Relationships can be wonderful, healing and uplifting – but they can also be hurtful and destructive. Why are they so hard? Because people are complicated. And, like anything worthwhile, they take a lot of work, patience and understanding. Here are some well-trodden ideas and theories that might help bring us closer to those we love and care about – including ourselves.
Any relationship is co-created by two unique individuals, whether friendships, romance, work or families. We are not all following the same script to create something ‘perfect’ without any edges or moments of pain. Unreal expectations are probably the biggest cause of relational upset, and social media feeds into this false belief of perfection. We should instead learn to embrace imperfection and mistakes.
In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi derives from the Buddhist truth that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect: tea bowls in the style are deliberately imperfect. Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, silver or platinum seams, so that the break or imperfection is illuminated and makes the whole piece more unusual and beautiful.
Some of the strongest relationships have been broken at some point and beautifully repaired.
Studies show that friendships and human interaction are essential to our health and wellbeing. However, when we feel vulnerable, or if we have a history of being hurt or abandoned, we can sometimes withdraw in order to protect ourselves. We can even do this when with someone, not really being present. It can feel pretty lonely and others may sense they are being rejected or shut out.
If you feel yourself shutting down or notice you haven’t really been present with your partner or friends lately, you may need to check what’s making you feel that way and perhaps recognise you need support – or just time to re-connect with people you love and trust.
Avoid: Reasons to stay home alone.
Try: Spending quality time with someone you care about in a stress-free environment: a walk on a beach, or a spa break somewhere nurturing such as Seaham Hall.
One person cannot be everything to you and it’s unfair to expect it. Recognise that each person you are close to satisfies a different part of your personality – your fun friend, your caring relative, your safe partner, your inspiring mentor etc.
We are deeply connected to those around us, but also separate beings with our own perspectives and life experiences. Develop your own interests by getting in touch with who you are and how you respond to things. Mindfulness meditation helps you learn to listen to and trust your instincts rather than ask everyone else what they think. Make a promise to try something new, It’s a good way to make new friends and develop your sense of self.
Avoid: Forcing your partner to share your interests and pretending to do the same.
Try: A spa day with a class, or activity attached. Go surfing at Source Spa & Wellness at Saunton Sands or dancing at Ragdale Hall followed by a drift in their rooftop pool (pictured).
We often underestimate the power of touch, whether it’s a hug with a friend, holding hands, a gentle soothing hand on someone’s shoulder (or your own). Oxytocin is a hormone that is thought to be released when hugging, touching and orgasm, and greater levels of it are associated with reduced stress and anxiety as well as increased empathy and bonding.
Be curious about your boundaries, your senses and what happens in your body in response to different kinds of contact. What makes you tingle and what makes you recoil? Being aware and present when with someone you love can increase healing and closeness.
Avoid: Falling asleep during a massage. Be mindfully aware and notice how you respond to different parts of your body being touched.
If you keep having the same arguments, a theory called Transactional Analysis (TA) might help you understand what is going on and try to change the pattern. TA talks about our three main ego states as: Parent, Adult and Child. Very simply, when we interact healthily, we do so Adult to Adult (or playfully Child to Child).
In an unbalanced interaction, our partner or boss may sound like they are telling us off – speaking from critical Parent. This may trigger us to feel young and vulnerable, like a small Child. We either get extra defensive and angry or break down in tears. Both will trigger a defensive reaction rather than diffuse the situation.
The trouble is, Child emotion is so overwhelming, it’s hard to be present in the argument in a reasonable, rational way and listen to what is being said (really being said, beneath the old argument script).
The trick is to recognise this is happening (ask yourself how old you feel) then take a breath and try and get into Adult, aka your better, wiser self. The Adult part is curious, undefended and compassionate. When people feel listened to, they have less reason to shout or defend. When they feel safe and respected, they have less reason to resort to being victims. Then you can both get to the truth of the matter…
Practice first by reflecting on a common argument and working out who is in Child or Parent and which defence mechanism they resort to. The more awareness you bring to your exchanges, the calmer and more compassionate you feel.