By Annie Lawler

One of the key reasons that people come to consultations at Breathing Space is because of dysfunctional relationships in one way or another.

The area of relationships is one of the main causes of stress in our lives – at home, at work and in all social interactions.

However, we’re more in control of the outcomes in most cases than we might think and we can take the stress out of relationships by following some golden rules, including the following 10 step process:

1. It’s important to understand that nobody has the power to upset you unless you allow it. Nobody can make you feel bad. What dictates how good or bad you feel about relationships is your reaction to the way people behave towards you. Whilst you may feel hurt or upset with someone when they behave in a way you don’t like and whilst we may not have the power to change the situation, we always have a choice about the way we react to people and situations.

2. If you find yourself in conflict with someone, the best way to resolve it is to always be on the look-out to find solutions. Try to understand where the other person is coming from. Speak in terms of ‘When you said or did that, I felt…’ and ‘I’d like to understand…’ This limits the chance of confrontation and a defensive response. Sometimes these conversations can be challenging and upsetting, but in the long run, if we can discuss things openly, we’re more likely to find a solution.

3. Avoid dwelling on the past and playing the blame game. If someone has done something to upset you or vice versa, it is good to reflect and to learn from where things went awry. However becoming involved in ‘tit for tat’ conversations where we each blame the other party for something they did in the past is not helpful. Let go of the past, learn from your experience and move forward.

4. There are occasions where, despite our best attempts to find solutions, the other party may not be willing to change and may wish to hold onto old grudges. In these cases, it is best to avoid wasting energy on soul searching and finding ways to resolve things. Accept that some relationships may not be as close or as friendly as you would like and focus your attention on those relationships that are working and where you get a positive response. If you have to have contact with someone like this, set rules for yourself in the way you handle it and avoid any situations which may expose you to further negative responses.

5. Sometimes when we have been around people a long time, we forget what first attracted us to this person in the first place – as a friend, a work colleague or partner. It’s good to remind yourself of why you liked them initially and remind yourself of other things you’ve found about them that are positive. Keep your focus on what is good and what you find entertaining, helpful, endearing or positive in any way.

6. Our society often teaches us to be judgmental and to think in terms of ‘black and white’ and ‘right and wrong’. However things are rarely that simple. We each have a unique experience of life and just may see things from a different perspective. We can learn from different points of view and it’s actually OK to disagree with someone on occasions and still like each other. Do not expect people to change because you think they ‘should’ be doing something differently. The key is unconditional love and acceptance.

7. However busy you are, make those close to you a priority and manage their expectations. Close personal relationships are important to our happiness and deserve our attention. You don’t have to be a ‘yes’ person all the time and it is often possible to negotiate revised timings and schedules if necessary. The key is to recognise potential conflicts and deal with them as soon as you are aware of them rather than hoping things will work out. This gives those involved time to make other arrangements, reduces stress levels all round and encourages trust in relationships.

8. However much we care for others, if we put our own health and wellbeing first and manage our time well, we’re in a better position to help others.

9. If you find that certain people are often critical of you or seem to oppose you constantly, seek their opinion and advice on the next thing that involves them. The old adage ‘Keep you friends close and your enemies closer’ is often good advice. If you give them the opportunity to voice their opinions and get their ‘buy in’ to your plans, you may find them very useful allies.

10. NEVER accept abusive relationships as there is simply no excuse for this behaviour and NOBODY has the right to make you feel any less of a wonderful and unique human being than you are. If people are bullying you in any way, seek professional help and refuse to accept the blame for someone else’s bad behaviour. It’s all part of their power play to make you feel weak, so that they can continue to behave badly.

About the Author: Annie Lawler is Managing Director of Breathing Space Therapies and
Breathing Space for Business

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