Have you ever considered what it is that makes a relationship? Is it set of standards we keep for ourselves and the other person — promises we commit to upholding? When I say I have a relationship with someone what does that even mean?
I believe that our relationships with the people in our lives are based purely in our minds. Our relationship does not exist independently of each person; rather, the relationship is completely dependent upon each individual. Each person has their version of the relationship that they keep and create within themselves. Each person may see the relationship differently and they most certainly will see themselves differently within the relationship as compared to how the other person may see them.
Having reached that conclusion, it follows that:
our relationships with others are simply a compilation of thoughts about the other person.
That’s it. Knowing that, we then have complete autonomy to make the relationships in our lives whatever we want them to be.
There is no such thing as “I have a terrible relationship with my sister.” That is only an opinion. That opinion is one that the holder inevitably has all sorts of support for: evidence culled from the parties’ history to *prove* that the parties have a terrible relationship. That interpretation of the past and that perception of the evidence is completely one-sided. It is all founded in opinions of the individual person. Those opinions, when taken together, do not create a fact.
When we decide to believe something–my boss is jerk–our brains will get to work finding all the evidence of that belief within our present and past existence. Our brain will not sort through the data in an unbiased manner and weigh the information to determine whether that belief is true. We have already concluded that it is true and now our brain will seek evidence to support it. This is confirmation bias, in its simplest state.
We must become aware that we make decisions in every moment about our relationships.
We have made conclusions about our relationship with each person we encounter. If we want better relationships or different relationships in our lives, we have to change the way we think about the people in our lives. If you want a better relationship with your sister, you have to stop believing that your sister is a selfish little brat. You have to stop telling yourself that the two of you will never see eye to eye.
When we treat our perceptions of relationships as factual, we foreclose the possibility of ever having a different relationship with the people around us. So often, we wish we had better relationships with others but we overlook our role in the relationship–the only reason a relationship is “good” or “bad” is because of where you are choosing to focus your interpretation of the relationship. You will never have a good relationships with someone when you are only focusing on the negative aspects of the relationship.
I find it easiest to put into context with people we love implicitly–whether that’s a parent, a child, a niece or nephew or even a pet. There are people in our lives that we love completely. They have faults and shortcomings that we overlook because we love them. We choose not to focus our energies on the facts that they always borrow your clothes and never return them, are always broke, or can’t help to stop peeing on the carpet.
We focus instead on all the positive aspects of the relationship–that is why it is so easy to think of them so fondly! It is not because the relationship is inherently good; we have simply chosen to perceive it that way. There could certainly be people in this world who would not be willing to overlook a partner’s messiness or irresponsibility with money, who can’t get over a pet who periodically has an accident. For those people, those relationships will not be characterized as good because they are not choosing to focus on any of the goodness.
This does NOT mean we have to think lovely thoughts about all the people in our lives.
What this does mean is that we have to start taking ownership of the relationships in our lives. We get to choose what kind of relationships we have. We get to choose how to think about the people we encounter. In that way, we are choosing the types of relationships we participate in. We have complete control over whether a relationship is good or bad.
How we interpret and participate in our relationships is a focus of many sessions with my clients. Whenever you feel challenged by a difficult relationship, it is an opportunity for you to take control of your life and start making decisions about the types of relationships you want. It is an opportunity to do your own work and examine why you are choosing to focus on certain aspects of the relationship. If you have a relationship that is challenging you, there is no time like the present. Sign up for a free hour of coaching with me and let’s see what we can do!
Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash