We are very social beings and we seek company right from the very moment of our birth. Loneliness and social isolation is believed to be one of the most difficult and painful feelings we can experience. In evolutionary survival terms, to be isolated outside the group was one of the most dangerous predicaments for our ancestors. This may be the reason why loneliness is seen as a new blight of modern living, where recent studies suggest that the effects can be comparable to smoking 10 cigarettes a day in terms of shortening lifespan. So having a group of family and friends around us is extremely important for our sense of well-being and security.
Relationships at their best can be a real source of strength, deepening and enriching our lives. Connecting with others also brings companionship as well as being able to spend time together in a host of ways. This might be catching up for a natter, exchanging news, gossip, stories, information, ideas and opinions, or simply doing something enjoyable together. Having another perspective on an issue can be really useful in helping us see alternative solutions. This is also true when we are going through a rough patch, such as an illness, exam pressures, relationship break-up or job redundancy, that we can draw upon the support and love of people who care about us. Even if it doesn’t take the difficulty away, just knowing that someone is there can provide comfort and the feeling we are not on our own. In relationships, the quantity of friendships and acquaintances is less important then the quality. It is better to have a small group of trusted and rewarding relationships than a large number of likes on social media.
Unfortunately relationships aren’t always straight forward to navigate. As well as a source of pleasure, they can also cause us a great deal of discomfort, disturbance or even be detrimental to our psychological health. A common reason people often come into therapy is because of difficult or even toxic relationships or where an appropriate response has not been forthcoming. Further it can be hard to cultivate healthy and rewarding relationships when you have experienced repeatedly being let down, disappointed or hurt by others. Unhealthy relationships are often characterised by being skewed towards meeting the needs of one person at the expense of the other. So it can take courage to step out of this pattern and cultivate healthy, reciprocal and rewarding relationships.
Here are some thoughts on relationships:-
*If you have a good relationship, this is a gift and is worth treasuring. Try to value the relationship and make time for this person being in your life even if you can’t meet up regularly.
*Being a good friend is not just about one of you being the exclusive audience or cheerleader for the other. Relationships are about give and take so be prepared to compromise and also share the air time.
*Difficulties can occur even in the best of relationships. Rather than cutting off the relationship or avoiding the subject, try to talk through the issue. Be prepared to listen to the other person’s point of view and take responsibility for what you may have contributed to the problem. If it is warranted, then do apologise and say sorry.
*Watch out for clues that a relationship is not healthy. Warning signs might be you are the one doing all the work (keeping in touch or arranging to meet up), the other person hogging the conversation or dismissing things that are important to you. A good friend will not criticise, denigrate or try to exploit you.
*If relationships, especially family, are difficult, try to limit the contact. It might be worth keeping phone calls or visits short or setting personal boundaries regarding what you will or won’t do.
*Sometimes there are certain questions or comments that particularly family can raise, especially at important social occasions, which we dread or push our buttons. It can help to have a couple of pre-prepared responses up your sleeve. Gael Lindenfield’s Super Confidence has some useful tips for dealing with criticism or difficult conversations.