I had a falling out with one of my close friends this week. I felt really bad about it. Still do, actually.
Sometimes, though, when these types of things happen, you start to see your part in them. You often don’t realize the things you do incorrectly while you’re still involved with someone. Yet afterwards, sometimes all of the mistakes you’ve made come rushing back: Words hastily spoken, decisions secondarily made. You start to realize how you could have been better.
So here’s 5 of the most important things I’ve learned about having – and maintaining – solid relationships. I’d love to hear yours as well in Comments!
1.) Appreciate them at face value.
One of the best quizzes I’ve ever taken is the Strengths Finder test. There are 34 different qualities that are excellent to have, which include the following:
- Achiever – People strong in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
- Belief – People strong in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life.
- Includer – People strong in the Inclusiveness theme are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out, and make an effort to include them.
- Self-assured – People strong in the Self-assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right.
After taking the quiz, you are told just five strengths that you possess above all others. The idea is to maximize your own strengths with your choice of relationships, career, and hobbies.
I mention this in a post about friendship because we don’t always appreciate others’ strengths in our relationships. We are friends with Achievers, and we wish that they’d slow down and do some yoga with us. We meet up with a friend we haven’t seen for years, and are annoyed at how smug she, a Self-Assured, seems over everything from her home to the earrings dangling from her bit-too-large head.
Truth is, we can find fault in every strength. Not every strength is suited to every situation or where every other person is in his or her life. While it’s human nature to want to change traits we don’t like in others, we need to put a lid on our urge to change everything. Learn to appreciate friends for who and what they are. Even though we may not always agree, it’s important to be respectful of our differences.
2.) Allow people room (physically and emotionally) to change.
When people become friends, they are often similar or complementary on many levels: personality, physical attractiveness, education, career, income, etc.
But it’s not realistic to expect people not to change. What’s more, it’s unhealthy to forbid ourselves to change in order to continue to fulfill our friends’ expectations of us. Sometimes, whether it be a 30-pound weight loss, a promotion at work, or a spiritual awakening, people need to change.
When the converse happens and the changes are unhealthy – a friend starts having more unhealthful habits, becomes depressed, or is romantically involved with someone we feel is dangerous – it’s better for friendships not to judge or criticize, and certainly not to gossip, but to be there and help if necessary. As one of my favorite quotes puts it:
“I want to love you without clutching, appreciate you without judging, join you without invading, invite you without demanding, leave you without guilt, criticize you without blaming, and help you without insulting. If I can have the same from you, then we can truly meet and enrich each other.” -Virginia Satir
True friendships not only accept people in their current state (see #1), but also give people room to grow and even make mistakes along the way. Sometimes all we can provide is support and help.
3.) Have certain rules for conduct.
I’m going to go ahead and say it: We live in a rather snarky, bitchy society. People aren’t encourage to bite their tongues but to speak their truth, no matter how hurtful or offensive that may be to someone else. Comments on the Internet on some websites have turned into a person-trashing bloodbath, with the anonymity of the Internet permitting gross levels of gossip, snark, and downright nastiness.
It can be ugly out there. But that doesn’t mean you need to bring those items home. Some of the rules of conduct I’d like to start doing in my friendships:
- Don’t gossip. Don’t talk about one friend to another, and don’t share personal business of anyone (friend or otherwise) with your friends.
- Call or visit regularly. I love e-mail. I’m just much better at writing than I am speaking, for whatever reason. But it’s a terrible way to maintain or grow friendships.
- Prioritize your friendships. It’s tough out there. I think mobile technology made it an expectation for us to be working or at least connected to work 24/7. But friendships need positive interaction in order to stay alive. In general, favors can be time-based (e.g., quality time, running errands, etc.), money-based (e.g., gifts, cards, etc.), or some combination therein. But no friendship will stand the test of time if you let too much time go by without doing either for a friend, and not just when s/he needs you.
- Don’t criticize. Just because you think her career choice is wrong, her wardrobe is too flashy, etc. doesn’t mean you’re correct. Support her decisions unless asked, and then speak your opinion with the utmost tact and respect.
- Be yourself. Sometimes we worry so much about what someone is going to think of us if we do A or say B that the opportunity is lost forever. Go ahead and ask your super-together friend for advice, or your ultra-stylish friend to take you shopping sometime. It’s better to admit your faults and be open and honest about who you are.
4.) Don’t just listen, but analyze the true meaning of what they have to say.
Most people aren’t kings or queens of deception. In fact, if you listen very closely, you can almost always tell who people are by the way they speak, not just what they say:
- Mentioning something constantly is a sign it’s important to them. It sounds trite, but we often ignore this, particularly in our romantic relationships. (“Oh, he’s just going off about ___ again.”) But ___ is probably super important to him or her if they can’t stop talking about it. So listen. And if you’re doing something wrong, do something about it.
- Pay attention to the type of words s/he uses so you know his/her true mood. If s/he often talks in superlatives, whether positive (“super, excellent, fabulous, fantastic, great”) or negative (“hopeless, fatigued, depressed, unsure, lost”), it’s indicative of his or her underlying mood. Very rarely is a superachiever at work there saying things like, “My Saturday was boring. Just laid around the house all day. Still am tired.” It would probably be more like, “I had a really exciting hike! And a fantastic dinner out.” The truth of the matter is, it’s rare we have a fantastic or terrible weekend. But those who are upbeat remember the 50% that is fantastic, those who are down in the dumps remember the others. So use these cues to note your friend’s true mood, so you can respond accordingly.
5.) If need be, let go.
I love this quote from Buddhism: “As we relinquish our attachment to permanence, pain begins to diminish.”
This doesn’t mean we have to let the friendship die. But sometimes, sometimes we need to spend less time together. Or hang out with new friends who better support us for a while.
Life is about growing and changing. Sometimes our friendships grow and change with us, and sometimes they do not. But rather than cling to the sadness, anger, or fear involved with such a loss, it’s better to appreciate the moments in the friendship that were positive, and then move on, towards more joyous and enriching experiences.
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