Relationships are meant to be sources of support and love, yet sometimes in the craziness of life, some relationships end up causing more stress or become “one more thing we have to attend to.” This feeling may be a sign that it’s time examine and possibly readjust the way we approach these relationships.
Theology of the Body tells us that God created us for relationships; that building the kingdom of God really means creating a life-giving “community of love” with the people who share our life. It is ultimately the strength of our relationships with one another that bear witness to the glory of God and call others into communion with him. As St Paul puts it, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong….” Unfortunately, as much as our relationships are supposed to be a source of grace, strength, and support, in our fallen world, they can often be sources of stress, frustration and conflict. The challenge is not to run from these struggles, but to cooperate with God’s grace to respond in love and responsibility to work through these difficulties and create communion in spite of the things that tend to divide us.
Here are three More2Life hacks on how to take your relationships from a source of stress to a source of support:
1. Pull the Relationship Weeds–Healthy relationships allow you to be real and not hide important parts of yourself. Relationships are often a source of stress because we feel like we have to hide important aspects of who we are for the sake of “keeping peace.” That’s backwards. Relationships aren’t an end in themselves, TOB reminds us that God intends for our relationships to serve the mutual good of the people in those relationships–to help each person in those relationships be more of what God created them to be, not less. To build the kingdom of God in your relationships, be who you are. The people God wants you to create communion with will stick around, support you, and ask for your support. The people that can’t handle the “you” God created you to be will drift away. Let them go. Pulling the weeds in your relationship garden will allow all your relationships to flourish and bear more fruit as you spend time with the people who are really capable of building you up!
2. Speak Up Sooner Rather Than Later–When people act in ways we find hurtful or offensive, we often let it go, telling ourselves it isn’t worth the trouble to address these issues and create potential conflict. While there is something to be said for choosing our battles, if you find that an offense continues to gnaw at you, speaking up sooner rather than later is always best. In the words of Pope St Gregory the Great, “Thoughts seethe all the more when corralled by the violent guard of an indiscreet silence.” The best way to address an offense? Don’t assume they intended to offend you and instead ask a clarifying question. Something simple like, “Hey, when you did thus-and-such, I wasn’t sure what to make of that (or it kind of hurt) what did you mean by that?” Once the other person explains their intention, you can either decide that it was all just a misunderstanding and let it go, or suggest other, more palatable ways the other person can express themselves in the future. Anyone who is interested in a healthy relationship will not be put off by this at all and, in fact, will be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy smoother sailing in the future!
3. Good Fences…Good Neighbors–Each person we know is good at offering a different kind of support. The key to less stressful relationships is not trying to make a person give you a kind of support they just aren’t capable of. Some people are great at being kindred spirits. Others are good sources of support or companionship around particular topics or areas of interest. Others still, are fine to hang out with occasionally, but aren’t really capable of offering anything more personal support. Enjoy each relationship for what it is, not for what you think it should be. Base the level of trust and intimacy you expect from a relationship on a person’s behavior, not their title or role in our lives. Sure, we “should” be able to be closer to, and have greater trust in, a parent or sibling or than a friend or a cousin, but in reality people are only capable of giving what they can. Having good relationship fences means knowing what each person in your life is capable of giving–and receiving–from you, and refusing to try to force more than this from them. Focus on enjoying the ways each person can be there for you and you’ll feel less frustrated by the ways they aren’t.
For more information on how to cultivate strong, healthy, and supportive relationships, check out God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts! and make sure to tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio/Sirius XM 139.