February is typically dedicated to relationships in recognition of Valentine’s Day. Although many people think Valentine’s Day belongs to sweethearts, others believe it’s the perfect time to appreciate all of the special relationships in their lives. Parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and even co-workers are often acknowledged on this special day.
An essential element of good health is social well-being. As a Certified Wellness Doctor, I’m occasionally called upon to help patients with relationships. My definition of social well-being is being able to interact with others in a happy, meaningful way. In the early 1800’s, Sydney Smith stated that “Life is to be fortified by many friendships. To love and to be loved is the greatest happiness of existence.” Nothing much has changed in this regard since then, but loving someone and getting along with them in a happy, meaningful way isn’t always easy! Real life always has its drama. This is why I want to share some of what I’ve learned about relationships and how to nourish them so they will thrive.
Most important to know is that relationships are living, dynamic things that require effort to keep them functional. Like all living things, relationships cannot exist without maintenance. Whether you’re involved with your high school sweetheart of two years or fifty years, whether you’ve just begun dating someone you fell head over heels with at the senior citizens dance, whether you have a friend you enjoy spending time with at the shooting range, or whether you have young children or grown-up kids, each relationship requires time and attention.
Once invested in a relationship, the work of understanding begins. Without understanding, relationships deteriorate. Reading books by Gary Chapman, L. R. Hubbard, and Don Miguel Ruiz helped me realize that communication breakdowns often lead to failed relationships.
True communication is two-sided. What would be the point of one-sided communication anyway? You might as well just talk to the wall! According to Wikipedia, communication is the “purposeful activity of exchanging information and meaning across space and time….” For this process to be complete, the receiver must understand the sender’s message.
When communication is attempted while the intended recipient is focused on something else, there will be problems. A perfect example revolves around the common pastime of watching TV. Male humans have been known for responding with a Neanderthal-like grunt which is a sign that they’ve heard someone talking to them, without a clue of what they just replied to. This is why I know it’s in my best interest to turn off the TV when being spoken to. I can’t listen properly to the communication and watch TV. I can watch my shows later but relationships only take place in present time.
Another source of misunderstandings in communication is when people are caught up in a “circuit.” Confusing or frustrating circuits take place when certain memories are triggered in the brain. To better understand this phenomenon, think of a time you found yourself responding to a situation in an awkward way where you felt you were watching the situation rather than participating in it.
The next time you’re talking to someone and you are receiving unexpected or odd return communication, realize the possibility that you could be talking to somebody who’s caught up in a circuit. Don’t argue. It’s like arguing with a tape recording! You’ll get nowhere and it may lead to hard feelings. Try again later and leave any feelings of upset behind, always remembering that good communication is worthwhile.
Another key to understanding has to do with what’s called shared reality – not to be confused with actuality. Shared reality has more to do with what two or more people believe is real, rather than what actually is. For example, if two people agree that an apple is purple, it doesn’t really matter what color the apple is. When they have shared reality, it means they agree that the apple is purple.
You may notice that good feelings rise and fall as you communicate with others about things that you agree or disagree with. Whether you are trying to help a relationship survive or just beginning a new relationship, it’s good to find subjects you agree on. Dwelling on things you disagree about will contribute to problems, whereas finding common ground reinforces feelings of camaraderie and even intimacy.
We’re drawn to those we like and whose company we enjoy, usually developing true affinity for them. One of the definitions of affinity is, the willingness to share the same space with someone else. It means that you enjoy their company and want to spend time with them. You’ve probably heard the expression about following someone to the ends of the earth…. Hopefully you have this feeling most of the time when you’re with your significant other and/or your children. If not, this is the perfect time to start working on your relationships.
Life is too short to waste time in disagreements and misunderstandings, especially with those you love! Fortunately, there is a technique called “Couples Integration” which may be helpful. Through the use of this amazingly simple technique, I’ve had the privilege of seeing couples and family members that couldn’t tolerate being in the same room with each other, begin to get along. For a demonstration of this technique, come to a workshop at my office on February 12.
Remember that even good relationships get even better as you improve communication skills and find shared reality. Another benefit is that you may rediscover your affinity for one another. As you experience better understanding and compassionate empathy in your personal relationships, you’ll have the keys to take it a step further and help make the world a better place!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Dr. William H. Karl, D.C.