Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about relationships. Specifically, I’ve been trying to figure out how to have more balance in all my relationships. Because even when you think everything is fine, you may find out that people you care about or work with (or both) feel otherwise. You never know how your actions are being perceived. For example, you may think that you’re helping someone you care about by giving advice, but they may feel that you talk more than you listen. Or they may think that by trying to make decisions without discussing them first, you aren’t being considerate, when you assumed you were just saving them time and trouble.
Balance can be a tricky thing, and every relationship has a unique dynamic. Timing can also be a factor. Sometimes a relationship is temporarily unbalanced because there is a change: one person now makes more money, has less time, is going through a particularly difficult situation or is in a place of authority. During these times, you must adjust accordingly and make up for the imbalance in other ways or at a later date. But there are a few basic rules that apply to everyone at anytime whether it’s family, friends, romance or coworkers. Here are a few tips on achieving and maintaining a balanced relationship.
It’s the single most important factor in all human interaction. And whether you’re dealing with something as simple as discussing where to have dinner or the complications of conflict, you should at all times express your honest feelings and needs, even if you think the other person won’t like what they hear. It’s better to deal with it right away, instead of allowing frustrations to grow over time. Even in the workplace, although you may have to be more formal or diplomatic when choosing your words, candid communication is key.
Whenever possible, this honesty needs to be coupled with specificity. When we speak in vague terms, communication can fail. It’s not enough to tell someone you feel unappreciated, you have to give examples of specific incidents that made you feel that way and what you would have liked to have happened instead. Or if you tell your boss you’d like to be given assignments that require a bit more creativity, make sure you have an actual suggestion or two for them to consider.
Give and Take
Just as you need to be open about your thoughts and desires, you must be prepared to listen to everyone elses as well. And if you are actually in the position to make decisions that affect both of you, make sure to take their perspective into account.
When it comes to joint tasks such as working on a project together, taking a trip, sharing a home or raising a child, make sure both of you are putting in equal effort. You may have different talents or specialties but insist that you participate equally in the work, just as it’s important that you share equally in the success or joy.
Try to find areas of agreement. When in doubt, compromise. For example, if you both want to watch a movie try to find one that you both enjoy, even if it’s not the one you wanted to see the most. Or each of you pick a movie and make a marathon out of it. If you don’t have time for a marathon, start taking turns over a period of weeks. You can even get creative by discussing your priorities. If what you eat is actually more important to you than what you watch, you take care of dinner and your friend or significant other can take care of choosing the entertainment. Experiment and find the system that works the best for both of you.
A common problem in most relationships is accepting people for who they are. We can put our parents on pedestals, romanticize our more intimate relationships and take friends for granted. We can also assume that the people we work with are as dedicated as we are, or alternatively, assume we are all in constant competition at the office. None of it is true.
Every individual, every situation and every relationship is different. We are in a constant state of learning about one another and since people grow and change, the lessons never stop. The first step in finding more balance is to assume you know nothing. People will never be what we want them to be in our fantasies, or what we thought they were when we first met. They might not be who you thought they were the day before. That is what makes people so beautiful. Appreciate the unknown instead of trying control it.
Next, don’t try and make someone your everything. Your husband might be your best friend, but perhaps he shouldn’t be your only friend. Don’t assume your closest gal pal, who is also your business partner and roommate, will always be there when you need her. She might have other plans. Despite your obvious synergy in the workplace, your favorite coworker might take a promotion at another company. Don’t expect one person to always understand you, agree with you, support you and be available to do things with you. It can put too much pressure on any relationship. It’s not just each individual relationship that needs balance, it’s also our entire social circles that can help balance each other.
Trust must be earned, but it should start from scratch. Which means everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Or, in other words, leave the baggage at the door. Whatever you think you’ve learned about relationships or human nature from past relationships can be unfair to apply to someone new. Let their actions and words speak for themselves. Even if you understand what they do, don’t make the mistake of assuming you know why they do it just because you have experienced something similar with someone else. That’s not empathy, that’s projecting.
If you want to understand someone’s thinking or motivation, just ask them, And when you don’t like what someone does, don’t jump to conclusions and assume they were motivated by malicious intent. It could be as simple as miscommunication – perhaps their intentions were good. So ask, listen and try to understand where they are coming from.
Last but not least, try to encourage and support each other. It is the foundation of any good and lasting relationship, which is in part achieved by helping each other grow. Be actively interested in their goals and ambitions, even if the subject or activity isn’t your personal favorite. You should care because it matters to them and they matter to you. Frequently express your respect and admiration for their talents or skills and make sure they know you want for them what they want for themselves. Constructive criticism is always allowed, but try to inspire instead of judge. Encourage each other as individuals as well as in the relationship.
Remember, an uneven relationship will topple sooner or later. If we make sure our own needs are met while simultaneously asking the other person how they feel and actively working towards their happiness, then the relationship will thrive. We’re all in this together!