I’ve centred my blog around relationships. I’ve purposely called out the element of ‘work’ that is required for a successful long term relationship, whomever that relationship refers to. It could be your partner, your friend, your child or, most importantly, it could be the relationship you have with yourself.
There are lots of strategies and ways to improve relationships, I’ve been studying them for years. It’s my jam, my passion and in some small way, may even be my legacy.
We focus a lot on making relationships work, but what if you have relationships that simply don’t work. We hear them labelled in the media most often as ‘toxic’. Usually when it’s ‘toxic’ the label is referring to the ‘other’ person in the relationship. Whilst I don’t disagree with the idea that a person or relationship can be toxic, I want to shine a light on the dual nature of a relationship. Like most of us, I have been a person in a relationship where I have behaved 'toxically'. But whenever we consider our role in these relationships, often our first instinct is to minimise our contribution. This is a normal human response, so it takes courage to understand our contribution to the toxicity. All to often, we rely on our 'defenders' in these moments to allow us to feel better about ourselves and the situation. These are known as the DDBJ's (deny, blame, justify, defend) which allow us to push the responsibility away from us towards someone else. Which is unhelpful for our own learning and growth.
There are many reasons why you might find yourself in a toxic relationship. Perhaps you were submissive and lacked boundaries for acceptable behaviour, thereby inviting in the person’s maladaptive behaviours. Or was it that you were avoidant in calling out those transgressions, ultimately leading to an altercation, or a ‘straw’ that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Perhaps you used all the language you had, over and over again and you weren’t heard, recognised or met halfway.
These examples boil down to three simple, but powerful ways to set up relationships for success. Here are 3 simple strategies to help you set your relationship up for success:
1. Setting boundaries – this is naming the constraints you have. We do this quite well in many areas of our lives e.g. “I’ve got to be quick, I have someone coming over in 10 minutes.” This is a call out of a boundary that you can’t be available soon. Starting to name these regularly and practising doing these in conversations will help you constructively manage your time.
2. Having difficult conversations – this is where you can call out issues you have, before they become mountainous. These conversations require courage and a clear plan of what you want to say and what your points are. Refraining from name calling, or the DDBJ's (deny, blame, defend, justify) will get you far. Take personal responsibility for the things that are within your remit and finally use empathy to understand the others perspective. In difficult conversations, you are attempting to understand the others position and articulate the changes you require. Remembering that two equally valid truths can co-exist, despite our firm belief that our truth is the only truth.
3. Stating your needs clearly - Using ‘I need’ rather than “you” is key. In framing an “I need” statement, you refrain from criticising. This is important as criticism gets in the way of a good conversation. Criticism automatically invites our defenders in to playand where there are defenders an argument or discussion quickly derails into circularity and away from a constructive conversation.
If you want to read more, you could check out my mini E-book
How do you ‘make your relationships work’?