5 Lessons That Will Transform Your Relationships

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Just because I'm a therapist doesn't mean my relationships are perfect. Learning how to improve them took several years and more than a few very painful lessons. Pain is a great motivator so use it!

In this blog, I’ll share the lessons that made the biggest impact in my own relationships.

Here’s one thing to keep in mind. Pick one skill to practice at a time. That way you’ll gain confidence faster than if you try too many at once.

Expecting too much of yourself will only frustrate you. Please be gentle with yourself. Progress is made bit by bit each day - even if you can’t see it.

Lesson #1: Learn to Say No

A lot of people are unhappy because they've never learned how to honor their own needs by saying no. Instead, they take care of everybody else but neglect themselves. That’s where I got stuck.

Eventually, I felt overwhelmed and resentful by not speaking up. This triggered some major blow outs. Giving too much only works for so long. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard “lose it” because they spend years giving without getting anything back.

But saying no means taking a risk.

I admit, it does feel uncomfortable at first but saying no can be one of the most liberating things you do for yourself. It frees up your time and energy and helps you speak the truth.

Tip: When saying no, explain that you need to take better care of yourself by doing less. This will help the other person feel not take it personally.

Lesson #2: Set Realistic Expectations

Expectations in relationships are normal but learning when to let them go is key. In 12 step programs they say expectations are pre-meditated resentments.

For instance, how many times have you felt resentful after expecting someone to do something they’ve never done? Expecting others to be different than who they are hurts you more than it does them!

You may expect others to:

  • Be reasonable or more respectful (no matter how we behave).

  • Be on time despite their tendency to run late.

  • Do their share at work or at home without being asked.

  • Communicate openly about issues knowing that they don’t know how.

I’m not saying that expectations are bad - but be clear when you’re negotiating them. Wanting something doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. You can always find alternative ways to take care of yourself.

Not expecting others to be different than who they were dramatically improved my relationships. I can enjoy what they give rather than being constantly disappointed with what they don’t.

Tip: If your expectations are unrealistic work on letting them go. Change only the things you can and let go of what you can’t.

Lesson #3: Don’t Take It Personally

Unfortunately it’s easy to take someone else’s behavior personally. When you find yourself taking things personally, you are probably making negative assumptions about what the other person thinks. Instead assuming the worst, take a step back.

Realize that your assumptions may be wrong!

One of my friends doesn’t keep in touch very often and I found myself taking it personally. It took years to realize they were not going to change. They were just being themselves.

I could accept her infrequent contact or make myself miserable. By lowering my expectations I felt less resentful and made sure I had other friends that were more available.

Tip: When you think someone is judging you - just ask. Don’t waste hours worrying about something that may not be true!

Lesson #4 Anger got the best of me

I grew up stuffing my anger but one day I decided to talk things out with an old friend. I did what I tell my clients to do – I wrote it out beforehand to avoid blame.

Once I started sharing my hurt, I couldn’t stop. All of my past resentments came pouring out and it wasn’t pretty. She felt judged and attacked and I knew she was right.

Catching anger early keeps it from getting away from you. Recognize how your anger starts so you can prevent it from turning into something ugly. Notice if you get tense, feel a headache coming on or get really quiet. Everyone’s dance of anger is unique.

When angry, your body goes into a flight or flight mode which makes it really difficult to think rationally and listen. Wait until you’re calm to talk things out.

Tip: Identify your early warning signs of anger so you can communicate in a healthy way.

Lesson #5: Healthy communication really is that simple

The most important part of healthy communication is to avoid blame because that tends to escalate arguments. Keep the focus on you which sounds simple but few people actually do it.

That’s why an “I” statement is so effective. It keeps the focus on your concerns in a healthy way.

It looks like this:

I feel ______ when _______ and I’d like you to _______.

Simple yet effective. After “when” name the behavior you’re concerned about. Avoid making critical comments or judgments that derail the conversation.

Tip: By keeping your words focused on the facts, you can avoid defensive reactions that are difficult to stops once they start.

Final thoughts

Practicing these simple strategies will help you can take care of yourself in relationships.

Instead of trying to change others, focus on changing yourself for the better. Leading by example - without expecting others to do the same - sets a powerful tone for everyone around you. Some will follow you and some won’t - that’s okay. Not everyone chooses growth but with these skills you can transform your relationships one day at a time.

You’ll be glad you did.

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