Relationships can be difficult. I’m not just talking romantic relationships, but all relationships. Friends, coworkers, family and neighbours – all can be challenging. How you choose to deal with the situations that arise will help you to build meaningful relationships. Or maintain a balance, if that’s all you want or need. We can’t choose our family, and sometimes we have no choice in who we work with or live next to. So the only people we actually get to “choose” to have relationships with are friends and romantic partners. And we don’t always choose wisely on those fronts. Sometimes we choose based on an immediate need. Maybe you just broke up with your boyfriend and you’re determined to get into another relationship. Immediately. So you pick the first guy that comes along and gives you a little bit of attention. Maybe not a good idea.
But the same can be said about friends. After my last break up, I was spending more time with my fun friends who liked to go out drinking, and were supportive of my newly single adventures. I found myself distancing myself from my friends who were in relationships and not for any specific reason. Other than they just seemed to not “fit” into my lifestyle any more. Or maybe they distanced themselves from me. It’s hard to know. How do you maintain a relationship with someone with whom you have fundamental differences? And should you if it’s that difficult? How much effort should you put into any relationship?
Family relationships can be challenging. And no, you don’t have to put effort into them if they aren’t serving a purpose. For many years, my brother and I had an extremely strained relationship. I don’t know if it’s because we were so close in age and there was competition. Or if he felt I was being treated differently because I’m the youngest? But for many years, it was a constant battle to maintain some kind of balance. We went to the same university, and had some good times together. But we would fight over the car, or paying for the car. Or something ridiculous. But there were always fights. After university, we went our separate ways so to speak. We visited occasionally, but rarely talked on the phone. Our contact was mostly built around other family events and functions. And then it changed.
Was it me that changed? Was it him that changed? Maybe we both changed, but over the last two years things just started to fall into place and now we have a “normal” brother and sister relationship. When I say normal, I mean we play pranks on and overall still harass the shit out of each other, but it’s not from a hostile place any more.
While family relationships are typically ones that you can’t just abandon, they are no less challenging than other types of relationships. But regardless of relationship type, you have to be willing to look within to figure out what the issue is. I’m not saying that it is necessarily going to be you, but don’t automatically assume it’s the other person either. Relationships are a two way street and maybe the other person isn’t putting in as much effort as you. Acknowledge that and determine if you want to continue with the relationship, or cut your ties if it is no longer worth the effort.
If you are committed to making a relationship work, or at least want to put in a concerted effort, you should think about the following:
- Is this relationship actually benefiting me? I don’t mean that in a selfish way, but are you doing all the giving? Are you always the one making the plans, or making the phone calls? Do you enjoy spending time with the other person? Are they enriching your life in anyway? Maybe even think about how you impact the other person’s life by looking at it from their perspective. But if the relationship isn’t enriching your life in anyway, you have to be prepared to take a step back or come up with a way to fix it.
- Do you have enough in common to sustain a relationship? Not all relationships need to be built on commonality, but you need to figure out if your lifestyle aligns with theirs. Are you super healthy, and they only want to go to the most unhealthy restaurants for lunch? Are you in a romantic relationship, and your friends are single and having “fun”? Not that any of these things are inherently bad, but it’s hard to maintain a relationship if you aren’t on the same page.
- What can I do to improve the relationship? Again, you might not be the problem, but you need to be able to know what the problem is. Then try to figure out a way to make it work. If your friend can only meet you for lunch, and she always picks an unhealthy restaurant, try suggesting one that’s healthier. Or pick coffee instead. Try to figure out a way to improve the relationship in some way, in order to be able to maintain it.
If you still don’t think it’s working, it might be time to cut ties. As I mentioned, you might not be able to do this in all instances, so maybe consider a break. Don’t spend Thanksgiving with your family this year. Go on a trip with friends, or even alone. Take time away from the situation to see if time will solve the problem. All relationships are difficult, but how we choose to deal with them is going to determine if they are good or bad.
While I don’t necessarily know that I’m a great friend all the time, I also don’t think I’m a bad friend. I fall off the face of the earth for months at a time when I get busy. It’s nothing personal. It’s just how I cope with the stress of life. Eventually I will resurface. My family and long time friends know this about me. But I know this about myself. So I am (and have been) trying to schedule more time with my friends and family so that these relationships don’t fall by the way-side. This is my commitment to building more meaningful relationships.