Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

The Family Garden

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Holding HandsSummertime is the season for family vacations, family cookouts, family reunions, and visiting relatives. Whew! That’s a lot of family.

It can seem like visiting a well-planned flower garden, or a fearsome jungle filled with quicksand. I know people who look forward to the chance to renew family ties, and people who dread the very thought of seeing Aunt and Uncle So-and-So again.

It’s all relative. (Pardon the pun.) The more you like the people you’ll be seeing, the more fun you’ll have. But sometimes a sense of obligation gets in the way of just enjoying people.

When you go see your friends, you’re conscious that you choose them because of what you like about them. Sometimes we forget there are things to like about our families because we’re so busy thinking we ‘have to’ be nice to them.

It’s true there are many different kinds of people in every family gathering. Nowadays the problem is complicated by the variety of lifestyles. Divorce, remarriages, and blended families make for a multiplicity of personalities and interests. But instead of getting hung up on having to like all these people, why not relax and try to see the good things in each of them?

You may be so used to your own relatives that you haven’t given yourself a chance to see how you’ve all grown over the years. You may be so familiar with your family that you have your own expectations about them. And these assumptions become Self-Fulfilling Expectations, making us see the glass half-empty instead of half full.

Take the time to listen and look with the same courtesy you’d give a stranger. You might be surprised at how much more interesting they’ve become. Meeting new relatives through remarriage or family blending can make you nervous too. But don’t think of it as a chore or obligation. Pretend it’s a club or party that you’re thinking of joining. Instead of worrying about how they see you, look for what’s fun about them.

I was lucky enough to be welcomed into a family that already had a lot of love and tolerance for all its members. They taught me a lot about how families can let people grow and change, while still holding on to the special relationships developed in childhood. New members came and went, each judged on their own merits and each given the benefit of the doubt.

But even if your family has trouble adapting to changes, you can take a big role in encouraging a better family atmosphere. Start the ball rolling by taking the time to let your favorite relatives know how much you appreciate them. Then practice listening to your least favorite relatives and make it a treasure hunt to find something to like in every one of them.

See your family as a garden, with new plants coming up all the time. Stop worrying about your own image and don’t feel forced. Make it a conscious choice to weed out the negative thoughts and feelings that have sprouted over the years. You’ll be surprised at the richness of the crop you’ll harvest when the summer season is over.

Choosing to have a good relationship with your relatives takes effort on your part. A little consideration goes a long way toward ensuring pleasant family get-togethers. Look at your family members with a new perspective, and see them as potential friends. Find something to like in every one of them, and watch the family garden burst into bloom.

A Friend in Need or a Fiend Indeed?

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Do you realize what happens when you leave the ‘R’ out of friend? You get a fiend! That’s exactly what a friend can be if you leave Respect, Reality, and Reasonableness out of a relationship!

Some people complain that they have no friends, that no one knows how to be a friend nowadays. Rarely do they look to see if they know how to be a friend to others. You need to ask yourself if you really believe that a friend has to be somebody who agrees with you about everything.

Friends don’t always have to see eye-to-eye. Their differences may lead them to conclusions that conflict with ours. But talking about those differences can teach us a lot about ourselves. At the very least, they can make us think about our own assumptions about the world. Respecting the differences between friends is an important part of building valuable friendships.

While it may be nice to have friends we’ve known since high school, who have shared all of our life experiences, it does get a little boring. People raised in other state or countries can help broaden our horizons by sharing their differences as well as their similarities.

Reality is another important part of friendship. The ability to be open and honest with someone is what draws us together. You don’t have to lie to a friend, or pretend to be something you’re not. Friends are people to whom you can admit your mistakes and weaknesses. But this means you have to tolerate their imperfections too. A large part of friendship is relaxing and being yourself.

To be a friend, you have to allow others the same privileges you demand for yourself. You can’t turn on a friend because they don’t live up to your expectations of what they should do. You don’t criticize them behind their back. Doing those things to a friend-in-need makes you a fiend indeed!

Reality means you can talk directly to a friend when you are uncomfortable about his or her behavior. Maybe it’s your problem; maybe it’s theirs. But friendship means being able to sit down and discuss conflicts between the two of you. Seeing each other through the rough spots can create a bond that lasts throughout your lives.

Reasonableness is the third R necessary for good friendship. What do you expect from your friends? Do you ask more than you give? If you expect your friends to cater to your every need, and meet every demand, you are being unreasonable. How would you feel if the same demand was made of you?

No one can be there for you every time you need them. A friend is someone who will be there when they can. If you are their friend, you will realize that sometimes they just can’t help you immediately. They can’t be there every time there’s trouble. What counts is that they help sometimes, not all the time. A good friend won’t let you down very often. But if you are a good friend, you won’t force them to never let you down. It just isn’t humanly possible!

Friendship takes effort from both parties. The rewards are worth it. Don’t be a fiend to the people who care about you. Act with Respect, a sense of Reality, and Reasonable expectations and put the ‘R’ back in friendship!

Playing the Blame Game

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

I can’t think of a more useless pursuit than looking for someone to blame. The minute we say ‘It’s all your fault!’ to someone, we alienate them. And to what purpose? Laying the blame at someone’s door doesn’t change what has already happened, nor does it look for ways to prevent problems in the future.

This applies as well to blaming ourselves. Self-blame makes you feel terrible, without building any resources to help you avoid errors next time. It actually keeps you from taking responsibility for your life.

Blame makes you feel incompetent. Taking responsibility for your actions is easier when you feel competent and capable. In my experience, people often act most awful when they feel helpless and without power. Being a responsible adult requires a positive attitude towards yourself; blame creates a negative attitude.

Why then do people indulge in the ‘Blame Game?’ One reason is that it’s an easy way out. Pinning the blame on somebody else absolves the blamer of having to make any changes. It avoids the issue of what both parties can do to change the situation. It makes other people feel guilty, which may be used as part of a larger pattern of manipulation. The result of the ‘Blame Game’ is that nothing gets changes, and the hostilities between people increase.

Self-blame can be useful in manipulating people too. By wallowing in guilt and shame, the chronic blamer is asking to be forgiven for his or her actions.

Mind you, the blamer isn’t about to change any of those actions, just to make other people accept them. Self-blame thus becomes a substitute for self-growth. If the self-blamer is manipulative enough, someone else may step in and take over, thus leaving the blamer free to disclaim responsibility for any future events.

Let’s face it: it’s easier to blame than to work at taking control of your own life. Being responsible means thinking and planning.

It means asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’, and working hard at reaching an understanding of the situation. It means accepting mistakes, instead of hiding from them. It means looking at what you can do to change the situation, instead of leaving it all up to someone else.

Blame is the lazy way out. It’s ineffective, boring, and frustrating. It doesn’t change the situation, except by driving other people away. When you’re faced with a problem ask not what other people can do for you, but what you can do for yourself.