Relationships and mental health go hand in hand. One of the most crucial aspects to how we evolved and advanced as a species is how we developed capacity to develop relationships and to rely on communal support to overcome adversity. So, it is a puzzling thing how challenging relationships can be when we rely on them so much!
One of the things we are very fond of at Wayfound is self-efficacy. We like to help people explore how they can find empowerment in the most challenging of situations, and our relationships can certainly be sources of challenge at times. When it comes to improving our relationships and the connections we have with people, the best thing we can do is look at our part in the dynamic and focus on the things we can change, versus waiting for others to change in the ways we think they should.
Let’s explore some ways that we can approach our relationships in a way that increases our self-efficacy.
The first step in good interpersonal functioning is to enhance our self-awareness about how we are entering into a conversation or potentially conflicted situation. If I am going to have dinner with my family and am already feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I am not going to likely have much patience for any additional stressors or frustrations that might come my way. What you can do to help yourself, is buy yourself some time. We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to behave in accordance with what others expect of us, and I would say, who says? For example, if you are expected for dinner at 6pm, but you have had a challenging day and are feeling overwhelmed, it is far more advisable to allow yourself to be late, and to use that time to settle and calm yourself, than it is to keep pushing beyond your limits. Odds are probably good that if you don’t observe your limits, you will be more susceptible to being impacted by the actions of others in a negative way. In this way, taking time on the front end of an encounter often saves us time in the long run, as we better position ourselves to cope and engage with an interpersonal situation if we enter in to it in a good mindset from the beginning.
Another idea, particularly when relationships are challenging, is to reflect on what is happening in the dynamic between you and the other person. As an example, if you come home at the end of the day, tired and looking forward to seeing your family, how do you feel if you are met with frustration that you are later than was expected? Do you feel blamed? Are you likely to defend yourself? You might find that you’re inclined to engage in some blaming behavior yourself, and perhaps suggest that you’re entitled to be late since you are working so hard for the family and express frustration to your spouse for not being kinder or more patient. What has happened in this example is that a cycle of blaming and defending has begun, and after it goes round a few times, does it even matter who started it? What we can do in this type of situation is identify for ourselves that we are feeling blamed and speak to that, rather than automatically taking up a defensive posture or blaming back. If you can find a way in that moment to share your feelings, perhaps that you feel hurt or disappointed at your reception coming home, and that the way your spouse interacted with you left you feeling blamed, you may be in a better position with your spouse to talk about what happened, instead of getting caught up in an unproductive cycle of blaming each other.
Relationships can be tough, but they can also be incredible sources of inspiration, healing and support and so they are worth working on!