make up stories (true or not) about how others feel about us. Based on our created narratives, we may feel disconnected and unloved.

Support Systems

In preparation for this post, last week I re-posted an earlier article about support systems. The idea of support systems is that we have a circle of care–a community–that we can call on during times of need.

I like to imagine a support system to be like a large web–each small piece forming and connecting to the whole. Digging deeper, what is it that forms the connections?  Relationships!

Some Thoughts on Relationships…

While relationships are what hold our connections together, they can be challenging.  But why? How can we improve our chance of success?

Over centuries, many religions and spiritual practices have created guidelines to help us to create loving relationships.  One concept common to all religions is “The Golden Rule”–to “treat others as we would like to be treated”.  Because a basic human need is to be happy, this rule sounds like it should be easy enough; however, happiness is subjective.  What makes me happy may make my neighbour miserable. Add into the mix our past experiences, preferences and judgments, and it’s amazing that we can have positive relationships at all! Yet we do.

I suggest that our ability to move beyond what we think we can get out of our relationships, to what we can give is important to developing supportive, healthy bonds.  When we develop the self-awareness to understand and look past our own biases we will have an easier time in relationships. This is what builds connections.

A Quilt of Relationships

At one point in my life, I was an avid quilt maker. I especially loved making scrap quilts and the challenge of using whatever fabric came to hand–no matter how unattractive.

What if our web of relationships is like a beautiful scrap quilt? As a quilter I learned that the more varied the fabrics making up the pattern, the greater interest and complexity in the design. Just as all the scraps weren’t “beautiful” or matched nicely with its neighbour, the overall effect was stunning. As a quilt maker, I wouldn’t notice the “ugly” fabric, but would be aware that something was missing if they weren’t there to balance out the “pretty” pieces.

What would happen if we looked at our own relationships from the perspective of the “whole”–the entire pattern rather than the individual scraps of fabric? Would we be more forgiving? Be able to look at the entire history of the relationship, rather than the latest interaction, and give others the benefit of the doubt? Be less willing to end friendships or family ties because of a “rough patch”?  I wonder…

Relationships in Therapy

Being in a relationship takes courage. Being able to see past our own pain to that of others requires emotional awareness and compassion.

When I start to work with new couple clients, I explain the difference between “couple therapy” and “individual therapy”. When I work with an individual, they are the client.  However, when I work with a couple, the relationship is the client. From this perspective, we start to look at individual actions through the lens of “Will this help or hurt our relationship?”. This question helps to put some distance between our individual wants in order to focus on the other’s needs.

This concept applies no matter the type of the relationship–romantic, friendship, parent/child, work colleagues…

Not easy work, and it’s fulfilling.

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, it’s all about our relationships. When people at the end of their lives are asked about regrets, they’re not usually about work, money or things.  Their regrets are about missed chances in relationships–those not pursued or that were allowed to end badly. Often their joyous memories involve connection to others.

I suggest we focus on our connections now so that we have fewer regrets.

And now…here’s a link to the official trailer for the movie “Happy” as well as the TED talk from Roko Belic–the creator of the movie–talking about his experience making the movie.  The movie is currently available on Netflix and definitely worth time.  Enjoy!