Finding Balance in Your Relationships

Maintaining healthy relationships, both with the people closest to us and within our wider support network, is essential for our wellbeing. Research shows that people with strong interpersonal connections are healthier, happier and live longer. Relationships with family and friends bring love, meaning and purpose to our lives, while our broader social network brings us a sense of belonging.

However, relationships can also be tricky to navigate, and unhealthy habits and patterns can cause problems like anxiety, trust issues and low self-esteem.

If we don’t pay attention to our relationships and invest time in maintaining healthy connections with the people in our lives, this can have the opposite effect of becoming damaging to our wellbeing and mental health.

It’s often said that relationships require give and take and it’s true that finding a healthy balance in our relationships is important. But what do we need to balance?

We need to balance our own needs, wishes and desires with those of the other person. If you’re a “people pleaser” or someone who has a tendency to sacrifice their own needs for the needs of others then, over time, this can lead to feelings of resentment, low self-esteem and relationship burnout.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re someone who has a tendency to put their own needs ahead of the needs of others, then this can lead to relationships built on control and manipulation or even push people away for good.

It can be helpful to consider where you are on this spectrum and reflect on whether you need to adjust the balance in any of your relationships.

To get the balance right, we need to use effective relationship skills. In meeting our own needs, we need skills like assertiveness, reinforcement and negotiation. In meeting other people’s needs we need skills such as active listening, empathy and validation. And within all of this we need skills to maintain our self-respect like tuning into our relationship values, being fair and telling the truth.

I’ll be talking about these core relationship skills in my blog over the coming weeks, starting with skills to help you ask for what you want with clarity, confidence and compassion.

How to Manage Festive Family Frustrations

Christmas is a time for celebration and spending time with loved ones. However, the combination of different personalities, unrealistic expectations and overindulgence can create a melting pot in which underlying family conflicts emerge.

One reason conflicts arise is because we expect too much at this time of year. Christmas is often portrayed as a time of perfect family unity, conjuring images of smiling relatives gathered around a laden dinner table or exchanging gifts under the tree. The problem with high expectations is that they often lead to feelings of disappointment, failure and resentment when they are not met.

The reality is that there is no such thing as the perfect family so don’t put pressure on yourself or your relatives to be just that. Let the little things go. If somebody turns up late, makes an insensitive comment or doesn’t appreciate a thoughtful gift, don’t get hung up on it.  

Firstly, remember to be yourself. When we socialise with family it can be easy to fall back into old patterns that keep each other trapped in historic family roles. The joker is laughed at when he tries to initiate a serious conversation, the lazy one ridiculed for offering to do the dishes or the quiet one expected to keep her opinions to herself.

Being yourself might sound obvious, but it’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, especially when we’re around people who have known us a long time and know how to push our buttons. If you’re feeling tense or anxious around family over the festive season then use your values – what’s really important to you and what you want to stand for in life – to help guide your actions.

For example, if you value kindness, ask yourself “Am I being kind? Am I acting in line with my value of kindness?” and use that to help bring you back to being the person you want to be now, rather than allowing your behaviour to be dictated by other people’s actions and expectations.

We all change as we get older so it’s important to allow for personal growth within our family units. If you can do this you may find that you spend time together because you want to rather than because it’s what’s expected of you.

Secondly, think about how you respond to criticism from the people around you. Whatever form it comes in; harsh words, disapproving looks or body language; criticism can be hard to manage. Nobody likes to be criticised but how we respond to criticism can make a big difference to the impact it has on our lives. If we respond defensively, with anger or shame, criticism can seriously hold us back. On the other hand, responding to criticism calmly and objectively can help us achieve our goals and fulfil our potential.

Rather than trying to ignore criticism altogether, it’s important to work out whether criticism is constructive or destructive. When criticism is constructive it is usually delivered with compassion and raises reasonable points with the aim of helping you in some way. By comparison, destructive criticism is often unfounded and aims to undermine or hurt the person it’s aimed at. If you’re struggling to work our whether the criticism you received is constructive, ask yourself, “Is there anything I can learn from this?”

If the criticism you’re experiencing is destructive then remember this mantra: “It’s not me, it’s you.” When people use destructive criticism this usually tells you a lot more about them than the people it’s aimed at. If you find yourself on the receiving end, remind yourself this is about that person’s insecurities and difficulties, not yours. This can help you to relate to people who criticise needlessly from a more compassionate standpoint, which is a powerful tool for stopping destructive criticism from getting in your way.

Thirdly, keep track of the amount of alcohol you’re consuming. Alcohol is often free-flowing at this time of year and it can be tempting to turn to the nearest bottle to help you relax and cope with tense family situations. However alcohol is a depressant and it lowers our inhibitions. At first this makes us feel good, but this can quickly lead to behaviours that are impulsive, reactive and out of character. Drink sensibly at festive gatherings and you’ll be less likely to say or do something that you later regret.

Finally, a recent study suggests that nearly a million adults will spend Christmas alone this year.  So no matter how frustrating or difficult certain relatives are, be thankful for the family you have. After all, would Christmas really be the same without them?

Using your values to build a satisfying life

Each one of us will have our own view on what makes for a satisfying life. This is because we have unique personalities and value systems that guide our choices and make our lives personally meaningful.  When we can choose the work we do, set goals, relate to others and develop ourselves in line with our values, we are rewarded with experiences that satisfy us. 

Some people might measure life satisfaction predominantly by how much money and possessions they have, whereas others might give more importance to the balance between their work and home lives, how much time they have to pursue their passions or to help others. How satisfied you are with your life will largely depend on whether you are able to do the things that are important to you.

Research is revealing that living a meaningful life guided by values is much more fulfilling than chasing fame and fortune and short-lived pleasures. If you can identify your values and use these as a compass to guide you in life, then there is a good chance your sense of life satisfaction will increase.

If you need a little help identifying your values, then follow my five tips below. To get the most out of this values exercise, set aside half an hour, minimise any distractions and make some notes that you can refer to when you need to remind yourself what really matters.

  1. Start by asking yourself these questions. What matters most to me in this world? What do I want to stand for in life? What am I doing when I feel most satisfied with life?
  2. Picture yourself five years from now. Imagine that over the course of those five years you have been able to live the life you want with the guarantee that the people around you will love and respect you for who you are. Free from the worry of what other people might think, what does your life look like?
  3. Consider your heroes. Think about three people that you look up to. What is it about them you admire or aspire to? Do they have particular strengths or qualities that reflect your own values?
  4. Imagine you could wave a magic wand that would get rid of your problems (e.g. anxiety, low confidence, relationship problems etc.). With your problems gone, what would you be doing differently? How would you treat other people differently? How would you treat yourself differently?
  5. Imagine listening to your own eulogy. This might sound a bit morbid and the thought of our own mortality can be unsettling, but this can be highly revealing when it comes to identifying values. The idea here is to consider how you want to be remembered. How would you like to have made a difference to others? What do you want your legacy to be?

Once you have identified your values using the steps above, ask yourself whether you are living your life in accordance with these values. Identify where the gaps are between where you are now and where you want to be. Use this information to guide you in the direction you want to travel in pursuit of what is meaningful to you.