Five Guidelines for Healthier Relationships

Five Guidelines for Healthier Relationships

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1. Speak your heart. This is the most important guideline, hands down. But, it's the most horrendously difficult, especially when we've been hurt or triggered by something your friend has said or done.

This guideline comes with a helpful little rule: make "I" statements rather than "you" statements. For example, stray from comments, such as, "You’re a thoughtless, selfish jerk for forgetting my birthday." Instead, use constructive language, such as, "I felt so hurt and not cared for when you forgot my birthday." If you're really brave, dig even deeper and say, "It reminded me of being forgotten when I was little, and it felt really bad. I got scared that you didn’t love me." Big difference there.

2. Empathize. Just because you show empathy, it doesn't mean that you're conceding to your friend's opinion. Empathizing does not mean you agree; it just means you care enough to listen and hear what your friend is saying. Allow your friend to speak his or her heart. Detach enough from your own feelings about the situation so you can listen without judgment. Mirror back what you think you've heard until you get it right. Then try to imagine how they must have felt and feel it, too. Share it. Hearts may open, yours included.

3. Maintain your beautiful self. Friendship should never change the fiber of what makes you "you." It should be a complementing accessory to your fashionable outfit. Miracle-Gro for your garden. Coffeemate in your coffee. It supplements what's already there.

Keep that in mind when you enter a new relationship, or evaluate your existing ones, and feel like the outfit is being overhauled instead of accessorized, your garden is being uprooted or your coffee is turning into an iced mocha. Unhealthy relationships often cause one to change too much of who you are to make the other person happy, assimilate to their lifestyle or agree with their views. Some change is to be expected, but too much is not too good.

Here's a test. Ask them to do something you like to do that may not be "their style." Such as going for a run, scrapbooking or going to your poetry club meeting. If they completely turn you down or make fun of you for asking, they aren't respecting you or the things that make you unique. If they express to you that your chosen activity isn't something they're used to, but ask you to teach them sometime, that's a good start! If they want to compromise and try something completely new for the both of you, that's good, too. If they try it once just because they know you enjoy it so much, and want to fully understand it too, you know you have a high-quality friend on your hands.

4. Avoid the blame game. Blaming every little glitch in the friendship on your friend is so temptingly easy, but it's a crock, as well as a brilliant way to avoid looking at your own painful stuff. It might help to keep this little maxim in mind: Where there is judgment, there is fear. If you're feeling judgmental, take it as a golden opportunity to look more deeply into what's really eating at you. What triggered you? What old feelings does this situation bring up? When something hurts or bothers you in the relationship, see no. 1 above and speak from the heart about it.

5. Own up when you’ve messed up. Many of us get so caught in the trap of striving for perfection that we can't even admit to ourselves when we’ve made a mistake. But perfection isn't the goal: authenticity is. And we can get pretty snarky when we sense a friend is still upset with us after we've apologized: after all, we said we were sorry, didn't we? But an apology without empathy is useless.

It's painful enough to deal with our own hurts, but really allowing ourselves to feel the pain we have caused someone we love is excruciating, which is why we avoid it at all costs. It takes largeness of heart and spirit to admit when you've been in the wrong, to empathize, apologize and really mean it.