The Relationships We Manage

I like to say that there are three categories of relationships in our lives. There are the healthy ones; those we feed, are invested in, and consciously continue to build. There are the toxic ones; those to which we eventually learn how to strip them of power and in some cases, end the relationship altogether. And then there are those that we manage; relationships that aren’t quite in the healthy category, but we are not ready, or in a position, to remove them entirely from our lives.

We live in a society in which “family means everything,” and “blood is thicker than water;” expressions that certainly ring true for anyone who has grown up in a home that was not touched by dysfunction or abuse. Societal norms can make us feel pressured to continue to try and adjust ourselves within a relationship, simply because they’re family; leaving us at times to wrestle with uncertainty and compromised values.

Perhaps a better solution, is to be able to look at the relationship we are struggling with and ask ourselves, “Are both of us invested in making this healthy?” If the answer is no, and it is pretty clear that only one of you is doing the work, then it really is okay to give ourselves permission to manage that relationship. Sometimes that comes in the form of placing in some much needed boundaries, other times it may mean taking a bit of space to slow things down; in any case, it becomes okay to accept the relationship as one that perhaps needs a bit of regulation and direction from time to time.

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Communicating With a Loved One Who Has Dementia

In an article entitled “8 Principles for Communicating With People With Dementia” by Andrew Budson and featured on Psychology Today, he provides some excellent advice on how we can communicate with a loved one who has dementia. Some of those principles include:

  • Keeping in mind that truth is relative. For someone with dementia, what feels real to them is going to be different than what feels real to you. Understanding that can help you to:
  • Remain calm. A person with memory loss can ask repeated questions, or be unable to perform tasks that they were once able to do easily (such as work the remote control or the telephone.) Budson reminds us that “those with dementia will often absorb our moods by unconsciously perceiving our body language and tone of voice; thus we may inadvertently cause agitation if we become irritated.”
  • Dementia is a team sport. Budson recommends involving family and friends when caring for a loved one with dementia.

There are 5 more principles listed in Budson’s article and they are all worth reading. To access the full article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/managing-your-memory/201811/8-principles-communicating-people-dementia

To visit Andrew Budson’s website which features the books he has written on Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders: https://www.andrewbudsonmd.com/

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Those Darn Expectations

In an article entitled “How Expectations Undermine Our Relationships and Happiness” by Jen Picicci and featured on tinybuddha, Jen highlights, through her own experience, how the expectations we place on others can lead to an automatic response in us, thereby creating  negative thoughts and feelings instead of realistic ones. It really becomes about what we set up as our “hoped-for response,” in which we place an expectation on someone, placing great trust that they will follow through. She notes, “Hoping for the outcome you desire is one thing, trying to force it and being overrun with negative thoughts and feelings when it doesn’t work out is another.” 

She goes on to suggest some ways to counter our expectations of others including an acceptance piece; reality being that we can’t change or predict another person’s behaviour, as well as a mindfulness piece in which we try and focus on the present moment as a way to focus our own thoughts and beliefs on what we can control; ourselves.

To read the full article: https://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-expectations-undermine-our-relationships-and-happiness/

Jenn Picicci is an artist and teacher of inner guidance: https://www.jenpicicci.com/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Lisa H on Unsplash

 

Our Hugs at the Door

I have come to really appreciate this statement: “Love begins and ends with attention.”

The word attend becomes about the investment we place in our relationships and our conscious effort to attend to those we love. We can find it in the 2:00 a.m. feeding of our newborn, in the hugs we give at the door, in the dinners we make to bring family to the table, in the little gifts of affection we buy, in the love notes we leave in our absence, in patiently tolerating the temper tantrums of our two year old, in the gatherings of holidays, in the distance shortened by a phone call, in the search for repair, in the kisses before bed, in the moments of shared grief and those of play and laughter.

For love to be healthy, it requires a joint effort. When one person attends, and the other doesn’t, it will change the value of love, the shape of it; it’s meaning will shift.  And so, love begins and ends with attention; it is about our effort to feed the health of the relationships to those we love. All the more reason I’d say, to get our kisses before bed and our hugs in at the door 🙂

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Tips From Experience – Connecting to Your Kids

My daughters are now 23 and 20; full adults and no longer living at home. When I look back to the things that helped us to create connection and build a secure foundation for them, they always involved the simplest things:

  • Having family dinner together every evening. Gathering around the table is an intimate experience; it is one where we can slow down enough to talk about our day, enjoy the comfort of food, create moments of laughter. One question we asked each night was “What was the best part of your day?” followed by “What was the worst part of your day?” If I had to do it again, I would add “What was something you were you grateful for today?”
  • Send love notes in their lunch. I would write them on coloured index cards – sometimes with stickers. They could include a little joke, compliment or words of encouragement. Now that they both live away from home, I send postcards. 🙂
  • Read together. When the kids were little (and not in school yet) we read every day at lunch before quiet/nap time. I babysat other children at that time, so all the kids would pick a book and we would gather on the couch together and read. It is one of my favourite memories of being a caregiver. Bedtime routine for my girls also included story time.
  • Talk in the car. As the girls got older, sometimes the easiest place was to chat in the car. Less intimidating as they didn’t have to look directly at me, and they were forced to at least entertain the idea of opening up as we trapped together, tee hee.
  • Vacation together. This doesn’t have to cost a lot of money (this year due to the pandemic we rented a local cottage), but it is an important way to spend quality, relaxed, focus-on-fun time with our children. Some of our best memories have come from our vacations and we always walk away from them feeling more connected.

All of these ‘tips from experience’ are pretty basic – but they do involve time. And sometimes in our busy, activity-filled lives, we can set aside what we don’t have time for. If you have any of your own advice for what works in connecting to your kids, please write them in the comments section below!

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Photo credit: Me! This is a picture of me when I babysat. Here are my girls, my niece and nephew (who I often had for playdates!) and two of my littles at the time. Good memories 🙂

Is There Such a Thing as Over-Nurturing?

The importance of attachment, unconditional love and acceptance is now undisputed as being cornerstones to our well being. When we focus on nurturing our loved ones with those goals in mind, we are creating space for a strong foundation and healthy relationships. But is it possible to over nurture?

If we find ourselves in a position where we routinely take on other people’s problems and have difficulty in saying no, we may be moving into Rescue mode. Here, we tend to have a need to save others, to have a hand in solving their issues. We are often too soft, and as a result run the risk of over nurturing.

When we over nurture our loved ones, we end up inadvertently creating a lower sense of independence as we take on the task versus letting them handle it. If we take away every struggle, we miss the opportunity to witness their capability in conquering an issue or in figuring it out in their own way. Over nurturing can also lead to issues with self esteem, and higher levels of anxiety as our loved one feels dependent in order to get through life.

If we recognize that we can land into the habit of over nurturing, we can begin by noticing when we have ‘stepped in to take over.’ Allowing room for freedom of choice, boundary setting, and learning to say no are all valuable in creating a more balanced approach to nurturing our loved ones.

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Creating an Environment of Trust

When we are fully ourselves in relationship, we have an innate sense of comfort within in. This is not to be mistaken for something that feels familiar – with familiarity the relationship feels safe, whereas with comfort, it feels trustworthy.

It is only when we have trust and mutual respect can we feel true comfort in relationship. Our opinions and feelings matter as do those of our loved ones.

One of the ways that we can contribute to that process is to create an environment of trust. This can include:

  • Looking for ways to collaborate. We spend too much time in relationship wanting to be right. If we can shift our mindset to being open to compromise, we are able to each move in a direction that strengthens the relationship.
  • Being curious. The opinions of our loved ones matter – when it comes to making family decisions, let everyone weigh in. The same goes for feelings – make space for them.
  • Showing up. When we act in a trustworthy manner, we create an environment in which our loved ones feel safe and secure. Consistency is key.

Feeling accepted in relationship is one of the ways that we also feel secure in ourselves. Part of the way we can achieve that is to choose people who value relationship; the other part requires our attention as we make it our goal to create an environment of trust, for our partners, children, and loved ones.

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Two Truths About Relationships

There are two truths that rise to the surface in relationship to others. Both have proven true for myself –  personally and through the experiences of countless clients:

  1. You can’t change others, you can only change yourself. I love the expression “Change it, accept it or leave it,” as it signifies the choices we have when faced with an issue. Because we have eternal hope, we tend to move towards change first as a way to better the relationship. And really, why wouldn’t we? If we can talk to our loved one about our concerns, or how their behaviours, patterns or choices affect us, they just might come to the realization that they can do better. Knowing that despite our best efforts sometimes people can’t or won’t change, it is then through changing ourselves that freedom resides.
  2. People can only give you what they have. Sometimes we long for something from our loved one; we wish they could just give us one thing or another – more time, more affection, less indifference, less anger. But people can only give you what they are capable of and we are better served to realize that whatever is holding them back is getting in the way of their own growth; it is far less about us and far more about them. People can only give you what they have.

When we are faced with the truth, we can move forward in our healing. Our story has the chance to develop, evolve, become richer. Keeping these truths in mind while in relationship can guide us to less futility and greater acceptance. We can focus on what we do have instead of what we don’t, we can work to fulfilling our own needs, we can seek joy.

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The Cost of Hidden Insecurity

I often work with clients who come in because their relationship with a loved one or a coworker is difficult. They have tried to navigate the relationship, but there is little space for them, and they find themselves feeling defeated, criticized or feeling ‘lesser than.’ Upon exploration into the relationship through examples, we begin to identify what appears to be a deeply hidden insecurity in the other. So hidden in fact, it is often protected by what appears to be confidence, intelligence and knowledge.

Hidden insecurities are often found in:

  • The Know-it-All. When a person acts as though they know everything, it can often create inauthenticity.
  • Arrogance. When an ego is too big, that is a sure sign that an overcompensation is occurring.
  • Always having to be right. This isn’t about having an opinion, it is about needing to be right. And anyone who doesn’t agree is ‘stupid.’
  • The Oppressor. When one person needs to feel above someone else, they will often use criticism and control; coming across as the strong one.

All of these personality types have one thing in common – they crave significance. Something in their early childhood has led them to feeling insecure and an overcompensation has occurred in which they must convince themselves of their worth. Unfortunately, it affects those around them by automatically assuming that they are superior in some way.

These can be difficult relationships to manage; the patterns are often quite engrained and therefore rigid. Sometimes, it will lead to a breakdown of the relationship. Other times, it is often through boundary setting and a ‘straightening of the spine’ that clients find some space in the relationship; at the very least to not tolerate being made to feel small.

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5 Signs of Interdependence in Relationship

We know that we have achieved a healthy place in relationship when we have interdependence; a secure sense of self is present, while also recognizing the importance of human connection. Being able to maintain a sense of high self-esteem while in relationship includes:

  1. Space. When two people are in a healthy relationship, they recognize the need for time apart to pursue personal interests. There is the knowledge that self-care activities are important and that it is okay to create space for them.
  2. Common Ground. Just as our own needs are important, a healthy relationship also looks at time spent together. How do we spend our downtime as a couple? What activities do we enjoy doing together? Do we have common goals for the future? Interdependence in relationship requires striking a balance between space and common ground.
  3. Consistency. Healthy relationships tend to be stable and predictable. When we have high self-esteem in relationship, we recognize the importance of secure attachment and the elements that create a sense of unconditional positive regard – not only for our partners, but also for ourselves.
  4. Responsiveness. This includes being open to feedback; it also requires a sense of knowing when times in the relationship require us to be there for our partners.
  5. Honesty. Healthy relationships will support interdependence by valuing honesty as a foundational part of growth. When we have high self-esteem in relationship, we are able to openly communicate our needs and are curious about our partner’s experience as well.

When we feel secure as to who we are, we create space for someone to compliment our life. We can recognize the importance of give and take, while also honouring our own needs and interests. Interdependence is a safe place to be 🙂

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