Follow These 2 Simple Steps to Build Healthier Relationships
Building a strong, healthy relationship is one of the most challenging human endeavors. We all do it wrong in one way or another. Relationships are too complex to nail. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about family, friends, or partners.
I like to define a relationship as a newborn entity that emerges from the shared space between two existing entities that have consciousness, defined identities, and specific wants and needs.
The entity-relationship has its own identity and its own needs.
Here’s an analogy: Think of when you want to eat one more slice of pizza but something inside you tells you you shouldn’t. Two parts are fighting inside you. Those parts are what make you; two “entities” with a specific want (that you eat or not the pizza).
You are the shared space between both. Eventually, one of the two parts takes control and you either eat or not the pizza.
The same happens in relationships, with a nuance: In a relationship, both parts have consciousness and are not tied to a single body. That makes relationships inherently more unstable. If there is a conflict nothing stops both parts from splitting up.
You can avoid this from happening by expressing whatever is inside you that the other person can’t perceive: Your feelings, your thoughts, what you want, and what you need.
When you express yourself you let the other person know who you are
We react to situations depending on our personality, mood, values, and beliefs. Every situation triggers emotions and feelings inside us that only we know about. But what happens when a situation involves the other person?
For example, if I don’t tell my partner that I don’t like her favorite restaurant she has no way to know. I’d express how I feel to let her know me better, even if I’d still go with her to have dinner.
It’s the same for everyone yet many people choose to shut their feelings down. Whenever you do this, you aren’t speaking up for your part of the relationship. And the other person will take what you haven’t claimed.
If I don’t tell my partner what I feel we’ll keep going to the restaurant normally and I’d be nullifying a part of my space within the relationship. It’s the space in which we have to find common ground.
However, some people are good at expressing their feelings.
I have a friend that has always been like this. But the other day she told me something about her boyfriend that made me think. She said: “I’ve noticed that even if I express my feelings he doesn’t care. He doesn’t act accordingly with what I feel.”
At that moment I realized something. Expressing our feelings is often the first part of a 2-step process. And both steps are needed for a healthy relationship.
The 2-step process: Express and defend your feelings to claim your part in a shared space
Expressing what you feel or think doesn’t guarantee that the other person will respect it. That’s because the other person is in the same exact position as you are.
That person also has feelings to be expressed.
Then what happens when your feelings and theirs don’t align? You’ll have to find common ground while defending how you feel.
Of course, you should take into consideration others’ feelings but not more than your own. No one will defend your feelings before theirs. We are wired this way. Even when we act in a seemingly altruistic way.
Whatever we do goes through the filter of how we feel.
However, some people are unable to defend their feelings.
My friend was unable to stand for how she felt. She was hoping that her boyfriend took care of it. “If I express how I feel then why he doesn’t care?” The answer is that he doesn’t care because she is allowing him to not care (apart from the fact that he is an idiot).
If I say: “Please don’t do this because it hurts me” and the other person keeps doing it, the next thing is not to express again how I feel. It’s to defend it.
Defending your feelings has to be in the equation: “You behave this way and it hurts me so I get far from you because you are not respecting my feelings. I have to defend them.”
And then act on your words.
Defend them by taking emotional distance from what’s hurting you.
Recapping for you
Relationships are complex but this two-step approach helps in making them more healthy and balanced.
- Express your feelings: Share with the other person what you feel and think. It helps the other person know the part of you that they can’t see. You should share your stance on matters to claim your shared space within the relationship.
- Defend your feelings: Even when you express your feelings the other person may not want to respect them. In the end, he/she is another human with feelings that may conflict with yours. If this happens, you are the only person who will defend your feelings. Try to find common ground but don’t put anything before how you feel.