Social Wellness Month - The Importance of Relationships
Relationships can be a tricky thing to navigate. They can bring you joy, laughter, support and love but can also be stressful, time-consuming, or have negative impacts. So how do you make the best of your relationships, find the ones that enhance your life and weed out the ones that are toxic?
Communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship, it allows you each to express your feelings, manage any conflict, and build trust. It is important to learn your communication style as well as your friend or partners communication style. Communication is a two-way street, while you may express how you feel through your actions, perhaps the person you are communicating with does so with body language or through direct conversation. It is helpful to take the time to learn how you can incorporate both of your communication styles into your relationship in order to build a better foundation. Another thing to remember is that your communication will vary with each different friend or partner. I have friends who I need to speak to every day and friends where I can go 6 months without talking yet we can pick up right where we left off. Everyone is unique and therefore each relationship is unique as well.
In regard to mental health, it is important to acknowledge what you may need from your relationship when you are struggling. Personally, when I am struggling, I tend to push people away and isolate and this has led to some conflict when people take it personally. I have learned that it works best for me to be honest and upfront with people. I will let them know if I am struggling and need some space or if in that moment, I need support and for them to check in with me. I also strongly encourage them to do that same with me so neither of us feel like we are being avoided or bombarded. It is key you learn and discuss the boundaries of your relationship, although I am happy to support my friends when they are struggling, I am also aware that I cannot be their therapist and I may not be capable of helping them through everything. I can still offer my support, encourage them to talk to a professional and be their friend but I know what I can handle emotionally and mentally and so should they.
Confrontation is always uncomfortable, but no one is perfect, and you are likely to face some situation in your relationships where you may disagree, need to apologize or require an apology and that will warrant a conversation. In our foundation of communication we talk about how important it is to build trust and to be honest and managing conflicts is a key aspect of this. How you choose to resolve your differences play a big role in your relationship going forward. Recently, I have been reading Chessie King’s “Be your own Best Friend,” which is a fantastic read about loving yourself. She highlights the difficulty of managing confrontation in your relationships and friendships and made a great step by step guide to managing the situations which can arise. Check out her guide below!
King, C. (2020). Be Your Own Best Friend (First ed.) [First]. London, UK: HarperCollins. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B082821WVV?pf_rd_r=5WVE70THN7MG0P61V406&pf_rd_p=05326fd5-c43e-4948-99b1-a65b129fdd73
Identifying a toxic relationship can be extremely difficult and hard to navigate. Nobody wants to end a friendship or relationship, but it is extremely important to identify aspects that may be negatively impacting your life. When I got my very first boyfriend, I was just so excited that someone could like me, I had struggled with self-esteem issues and having a ‘boyfriend’ just seemed like the best thing in the world. We were together for 2 years before I realized how toxic my relationship was. He was controlling, condescending, and great at making me feel like I was lucky to have someone that could love me and like no one else could ever like me (word for word he told me that and for some reason I believed him). He made me feel small, but I thought that I needed to stay in that negative space and was deserving of it. I felt that if I just kept giving more and more of myself it would eventually be enough. Unfortunately – but not surprisingly, it continued to get worse and became both verbally and sexually abusive. I lost many wonderful friendships because of it as I pushed people away when they brought it up and I refused to listen to the healthy relationships in my life. If I could go back to that time and just remind myself how much I was worth, how the person I date should not define me but instead uplift me I think I would have saved myself a world of hurt. On the other hand, enduring and then leaving this relationship taught me a lot and helped me to see how I deserved so much more. As I dealt with my past demons from the relationship, I learned how to identify what I needed in my relationships and what had negative impacts on my mental health.
A couple questions I have learned to ask myself over the years when I have concerns over a relationship are:
- Is what I am giving being reciprocated?
- Does this relationship bring me happiness?
- Am I staying only because it is easier/less confrontational?
- How is this impacting my mental state? Positively or negatively?
- Do I have more reasons to stay or to go?
- Am I getting what I want AND need from this relationship?
Even the mere act of writing a pros and cons list can be really beneficially if you are struggling in any of your friendships or relationships.
This may sound odd, but it is important to learn how to choose friends and understand that you do not need to be friends with everyone. That is not to say that you can’t be kind and respectful to people or that you can’t have large groups of friends! Personally, I have a very small circle of extremely close friends and those few friends provide me with the fulfillment, friendship, and love I need. I always felt lost in large groups of friends and had a hard time juggling lots of people. I do have lots of acquaintances, school friends, and people I enjoy hanging out with, but I am careful where I invest my energy. You have to learn to only take on what you can reciprocate. Don’t spread yourself too thin and remember the first and most important relationship you have is with yourself. In the iconic words of Ru Paul “if you can’t love yourself how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”