A few years ago my family and I took a cruise. As the captain navigated the ship across the vast ocean we experienced feelings of excitement and apprehension. Some days the sea was calm and we enjoyed the journey, other days not so much. There was one day in particular, when my daughter felt so sick because of the rough seas, she threw up several times and missed her meals. She even had to opt out of an excursion when we pulled into our next port. Our relationships can often produce a similar experience.
Learning to successfully navigate our relationships as we ride the waves of life, can be a bit challenging for anyone. Think of your relationships as a beautiful and luxurious ship sailing the open seas. The ride can sometimes be smooth as well as it can sometimes be rough. The times when the ride is smooth there is happiness and enjoyment. When the ride gets bumpy, this usually tends to lead to sickness, which sucks the joy out of the experience.
What you should know, is that successful relationships don’t just happen; they take effort; you have to work at them. Like most things in life it takes commitment and practice. I would like to offer you some guidelines which can help you in successfully navigating your relationships.
Understand the Purpose of the Relationship
Think of a product, whether it is a car, a vacuum cleaner, a mobile phone, anything! If we know the purpose of the product, we then know what to expect from it and how to use it. If we do not know the purpose of the product, we are likely to have unrealistic expectations or misuse it.
Similarly, with our relationships. We must understand the purpose for which that particular relationship exists. I believe that people come into our lives for a reason and a purpose. Even the family we were born into is not by chance. Even the difficult relationships are there to teach us something.
Once you understand the purpose a relationship serves, you know how much you need to pour into the relationship and how to manage your expectations. You understand not to expect all persons to be all things to you. For example, someone may be great when it comes to brainstorming ideas together, but blows you off when it comes to social events. Maybe their purpose in your life is not to be a trusted and loyal friend, but rather a collaborator.
In many cases, some persons either aren’t interested enough to give more to the relationship, which is fine because that is their right; or they do not have the ability to give more.
In her book, No Matter What! 9 steps to Living the Life You Love, Lisa Nichols says,
All the people in your life are truly doing the best they can with what they have…They can only give you what they have the capacity to give. You may think that you deserve more, and you may be correct. But that means nothing if a person simply doesn’t have the ability to give it to you.
Treat all Feelings in the Relationship as Valid
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Recognize that the other person’s feelings and emotions are authentic and valid. The perceptions, thoughts and beliefs, which led to the feeling or emotion may not be accurate, but the feeling or emotion is real. Let us say, I experience fear while walking along a lonely street, because I believe someone is following me. However, it turns out that no one was actually following me. Does that mean that my fear was not real? It may not have been founded in reality, but it certainly was real.
Emotions and feelings are direct feedback to what is going on in our body and our environment. In her book, How Emotions are Made, Lisa Feldman explains that emotions are constructed and not triggered. She says that emotions are the brain’s creation of what your bodily sensations mean, in relation to what is going on around you. Emotions occur at the subconscious level, while feelings are expressed at the level of consciousness.
There is nothing more damaging to a relationship than sending a message to the other person that their feelings and emotions aren’t valid. It does not matter your opinion, that person’s emotions are their own and they are entitled to them and vice versa. Is someone upset with you because they felt you wronged them, but you hold a different opinion? Don’t try to convince them that they are wrong, be humble. Acknowledge that their feelings are hurt, tell them that you are sorry and that it was not your intention to offend them. That is more likely to smooth the relationship over, than becoming defensive and making them feel that their feelings are invalid.
Understand that there is Value in Everyone
I admit some relationships can be difficult, even toxic and unhealthy. The relationship may be unhealthy, but there is still value in that person. Take time to see the value in everyone. Each person is a life created by God. Each life has worth. When we approach our relationships, and even our brief encounters with others from this perspective, we will become more tolerant, respectful, kind and appreciative of the other person.
The next time you encounter that loud and boisterous colleague or that nagging relative, rather than becoming irritated or upset, press the pause button and shift your perspective. Take a moment to think of one positive thing about that person and be appreciative for that. Maybe that boisterous personality sometimes brings humor and color to an otherwise dull day. Or, maybe that nagging relative causes you to be more alert about some things which you may have otherwise ignored.
It is never okay to make anyone feel small, intimidated or put down, even if that person is not one of our favorite people. Our more favorable relationships need just as much honor because we run the risk of becoming complacent and taking them for granted. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Nurturing our relationships by valuing others and showing them our appreciation will only make our ride on the waves of life more enjoyable.
Set Boundaries in your Relationships
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Another useful guideline for successfully navigating your ship as it sails the waves of life is to set boundaries. They represent guidelines or principles by which the relationship will be governed. They say there is a line that I am not willing to cross or this is where I draw the line as it regards specific things in the relationship.
Simply put, boundaries indicate to the other person how you would like to be treated. They identify your limits and what you are unwilling to accept. Keir Brady, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has written a very helpful article about five types of boundaries for your relationships and another about how you can go about establishing healthy boundaries. You can read them here.
Invest Time in your Relationships
Time is not an infinite resource and therefore needs to be managed well. I know that on a daily basis, there are many things competing for this precious resource. One of the best places to invest it is in your relationships, because they require quality time in order to stay healthy and to grow.
You may think you don’t have the time now to make that phone call or for that special dinner or that outing. “I will do it later or on another day”, you say. That day is not promised. In some cases, by the time you get to that day, the relationship would have been sunk and buried in the sea bed. Set aside quality time for your important relationships.
Relationships can be beautiful and rewarding. They challenge us, they change us, they help us to grow, and to be better. Wise king Solomon said, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17 NLT.
Relationships are also dynamic, and there is no magic formula for mastering them. However, I am convinced that you can be successful in all of your relationships. Once you are intentional about navigating them successfully, and you apply these suggestions sprinkled with commitment, you will find tons of enjoyment as you ride the waves of life.