The Power of Relationships to Transform Our Lives
We are not islands in our lives. There may be times we want some space, but the fact is relationships are as commonplace in our lives as breathing. Every day we interact with many people, and each relationship we have takes on its own unique path and meaning. There is also a direct connection between the flow and quality of our relationships and the way that we see ourselves. We may be one person, but our value and worth are derived from the quality of connections we have with others.
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, in their book Life Lessons, discuss the notion that relationships can be our greatest teacher in life and what affords us the most meaning. These two experts were taught this lesson by the many people they worked with when they were on the cusp of death. Over and over, they heard themes of relationships teaching us the most about ourselves and the value we attribute to our own life. No one is an island, and we cannot view ourselves without seeing our relationships.
Our relationships do not always take the path we hoped for or envisioned. There are intimate relationships that start with intense passion and love and end in pain and sorrow. Children grow up not knowing their parent or feeling their love. There are those of us who do not get along with ourselves, that we see ourselves as broken or weak. We might try to cut out these relationships, or maybe they weigh too heavily on our shoulders. The fact is we cannot break away from the influences they have on our lives; we need to learn how to manage them.
We take each of the relationships we have had throughout our lives into any new relationship. Like an app on your smartphone, they work in the background influencing what we do. The more we run with an Auto-pilot Mindset, the more we let these background influences take control. This can be risky when it’s our negative and painful relationships that get the most influence! It is up to decide what meaning our relationships have in our lives, and what we will do about it. After all, the common factor in every one of our relationships is us.
At times we need to take inventory of our relationships and see where they stand. A metaphor you will see a lot is the relational bank account. This simple and effective metaphor allows us to see our relationships in a new way. We can see what is being put into relationships, what strengthens them and what takes away, and the value that we ascribe to it. There are three relationship types that have a dramatic impact on our lives, and the relational bank account can be used with each of them. Those relationships are the ones with ourselves, our intimate relationships, and with our family.
While these are not the only relationships we will have in our lives, they are ones that have a dramatic impact on our sense of well-being. Let’s take a quick look at each of these three relationship types to see how they can influence us. As a bonus, let’s throw in two deposits that we can make into each relationship that we can start doing today!
The Relationship We have with Ourselves
Let’s face it, one of the relationships we tend to neglect the most is the one we have with ourselves. We are quick to highlight our flaws and where we fall short. Accepting compliments from others can feel selfish and rarely do we pay ourselves a compliment. We have a good idea of what we are lacking and downplay our areas of strength. There are those of us that will sacrifice for others to the point of completely draining ourselves.
Why do we neglect ourselves? Why do we let the balance in our relational bank account get so low? The answers to that question are probably as numerable as there are people to ask that question of themselves. It is one of those patterns that if it is part of our lives, we need to start the process of getting rid of it. Neglecting the relationships we have with ourselves can have profound impacts on our lives.
Is there a person in your life you can think of who seems to have it together? Perhaps they are confident in their abilities and amazing with other people. Maybe they constantly push their limits and take on new challenges. They are someone you look up to and at times want to be like in life. When people have genuinely hit this level in their lives, how do you think their relationships with themselves is?
Chances are these people have habits that recharge their battery. They recognize their strengths and use them to their advantage. Also, they most likely recognize their weaknesses and are making efforts to minimize their negative impact while finding ways to improve in those areas. They are not superheroes, nor are they doing anything that only fifty people on earth are capable of doing. Chances are they are doing things to nurture the relationship they have with themselves, which impacts every area of their life. That is how influential the relationship we have with ourselves is.
For example, if we believe we are inadequate and act like that is a set-in-stone thing, chances are we will think about evidence that proves that true. These negative thoughts about ourselves take from our personal relational bank account. That is damaging enough; however, that is not where it stops. When we get into an intimate relationship with someone, we will fear we are inadequate for them and see ourselves as less. This influences our behavior, and we seek out only that which confirms our belief. The same can be said in our relationships with our children if we are parents. If I’m an inadequate person, then I must be an inadequate parent, right?
It’s time to stop neglecting ourselves! It is time we start nurturing the relationships we have with ourselves and recognizing our true potential. Beliefs that taking care of ourselves is selfish or narcissistic are just plain wrong! Taking time to care for ourselves to bring more meaning to our relationships and the lives of others is not a bad thing! With that in mind, here are two deposits you can start making today into your personal relational bank account!
Deposit 1: The Self-Appreciation Exercise
This exercise is similar to the popular gratitude one of writing down three things a day that you are grateful for in your life. The spin on this particular one is instead of writing down what you are grateful for, you are listing three things that you appreciate about yourself. It can be hard at first to look at ourselves to give us a pat on our own back, but it can improve the balance of your personal relational bank account.
Be specific in your self-appreciation. Don’t stop with something like, “I’m a hard worker.” Go further, “I appreciate that I can work hard because that is what allowed me to get the swing set built for our kids today.” The more specific we are, the more evidence it gives us to fight those negative views. A lot of the negative views we have of ourselves are not built on very steady ground. This is what allows this exercise to be so powerful, we are providing concrete evidence, and it is there, you have to look for it!
Deposit 2: Limiting My Worst Coping Skill
We all have them, some of us call them vices, others bad habits. In reality, they are the things we use to cope that do not do anything productive for us. It might be using our phone, going on social media, drinking, procrastinating, unhealthy eating; unfortunately there are so many choices! The challenge with this deposit is identifying one of those coping skills you are not happy or proud of and begin the process of eliminating it or at least reducing its frequency of use.
For the first few days, take some time to track how frequently you use this coping skill. Also, track the times you tend to use it and look at what is going on. Are there certain times of the day you use it, or maybe when you are faced with a certain type of task? Keep track of it, and the information will empower you.
Now, the real challenge. At least once a day, try out a new coping mechanism in place of using the one you do not like. Instead of pulling out your phone, take a few deep breaths. Replace a bowl of ice cream with a healthy snack. Go for a walk instead of scrolling on Facebook for an hour. Start with a minimum of replacing the coping skill once a day. After a few days, increase it to two times. This is a simple way to begin to care for ourselves and feed the balance of our personal relational bank account!
The Relationship with Our Partner
Loving a partner can be the most exciting and scary thing to do. These relationships do not come with any certainty, can feel so high the one day and so low on another, take a lot of work to keep going, and can be a great source of happiness and joy or pain and sorrow. Finding someone to share life with and go on a journey together can be an uplifting experience. When our relationships are strong, our needs of feeling like we belong and accepted feel satisfied, and we feel good as a person.
These relationships also take a lot of work. It has been said before that we do not always have a say in the choice of people we love, but it is up to us to keep choosing to stay in love. When we stop doing the small things with our partners, we will be met with feelings of stagnation and resentment. We must continually work on our relationship, and that includes both partners.
The Couple Relational Bank Account can help us look at the way we are giving to our partner and our relationship. When we keep one another a priority, then we will regularly feed our relationship through deposits. A higher balance in our Couple Relational Bank Account feels good, it’s when we have flow in our connection and communication, conflict, handling the stresses of life, and passion is strong. As soon as our balance begins to reach a critically low point, we begin to feel distance, resentment, and anger towards our partner.
A lot of times when couples begin to feel the balance fall in their Couple Relational Bank Account, they do not speak about it. They hope the other partner recognizes something needs to change, and when it does not, the balance keeps falling. If it is recognized that the balance is falling, when it is brought up, it is done negatively and instead of communicating openly, it tends to become a fight. Once the critical point has been reached, a lot of partners feel it is too late.
We need to constantly nurture our relationship by working with our partners to keep our connection a priority. When we near the end of our lives, the relationship we had with a committed partner tends to be one of the things that have brought the most meaning to us. Learning how and ensuring that we are making regular deposits is a powerful way to ensure that our relationship remains strong and we stay committed to our partners. Here are two deposits you can start regularly making today!
Deposit 1: A Thoughtful Text Message
In today’s world, we are all connected through technology. At times it can be hard to get a message through to our partner because of all the distractions that are out there. With so many people connected, there is one thing that we know will be quite certain, our partner will have their phone. Take some time each day to write a thoughtful text message about your partner. Let them know what you are grateful for, something you find sexy about them, what they mean to you, anything that will help build them up and strengthen your relationship.
Each day make it genuine and specific. If you are grateful for something they have done, let them know what that something is! We all like to get kudos from people that mean a lot to us, so go ahead and give it to your partner! A lot of times when one of us starts it, the other will follow along. When someone gives to us, we like to give back. Now that’s how you start a habit of making regular deposits!
Deposit 2: The Weekly Check-In
Couples that I have worked with in therapy tend to come in with one commonality: they all want to work on communication. We all know that communication is important to our lives; nothing would get done without it! In our intimate relationships, it is even more so! When it comes to our partner, we know that we should be open and willing to get vulnerable and express our needs and concerns. Even though we know this, we do not always do it.
The Weekly Check-In is a deposit we can start making that will strengthen our connection while opening the channels of communication. Keep in mind you will get out of it what you put into it. Each check-in gives you the chance to express how the week went for the relationship, what went well, what to do more, and what to do less. Our responses should not focus on just our partner and their behavior and actions. This is a relationship; we are both responsible for the outcomes.
Couples that I’ve worked with and have put real effort into it have seen amazing transformations to their relationship. They have even started to put their own flair on it! Some make sure to do this on a date; others turn it into a tradition and find a structured way to do it. Others turn it into a daily thing. Find a way that fits with your relationship. Be willing to open up a little more each time and to help build up your partner. Open up the channels of communication and feel the balance in your Couple Relational Bank Account rise!
The Parent-Child Relationship
Is there anything more unique than the Parent-Child relationship? This relationship evolves dramatically over time as we adapt to the needs of our growing children. While incredibly rewarding, parenting is also stressful, exhausting, and comes with its own unique challenges that do not always have a clear answer or approach to handle the situation. It requires us to balance our needs and wants as parents with the needs and wants of our children. Since each of our children will be unique, it also requires us to figure out how to manage the relationship in a way that fits their particular personality.
For the Parent-Child Relational Bank Account, the responsibility for tracking the balance is quite fluid. The first few years of our child’s life will require us as parents to take on a large majority of the responsibility. As our child grows older, it is up to us to begin stepping back and giving some of that responsibility to them. This is a tough balancing act for us as parents, and at times, especially in the early years, it can seem overwhelming to be constantly giving without getting in return. However, if we regularly make deposits, even with our youngest children, watching their joys of feeling a high balance in and of itself is a reward to us, so we do get something in return!
Watching our children grow and flourish is a dream of any parent. It can be hard to gradually let our role of parent change as our children move forward in their lives; however, watching them become their own individuals is one of the things that bring deep meaning to our lives. Before we start looking too far into the future, as parents, we need to make sure we are keeping an eye on what we are doing in the present to influence that future.
Many of the parents I have worked with in classes or therapy take a second when asked the question, “what are you doing now to build a strong relationship for the future?” If you have younger children, the ways you interact with them now builds the pattern for how you will interact with them when they are older. If their problems as young children have not meant much to you, they will not just flip a switch and feel completely comfortable with you to discuss adolescent problems or adult issues. Everything we do in the now as parents will impact how our future relationship looks. Focusing on the now helps the future, and here are two deposits you can start doing!
Deposit 1: A Regular Parent-Child Date
Strengthen your connection with your child by letting them plan a regular, special date with you. This is their one-on-one time with you with no distractions and focused on them. Yes, you will probably do some activities that you would not choose on your own, but that is what makes it so powerful, it is your child that gets to put it together! You will learn about your child while spending valuable time with them.
It is up to you to set up boundaries around it. A lot of parents I have worked with only put on a financial constraint, that it cannot cost more than x amount of dollars. Other than that, they usually go right along with their child. Get out of your regular environment and spend some time regularly with your child that lets them know it is a special time that is just theirs. If you have multiple children, do not let them share the time. As soon as they have to share you have just introduced competition. This is not a time for competition; it is a time for connection!
Deposit 2: Positive Encouragement Daily
Our children are interested in the way that we view them, especially when they are younger. At times as parents, it is easy for us to believe that our children know that we see the good things they do and that we love them without us openly expressing it. Or we think we are expressing it more than we actually are! This deposit is to remind us to regularly express the good things to help balance out the times we have to help correct behavior.
Think of it like this, which boss would you rather follow? Boss #1 only calls you in to correct what you are doing wrong, express concern with your behavior, and implement some consequence to correct your actions. Only when you leave the position does the boss say, “that’s too bad, I liked having you on the team.” Boss #2 regularly communicates with you positive things about your performance and what you bring to the team, while also letting you know areas that you could improve. As this boss discusses with you areas of improvement, they also provide encouragement and examples as to why you can do it. Which boss are you going to choose?
Hopefully, that is a pretty clear decision. We can make it that way for our children too if we parent with a similar approach to Boss #2. We can regularly communicate with our children positive things about them and what they do, in addition to what they bring to the team, or in this case, our family. When we work helping them correct their behavior, we can empower them and inspire hope that they can grow, learn, and get through their challenges.
If we change our mindset from looking for things that our children do that are wrong or against the rules to what they bring and their strengths, we begin to interact differently. Our children will not just hear about our disappointments in their behavior; we balance it out with encouragement and the good they bring in life. We influence the way they see themselves, which impacts their own Personal Relational Bank Account, which is just trying to start. Find specific, daily things to help build them up and make them feel part of the family!
Life is meant to be enjoyed and build meaning for us. Relationships with others are one of the ways that we do this. Nurturing the relationship we have with ourselves, our partner, and our children will help bring more meaning to our lives. While it does not get rid of the stress and the ups and downs of life, nurturing these relationships does help make them more manageable and empowers us to keep moving forward!