Relationship stress is as certain as death and taxes (due April 15th by the way).
Mark Twain said it best. “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
If only that were true!
The truth is, we make time for snickering, bickering, not forgiving and stressing over the most important relationships in our lives.
Our kids grew up with friends who grew up in “broken homes,” families with one parent or two divorced parents who tried to hold things together by sharing custody or with two parents who were at war with themselves. It’s no wonder we have to try harder to learn to love.
Not everything can be fixed, but my advice is to identify the relationship that needs fixing and plan ahead so it doesn’t disappear with the winter’s snow. Here are some tools to get ahead of this…
Scope out your relationship
Step back. Examine the relationship as through a telescope. That distance will allow you to see things you don’t see close up. You may need someone’s help, a trusted friend who can be objective and see what you can’t. Decide if this is a relationship you really want to repair. In your universe of relationships do you see this one as being important enough to mend? Will it bring value to the rest of your life?
Assess the damage
Most relationships are repairable. Some are not. Before you invest too much emotional energy and time on this one, decide which it is.
You may be thinking, “I’ve tried to fix this so many times before,” and you wonder whether it’s beyond repair. Maybe you look back to the last effort and think that it really made things worse not better, so why try again?
Good question, but don’t be so quick to answer. Damage assessment is a key step after any disaster. It takes time and money, but it is essential to moving forward, and sometimes it leads to a decision to rebuild rather than repair.
In assessing the damage to this relationship look at the history. Was there one incident or several that caused the pain? Is this a chronic condition or treatable? Has the damage extended to others or affected only you?
Answering these questions will help you decide if it is wise to go forward.
Consider the cost
You only have so much in the bank and you’ll need resources for all the other important relationships in your life. So, before you make a massive withdrawal be sure what will be required to complete the job.
It may help you to remember that not all relationships are created equal.
- Family – These are the most important because your roots go back to them. Like it or not, now is the time to invest in yourself by spending time and effort on a father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter relationship gone bad. Start here.
- Friendship – Really close, BFF friendships are sometimes stronger than family ties. These are a second line of defense against life’s hardship and stress and a source of support when family life is difficult.
- Professional – I’m not prepared to say that work relationships are unimportant. Many of us spend more of our waking hours with co-workers than with spouses and families. But unless you are prepared to say, “My work is my life,” don’t overestimate their value at the expense of friends and family.
Make a plan
Fortunately I am a planner. It is my nature to pause, ponder and plan. Unfortunately, I don’t possess the natural skills to repair things.
Example: a leak in our basement saturated a ceiling tile. No problem we had extras, so all I needed to do is remove the old and replace it with a new one, right? Yes, but I couldn’t get the old one out.
After 15 minutes on YouTube and 20 minutes measuring and cutting a replacement tile, I was ready to go. Problem solved! A 5-minute job for anyone else took me almost an hour.
Relationships are even more complicated than ceiling tiles so maybe, like me, you need help from someone who has the skills. Don’t hesitate to ask. If you’ve passed through the three steps above you should be ready, with some help, to get started.
Take a step
It’s been fun watching my 3-year-old grandson grow. It’s a process. You sit before you crawl, crawl before you stand, stand before you walk and walk before you run. He’s running now!
Relationships don’t happen overnight and when they are damaged it takes a while to repair them, and the repair can be slow. So, don’t expect miracles, just begin taking steps toward the goal.
That step may be a phone call, letter or visit. Clear and careful communication is usually the best starting point. Avoid email, texting and the rest of the so-called “social network.” Chances are it may have contributed to the problem in the first place.
Accept the consequences
Now all of those relationship clichés come to mind.
“Better to have loved that never to have loved at all.”
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” – Still not sure what that really means.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” – Actually this one applies to a lot of things, not just relationships, and I like it the best. Every relationship offers both risk and reward. The only alternative is to hunker down and embrace loneliness.
That’s so not you! Your best self says, “Go for it!”
Face it; you may be the only one in this relationship who wants to repair it. It’s possible that the other person has already moved on and is not looking back. That’s OK. I’ll bet this isn’t the only relationship in your life that needs attention. Maybe it’s time to move on to the next.
Even the decision to move on has its benefits. No more guilt, no more “what if’s,” and no more dreading the next encounter. If you’ve done everything you can to make it better, say the words out loud, “It’s over and I’m moving on with my life.”
Now that you have the tools, use them! Walk through the process with one of your hardest relationships and see what happens. You might be surprised.
If it doesn’t get any better, at least you made the effort. Now leave the door open.
But keep walking.
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