The Essence of A Good Relationship

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There is no such thing as a perfect relationship. There is no perfect man or perfect woman. No perfect pet. No perfect job. No perfect thing that will make everything better for eternity. Rather, there are good relationships. Good jobs. Good pets. Good situations. Each of these is developed not through perfection, but through imperfection. The idea that something can be perfect is a false standard created by someone that never achieved it. People have died in the pursuit of perfection. Literally people have died. But also, they’ve died spiritually. Some couldn’t achieve perfection, and their goals died with them at a young age. Imagine being 25 or younger and feeling that your life no longer had any purpose. Now look through the people you know and consider how many of them are talented but are not acting on that talent, never having known their full potential. That should scare you. It should scare you that it is so easy to give up. It should scare you that it is easy to sit back and choose to “go with the flow”. It should scare you that a person’s desire to tap into their purpose can be buried in the rubble of “what could’ve been”.  That brings us to today’s topic, The Essence of a “Good Relationship”. This episode is not just for couples or those who are married. It’s for friends, parents, and family members. For co-workers and colleagues. We are all entering and exiting relationships throughout our lives and sometimes we have no idea that it’s occurring. 

Boundaries and Realistic Expectations: 

Did you now that we first start to experience boundaries in our infancy? Crying when we get left alone. Trusting that our caregivers would feed us, change us, and make us feel safe. Do you remember the first time your parent sent you to daycare or to school? Do you know why they typically start crying? It’s because this is a new experience for the both of you. Entrusting other people to provide for your safety and care. Recognizing that it won’t be at the level of your parents but hoping that it would be in some way worthy. In our adult lives we practice setting boundaries in how transparent we are about our lives. How much we choose to share and when we want to share. When we are first comfortable within ourselves and then with someone else, we can begin to relax our guard and give them access to our boundaries. Submitting to the relationship if you will. Think of a time when someone overshared information with you. Did you immediately size up the person as a risk, metaphorically build a wall in your head, and start planning how you would exit this person from your life? 

In your adult life it will be critical to set rational boundaries, things that will keep you safe and progressing. It will also be important that these boundaries are followed up with clear and realistic expectations. For example, as an entrepreneur you are in control of your time and money. You may feel that since you work from home or for yourself that you should maximize your time by always working. Consecutive 16-hour days will reap a reward at some point, right? But then you notice that your work or business consumes up more of your life than you initially anticipated. A boundary needs to be set here. Especially if you have a family. There is no perfect formula to determine how much time you should invest in different areas of your life, but always remember that it is the people closest to you who will be there when you’re sick or in a vulnerable state. Not your money, your business, or your job. This section can really be its own episode, and in the next season of the podcast I anticipate covering it more. 

Vulnerability and Trust: 

To extend a boundary to someone we must feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable, to trust ourselves and then be able to trust the other person. Typically, people only know how to be vulnerable during the initial stage of dating, in sickness, in death, during sex, in times of anger, and in times of happiness. That’s a very limiting range. Relationships are about continuously developing, exhibiting, and sharing vulnerability. Vulnerability is defined as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” Look at how powerful that definition is. The state of being “exposed” to the possibility of “attack’ or “harm”. Do you see that a healthy relationship means that you can trust the other person with the knowledge of things about you that could damage you? Think of your relationship with coworkers, for the most part it’s superficial, and things are relatively cordial. But think of the relationship you have (or have had) with intimate partners or close friends, it should’ve been much easier to share personal information about one another. 

When we enter into “meaningful” relationships with others we have to be willing to be vulnerable. At one time or another each of my best or close friends have seen me cry. They have seen me through a terrible crisis. They’ve been there to witness a major success in my life. They’ve helped me home when I had one too many drinks. At 3 A.M., on a cold January morning, one of my friends got out of his bed, loaded his weekend bag into my car, helped me drive 16 hours to my new home with my dog in the backseat, went to the airport with me to pick up another friend and they both spent the weekend with me to help settle in to my new normal. Over the course of the weekend, we tapped into levels of our friendship that most people unfortunately never get to experience. But that relationship was not built there in that moment, it was built over 4-15 years of check-ins, dinners, family events, birthday parties, memes, gripes, and laughs. We made a social contract with one another to be accountable, to be transparent, and most importantly to show up. 

If there is no vulnerability within the foundation of your relationship, then it will fail. We are vulnerable with those whom we trust. What is a relationship with no trust? The truth about real life is that in order to feel truly connected to someone you have to be authentic. The person you become when you’re alone with your thoughts is the version that the closest people to your heart should know. 

Honesty and Forgiveness:

Undoubtedly honesty is a major building block of any real relationship. Through your actions your words are given life. Honesty keeps everyone on the same page and coincides with vulnerability. Honesty begins with you first, being honest about what you desire, what you need, what you’re willing to compromise on, what you’re willing to accept, and what you’re willing to give. Relationships about the continuous cycles of learning and unlearning. As we all grow and mature, we change. This requires our partners to shed some of the old ideas they had about us and to learn us all over again. In a healthy relationship this change won’t be a shock because you’ll have been checking in and keeping open lines of communication. So, as you’re picking one another’s brain and putting the puzzle together, you’ll have an idea of the paradigm shift happening within your partner. Your relationship will mature and grow regardless of the work either of you devout, the direction the relationship goes is directly related to your efforts. 

So where does forgiveness fit into all of this? In a healthy relationship, everyone is on the same page, problems are handled swiftly, there are no breaks in trust, and things are running so smooth that any serious problems are a surprise. We couldn’t be more wrong. In a healthy relationship there will still be arguments, disagreements, moments when old habits resurface, and moments when we stray from the healthy coping skills we’ve learned. But the true testament of success is when people recognize the deficiency and decide to work through it. Often, when it is stressful, it can be much easier to walk away from a good relationship, than to try and stay and work things out. Working things out is messy business. Working things out requires a level of reflection and introspection that many are not comfortable doing. So, throughout the course of the relationship, you must be prepared to forgive, over and over. Changed behavior is the result we strive for, and remember we’re setting our clear boundaries and expectations, but if your partner doesn’t squeeze the toothpaste the way you like, leaves caps half-twisted, or forgets to check the mailbox, don’t blow a gasket. Give some grace and be thankful for their presence in your life for the things they get right. 

Healthy Relationship Markers:

As we conclude consider these things as some healthy relationship markers to help you determine if your relationship is moving in the right direction. A hallmark of a good and steady relationship is an open, clear, and honest line of communication. Merely checking the boxes with the standard “how was work?” isn’t going to cut it in year 3 of your relationship. People need, crave and desire more. Ask them what they learned about themselves today, or what did they learn about someone else today. Ask if they had a moment during their day when they could be of service to someone else, and follow-up by asking them how that act of service made them feel. Communication is the bedrock of the relationship, stop talking or dumb-down the communication and everyone involved will feel lost, hurt, and exhausted. Open communication means that it works both ways and the role of sender/receiver is shared between all parties. Clear communication means that you’re conveying your message wholly and truthfully, even if it requires you to restate or institute boundaries. Honest communication means that you’re not telling half-truths, lies, or talking in circles. While we are responsible for the way we deliver our message, we are not protecting the listener by withholding it. 

Stay on the same page. If you’ve ever played a musical instrument and know how to read music, then you know how jacked up a song can sound if even one member of the band is playing a different sheet of music. Much like in relationships, it may not become apparent to the outside world right away, but eventually it will expose itself. Sometimes romantic partners even miss the signs, but this still comes from a lapse in communication. When we get back to the communication piece and hash out what’s happening internally, we can usually resolve or at a minimum get a better sense of understanding. 

It’s critical to follow up our loving words with loving acts. Beyond procreation there are no hard-set gender roles in relationships. As you communicate and understand one another more, find routine or different ways to express your love, gratitude, or appreciation. In my romantic relationship I order a bouquet of flowers every month. For my close friends I like to get them gifts that they can use throughout the year. For my mom I like to get her shoes or pandora charms. You get the drift, the gift, and the nature of how it’s given will shift with each relationship, but the overall objective is the same. It is an expression of my love and adoration for the recipient. Likewise, our loving acts should be followed up with loving words, the two go together. 

We’ve already discussed the false idea of perfection. A false idea of perfection strips the relationship participants of their freedom, and without freedom, well you don’t really have a relationship. It is through this freedom and the identification of “self” that all parties involved learn to work as a team. Fully observing their separate and combined strengths and weaknesses. The healthiest relationships are rarely a 50/50 spread, in fact the scales are hardly if ever balanced! A real down-to-earth relationship is about people being willing to make adjustments in real time and being willing to give more when the other(s) can’t. That can be a hard pill to swallow, right? What if other people find out that your partner is not pulling their weight and you’re covering for them? That’s perfectly fine! The next point is about maintaining the integrity and privacy of your relationship anyway. 

You are the people in the relationship and therefore you hold the cards and make the moves. It’s good to vent to another person, to ask for advice here and there, to even get some different perspectives. But ultimately you must remember that you are the architect of your own life, and as such you are the one responsible for framing this relationship as you want it to go. While you can’t control what the other players do, you can control your contributions and your responses. My last marker is that regardless of the nature of any relationship you should learn to do efficient and effective check-ins. They have the potential to make all the difference. The company that I’ve had the most success with is known as the Happy Partners Project. What I really enjoy about these cards is that the process is structured, it begins with both players reading and agreeing to the rules. It provides information about negative words or phrases and gives us relationship building words to use instead. You don’t need this deck of cards to have a check-in, but if it’s something you’ve never done then it helps to have some structure. 

I did check-ins in my friendships back in the day, but I didn’t know what they were called.  I didn’t see very many healthy relationships growing up so when it came time for my own romantic relationships, I often imitated what I saw. As you can imagine that didn’t work out all that well for me. But over the last few years I really made a commitment to get better, to do better, and to expect better. My friend Lindsey Wagner is well-known for saying that “nothing is more powerful than a made-up mind”. When seriously decide that better is what you want, the universe will conform to your desires. Be well, be kind to yourself, be kind to others.  

Please leave a comment, subscribe to the blog, or send an e-mail to demetrius@empoweringlifechangesllc.com

Book your life coaching session at http://www.empoweringlifechanges.net

Sincerely, 

Demetrius

Author:

Hello, My name is Demetrius Latham, Jr. I am a life coach, college lecturer, police officer, martial artist, and IRONMAN Finisher. I strive every day to make decisions that will improve my life and the lives of those around me. I have a B.S. in Justice Administration from the Univ. of Louisville, a M.S. in Justice Administration from Cumberland Univ., and a Ph.D. in Justice Administration from Walden Univ.

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