Do you have healthy relationships? Five common relationship hang-ups
Relationships are an integral and valuable part of life. Take a moment to reflect on all of your relationships and you'll find that you have connections with significant others, family members, friends, roommates, colleagues, classmates, neighbors, teachers, bosses... the barista at your local coffee shop... the list can go on and on. Some of these relationships are active and current, while others may be in the past.
To have healthy relationships we must do three things:
- Tend to our relationships. Tending to relationships is important in order to build or maintain connection. While this includes "feel good" stuff like being kind, validating others' emotions, and actively listening, it also includes things many of us dread... like confrontation. Tending to relationships includes things like working to prevent problems from building up, addressing issues or disagreements directly, ending hopeless or even toxic relationships, and repairing relationships.
- Maintain our self-respect. We must act in our relationships in ways that increase or keep with our self-respect. This includes balancing our wants and needs with others' wants and needs... not sacrificing our own wants or needs or devaluing ourselves in order to maintain relationships AND by not taking a "my way or the highway" approach. We must respect our own values and beliefs and act in a way in which we feel good about ourselves.
- Be assertive. To have healthy relationships, we must feel like we can express ourselves (our thoughts and feelings) effectively and be able to ask for things we want or need. This includes things like asking for help, saying "no" to others, resolving conflicts, obtaining our rights, or getting our opinion or point of view taken seriously.
However, five hang-ups often get in the way of healthy relationships:
- Lack of skill: You actually don’t know what to say or how to act in order to meet your goals, keep with the relationship, or maintain self-respect. You don’t know what will work.
- Worry thoughts: You have the ability, but your worry thoughts interfere with doing or saying what you want. Here are some common worry thoughts: Worries about bad consequences or negative outcomes, “They won’t like me,” “She will think I am stupid.” “This will turn out very badly.” Worries about whether you deserve to get what you want, “I am such a bad person I don’t deserve this.” Worries about not being effective or calling yourself names, “I won’t do it right,” “I’ll probably fall apart,” “I’m so stupid,” “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
- Emotions: Your emotions (anger, frustration, fear, guilt, etc.) get in the way of doing or saying what you want. Emotions, instead of skill, control what you say and do.
- Indecision: You have the ability, but you can’t decide what to do or what you really want. You are ambivalent about your priorities. You can’t figure out how to balance asking for too much versus not asking for anything or saying "no" to everything versus giving in to everything.
- Environment: Characteristics of the environment can make it impossible for even a very skilled person to be effective. Skillful behavior doesn’t work when: Other people are too powerful, other people will be threatened or have some other reason for not liking you if you get what you want, or dire circumstances are involved. For example, you need to keep your job in order to feed your family, so you do not address sexual harassment issues with your boss and thus your self-respect is damaged.
Any of those ring true for you? It's okay... remember, these are common relationship hang-ups! Here are some tips to try out:
Restructure those worry thoughts or use positive affirmations to help overcome some of these hang-ups. Changing worry thoughts to more accurately reflect reality helps us see the situation as it is rather than what we've built it up to be. Using positive affirmations can motivate us or give our self-respect the boost it needs to be assertive or fight off untrue thoughts.
Here are some examples:
“I am okay!” “I will be okay!” “I can do it!” “This is my choice!” “I am strong.” “If they say 'no,' it will not kill me.” “Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean I’m selfish.” “It doesn’t mean that I’m dumb if I need to ask for help.” “It’s okay if I ask for help.”
Assertiveness skill training is also helpful at overcoming these hang-ups. I often teach my clients the "DEAR MAN GIVE FAST" skill (a skill from Dialectical Behavior Therapy) as a means to strike the balance between maintaining relationships, keeping with their self-respect, and meeting their goals or objectives.
Personal reflection questions:
Which of your relationships may need some tending to?
Which of the five hang-ups or factors get in your way of having healthy relationships?
What specific thoughts do you say to yourself that get in your way? Write down three examples of restructuring those thoughts.
What are some positive affirmations you could say to yourself?
Could you benefit from assertiveness skills training? If so, what do you need help with most?
Here's to building healthier relationships!
Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Leave them below.