10 Weeks to Wellbeing: Week 8 – Family & Social
[First published in my Irish Sunday Mirror wellbeing column, 2nd Nov ’14.]
In Week 5 we looked at Love Life, but how about your non-romantic relationships? Are they a source of joy, stress, or a mix of both – and what can you do to improve them? Whilst it’s common to outgrow and discard friendships as we grow up, as adults we’re often enmeshed in relationships we might not be able or willing to leave, such as family relationships or long-term friendships. Whether we’re trying to make the best of a tough situation or simply committed to making a relationship better, we need healthy communication and understanding of our own and others’ beliefs and needs.
Beliefs & Expectations
What are your beliefs about family and friendship? Do you believe blood is thicker than water, or that friends are the family you choose? What do you expect from family, and from friends? What are you committed to giving to them? People’s beliefs about what family/friendship ‘should’ be like, and their expectations about what needs each ‘should’ meet are vastly different – problems arise when there’s a mismatch between people’s beliefs. Arguments around things like time-keeping and remembering birthdays happen because of people’s different beliefs about what actions ‘mean’, and what they ‘prove’. But interpretations aren’t truths, and our beliefs aren’t rules for other people to live by. They’re just the stories we have created about the world and our place in it, to make sense of it all – and other people have their own stories.
George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place”. Don’t assume you’ve been heard and understood – check! What do you want a certain person to know? Honest conversation is challenging, but if you try and bury feelings they’ll just leak through anyway, in words, body language or passive-aggressive behaviours, such as making muttered comments, being huffy or sullen, or writing long letters or emails instead of having a real-time, two-way conversation. Assertiveness means stating your needs and expressing your feelings – then allowing the other person to respond with theirs. Sometimes they’ll be willing to meet your needs, sometimes not; your needs are your needs, not theirs. You might be asking for a closer relationship with someone who doesn’t want one (or vice versa) – if that’s the case, it’s up to you to choose how to proceed. Feeling hurt is a natural follow-on to rejection, but no-one makes us feel anything – our responses do. It might feel easier to blame parents, siblings or friends for our problems, but as adults, we have to take responsibility for our reactions and choices. If you find you regularly experience difficulties in your relationships, you may be projecting needs on to other people that you’ve not been capable of meeting yourself. If this is true, consider therapy to help you heal yourself and enjoy healthier relationships.
How about your family and friends – do they ask you for what they need, and if so, how do you respond? When did you last check in with them? Do they know how much you love and appreciate them? If not, that’s an easy thing to fix! Well, I say ‘easy’, but for some people, it feels difficult to express love. Palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, wrote a blog piece called “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” which resonated with people worldwide. Number 3 was “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings”. Telling someone you love and appreciate them benefits both parties; appreciation exercises have been proven to increase happiness, in wellbeing interventions1. Number 4 was “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends”, and number 2 was “I wish I didn’t work so hard” – quite often, good communication isn’t happening in relationships simply because time isn’t being made for real conversations. One of the biggest gifts you can give anyone is your full attention – who in your life deserves more of yours?
Next week: Community & Environment (extended special).
1Seligman, M. E P, Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.
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