This is one thing that I know for sure: just because you are an adult doesn’t mean you act like one. A woman once told me, “We turn 18 and automatically think we know how to be in relationships with others simply because we are “adults”, but in actuality no one has taught us how to interact with and be in relationships with one another.” This may not apply for some of you. Maybe you turned 18 or 28 or 38 and just “knew” how to communicate. Maybe you just “knew” about emotional intelligence, how to read people based on the five love languages and how to communicate honestly with people and navigate your relationships so that NO ONE EVER got hurt and EVERYONE ALWAYS understood and valued you and acted accordingly. If that is you, feel free to skip to the next article or wait until next week to see if I have something more fitting to say to you, but if you are like me and had to find out through some major disappointments, disagreements and flat out messed up situations that people are not always easy to deal with THEN welcome to Relationships 101. You are in the right place.
I was an only child for 11 years then my baby brother came on the scene. I was the oldest by far so it felt like I was still an only child. In high school I religiously hung around two (yes, just TWO) other people, and they had been my friends since elementary school. I was not in a lot of clubs, sports or after school activities, and at 16 I became a mom so that put me even further in the outer courts of “normal” people and made me feel like a loner even though a lot of people knew me and never really had any bad things to say about me. Fast forward to adulthood. The feelings of exclusion seemed to trail behind me into my adult life. I never really quite “fit” and by now I was beginning to wonder if I should even try to “fit” simply because the crowd did not seem like my kind of people. For a while I thought that I was the weird one because of the expectations that I had from people in my relationships in regards to what I thought was the simple things: common courtesy, respect, honest- you know all of the things a “good” relationship needs. Suffice it to say that I did not have the best conditions to learn about people. I did not have a lot of friends, great experiences or a handbook that gave me instructions about how to deal with people, especially difficult people, BUT I did have some hard experiences and a great teacher who knew a lot about people and had a ton of common sense- my mom. Between “life” happening to me and all of heaven’s wisdom wrapped up in one woman, I have been able to maneuver through life with a pretty solid foundation on how to have success in relationships, but it took me a long while to get there.
- TREAT PEOPLE THE WAY YOU WANT TO BE TREATED. This may sound simple, but relationships- rather they are platonic or romantic in nature- would be healthier and more fruitful if we all took time to reflect, “Am I getting ready to do or say something that I would want done to me?“. In other words if we genuinely believe that “we reap what we sow” then we would be more apt to “treat people the way we want to be treated“. These old adages have not survived the test of time because they sound cute. They have survived because they are TRUE. Every chance you get, ask yourself if you are doing or saying something that you want to be done or said to you. If the answer is an emphatic NO, then don’t say it and surely don’t do it. Love others the way you love yourself.
- SET YOUR BOUNDARIES AND EXPECTATIONS WITH PEOPLE EARLY. I work help people fine tune their writing in various arenas. I tell them at the beginning of our working relationship that I am very honest about their writing because I want them to put out an excellent product. My suggestions are in no way supposed to be taken personally. It is my job to give them my best advice. I set the expectation at the beginning. I give the same courtesy to my children and anyone in my circle. They know what I expect from them, what they can expect from me, and I am clear about my boundaries. I understand that you must teach people how to treat you, and you will ultimately END UP with whatever you PUT UP with. If there is something lacking in your relationships, check to make sure that you have expressed it as one of your expectations in the relationship. They may not know that it is what you expect. Do not assume.
- KNOW YOUR OWN LOVE LANGUAGE AND THE LOVE LANGUAGE OF THOSE IN YOUR CIRCLE. People feel loved in different ways. There are five primary love languages: time, words of affirmation, touch, acts of kindness and gifts. Typically your love language is the way you love others. For example, my first love language is words of affirmation. I love receiving notes, texts, letters and compliments. I also love to encourage others with my words simply because that is how I feel the most loved. If I have a partner, however, whose love language is gifts (which is last on my list), I can pay him all of the compliments and write him all of the love notes in the world, and he can still not feel loved. In order to show him love, I must speak to him in his language, which is gifts. Most of my girlfriends’ love language is time. Because I am an introvert, I like spending time alone, but this can send the message to them that I don’t love them so I must make time to spend with them to fill their “love tank”. Knowing your partner and your circle’s love language is important because it allows you to invest into your relationships in the right way and you both reap the benefits of your investment.
- DON’T EXPECT FROM OTHERS WHAT YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO GIVE. You want support? Give support. You want authenticity? Give authenticity. You want love, trust, loyalty- or any other quality that you would demand in a healthy relationship? GIVE IT. It is the same “reaping what you sow” principle. If you are not willing to GIVE what you want to RECEIVE that is unreasonable, and will leave you disappointed every time.
- COMMUNICATION IS KEY. Social media has made it increasingly easy to hide behind a computer, text or direct message. We have lost the human touch so much that we are now sending text messages to invite people to events that are personal and spiritually significant such as weddings and baptisms. Some people have used social media to limit human interaction, and communication skills suffer as a result. If there is something on your mind, if there is a problem or an issue that you need to discuss, make time to talk about it. Do not text, post on social media or tell everyone else except the person who the issue is with about the problem. TALK OPENLY AND HONESTLY about it and be willing to LISTEN and try to come to an understanding. Too many times we avoid “conversation” thinking that it will lead to a “confrontation”, and that is not always the case. YOU are- or should be- in control of your emotions. Many times in life we cannot move on from past situations without having those crucial conversations that we are afraid to have. TALK IT OUT.
- READ AND DO YOUR RESEARCH ON RELATIONSHIPS. I was dealing with some difficult people at one point in time, and they- the difficult people, go figure- wanted me to teach on “how to get along with others”. SAY WHAT? I had to figure out a way to speak objectively in a way that everyone would receive what I had to say so I did the research. I did some reading on the subject, and I was able to relay some very useful information. Read and find out what the experts say about relationships, love, how to support a grieving friend, etc. There is so much research and knowledge that is available that there is NO EXCUSE for ignorance. It is a great investment in yourself and your relationships. There are so many keys to building and maintaining healthy, happy relationships. I could write tons of articles just on my experiences alone. There are two things that we cannot avoid: ourselves and people. Once we become a master of learning how to both work on ourselves and work on our relationships with others, our lives become more meaningful and more powerful, and who doesn’t want that? C. Mack