When discussing key principles and basic strategies for difficult relationships, we need to first ask ourselves the question, “Why are relationships so difficult?” I’ve heard friends ask this question or state the same thought in the form of an opinion, “Relationships shouldn’t be so hard!” Most of the time when people make a statement like this it has to do with romantic relationships. What I’m referring to in this article are relationships in general.
Why Are Relationships So Difficult?
- Humans easily fall back into “survival instinct” out of fear, hate, and essentially selfishness. Now I’m not saying the self-preservation instinct is a negative thing. What I am saying though is that can be overused when people become afraid or dislike something they see in others.
- Society, in general, is becoming more technological and less relational in many parts of the world. We simply lack the skills and/or experiences that more agrarian cultures may have or had because of the necessity of working together with each other in person.
- Along the lines of self-preservation, our response as people is to defend instead of taking responsibility for our part in relational difficulties. Whether we are somehow trying to preserve our own worth, favor, and/or are avoiding the pain of admitting we were in the wrong; taking responsibility is something many of us need some help embracing and practicing.
The Simple Solution
The simple solution is practicing loving others as worthwhile people. When I say love, I mean the broadest sense of the word. This definition involves words and actions that demonstrate patience, kindness, honesty, acceptance, etc. To the extent that two individuals can give and receive perfect love, they can have deep and fulfilling friendships, marriages, etc.
Painting the Broad Picture of Love in Our Daily Lives
- There are four kinds of love that I see: family love, friendship love, romantic love, “spiritual” or unfailing love. Most of us have experienced family and friends’ love to one degree or another. Some of us have experienced romantic love too. But when mentioning “spiritual” or unconditional love, we venture into “deeper waters” and I myself believe this love “first comes from above.”
- There are four areas of life where love is applied and experienced: spirituality, self, others, and the natural environment. Spirituality involves faith, self involves self-esteem, others encompass all relationships in our lives, and the natural environment is the earth.
Some Random Key Principles
- Healthy self-esteem is seeing yourself as an equal to others. Seeing your own uniqueness and the uniqueness of others allows for two people to develop genuine, long-lasting friendships.
- Healthy self-esteem keeps good boundaries in order to keep the integrity and identity of self. This is a principle I have seen being violated multiple times by those who have few to no friends and by those who have abusive and/or codependent relationships. Remember, you chose who you spend time with and for how long, etc.
- Seek to enable personal growth for friends vs. dependency. Although we may have good intentions, when we do for others what they need to really do for themselves, we steal from them the opportunity to change and grow on their own time.
- Understand a person’s history and present circumstances, and adjust expectations accordingly. I once heard a saying, “By their fruit, you will know them and by their roots, you will understand them.”
- Know yourself, especially where you need to grow and change. I am amazed at the number of people I see who just seem to drift through their lives without much or any self-reflection or in denial of obvious areas that are in need of growth.
- Understand that some relationships may take more work than others. All this depends on where people are at in their present growth cycle, past history, and current circumstances.
Some Random Practical Strategies
These suggestions are in no certain order, but they can serve as a “starting point” to get us thinking about how we relate to others.
- Learn to listen to what others are telling you. Some of us are easily distracted for various reasons and some of us are just waiting for others to finish what they are saying so we can “put in our two cents.” But true listening involves not just hearing the words but discerning through careful follow up the heart matters of the speaker.
- Learn to find time for yourself and others. Many people live unbalanced lives in this area. We need to be able to socialize, but we also need time for self-reflection and relaxation.
- Understand levels of friendship. Aristotle explained three basic levels of friendship as friends who share common benefits from their friendship, enjoying someone’s company as a friend, and deeper giving and receiving put simply. Realizing that not everyone is at a place in their personal growth to have deeper friendships helps us understand why people respond differently or chose different people as friends.
- Learn to be your real, true, and best self. Others will instinctively pick up when you are being real or just being your “ideal self.” At some point, you will realize that you are living in past pain and future fear instead of being in the present moment or your true self. Finally, we always admire those who seek to make the best out of themselves and make their lives count for a higher purpose.
A General Synopsis
Many of us ask ourselves why relationships seem to be so difficult. The simple answer is if we could all love others (be patient, kind, honest, etc.) perfectly, then everything would be much easier. But since we are not perfect, we need to break down this task into some simple principles and strategies to start with.
Which of the previously mentioned key principles and basic strategies for difficult relationships do you need to work on and what is your plan for working on these?
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