|Ed in New Orleans with New Zealand "brother" Brian Morris and Brian's wife, the ever charming, Carol Morris - a solid friendship although thousands of miles of land and sea apart|
Each step until now has basically been about you or something tangible, like your “stuff,” intangible, like your dreams and aspirations or about your abilities, interests, talents, skills and the work you do. This step opens an entirely new realm that, in some instances, impacts every other aspect of your life. There is no human being alive, that I know of, who doesn’t have and hasn’t had relationships with other people. Relationships are universal.
Every person begins having relationships the instant they are born. Some of these relationships may be fleeting (only there for a reason) like the attending doctor or midwife, the delivery or birthing room nurses and any medical technicians involved in the process. Perhaps a person was born in an ambulance, police car or taxicab on the way to a hospital and one or more of these individuals assisted with his or her entry into the world. Of course, there are nurses and assistants in the nursery. We also begin some lifetime relationships including parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on.
As a person continues through the journey of life the list will ultimately number in the thousands and include all kinds of relationships. There will be an untold number that come about for a reason and are very short ranging from a few minutes to, perhaps, a year, more or less. Despite the length of time this relationship may last, each person will have some impact on the other person's life.
Next come the relationships that last for a season. Some of these may crossover with some that come into one’s life for a reason. We learn something about ourselves and about the other person from relationships like these. They help us grow and develop a better understanding for the future. Some of these people may include clergy, teachers, professors, mentors, employers (managers, supervisors and co-workers), neighbors and various kinds of friends. These people will impact the individual in a very specific way and then be gone.
Finally, there are the relationships that last a lifetime. Now, a lifetime has two components to it. Component number one is YOUR lifetime. Component number two is the other person’s lifetime. The tricky element here is that no one truly has any control over these two components. When these relationships end it usually means that one party or the other has died. This is all very natural and the way it’s supposed to be, however, there will virtually always be a period or mourning and grieving for the loss. Most healthy people will make it through this painful period and move on with their lives, usually allowing others to enter and fill some of the void.
Love! Love! Love!
The common denominator for all relationships is that there is some kind of interaction between the two parties. The relationships can range from buyer-seller, service provider-client, employer-employee, teacher-student, mentor-mentee, landlord-renter, parent-child, grandparent-grandchild, husband-wife, boyfriend-girlfriend, domestic partners, religious leader-congregation member and so on. There are also relationships between people and animals, typically dogs, cats, horses, etc.
There are business relationships. There are social relationships. There are volunteer relationships. There are love relationships. I’m sure we could keep inventing labels for all the various kinds of relationships that exist. Love relationships become complex because the word love in the context of relationships has multiple meanings. For example, in an article by Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman titled 15 Different Types of Love published on the Examiner.com, March 4, 2009, she categorizes each of the following as a form of love, with specific distinctions delineating each:
Infatuation, Romantic Love, Eros, Companionate Love, Unconditional Love, Conditional Love, Puppy Love, Maternal Love, Paternal Love, Soulmate Love, Spiritual/Divine Love, Love of your country or patriotism, Self-Love, Brotherly Love and Tough Love
Now, that’s a lot of lovin.’ You may think of others. I’m not going to define each of these for you since that’s not my purpose here. If you’d like to learn more, here’s the link to the article: 15 Different Types of Love
I stated earlier that every relationship has some impact on your life. Obviously, some of these relationships will have a greater or lesser impact depending on the nature of the relationship. For example, I’m sure you remember specific teachers in elementary, junior and senior high school. I’m certain you don’t remember every teacher you had, but certain ones stand out. The same is true for your college and graduate school years if you attended. Most likely several professors remain with you to this day because of the specific impact they had on your life. You probably have one or more friends from high school, college and graduate school if you attended any or all of these. If you were in the military you may have stayed connected to a few people. You’ve probably made a few other lifetime friends.
So, now you’re going to start creating, yet, another list. You’re going to have more names on this list then you can imagine. As you make this list, attempt to recall when and how you met specific individuals who have impacted your life in some positive, negative or neutral way. What was the reason you were drawn together? Was the relationship for a reason – R, a season – S or a lifetime – L? What impact did each person have on your life and/or what impact did you have on his or her life? Mark them P – positive, N – neutral and Z for zero or negative.
Once you’ve created the list you’ll move all the people who had a positive impact on your life to a separate list. Do the same with the people who had a neutral impact and then, again, a separate list of all the people who had a negative impact. If you do this exercise on your computer, you can simply copy and paste the names to the appropriate list.
Now you’re going to begin getting down to the core factors of your relationships. This is where you’re going to really understand who is important to you, who doesn’t matter much one way or the other and who the people are who have held you back in some manner from achieving your dreams and goals and living the life you dreamed of. You’ll determine who the dead weight is. These are people who neither add anything of real value to your life, but don’t necessarily hold you back, but may create a drag or energy drain. Finally, you’ll determine who the people are who have helped, encouraged, supported, boosted, loved and made it possible for you to achieve whatever successes, freedoms and happiness you have experienced to date.
It’s important to realize that some of these people may have only been in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Also, some of these people may be long in your past, may have moved away from you or you from them or may be dead. Some may have originally been positive relationships, but due to numerous circumstances may now show up on the negative list. And, of course, no matter what these circumstances are, they will have or are currently, indelibly, impacting your life and who you are right now.
The Neutral Relationships
Let’s begin with the neutral people. The neutral people may be positive influences in some people’s lives and negative influences in other people’s lives, but in your life they are just there. Basically, your life would not be any richer or poorer, better or worse if these people didn’t exist in your life. Those who may have passed through for some reason are probably long gone. You may have lost contact with them long ago and have no idea of their whereabouts. It’s also possible they have passed away; therefore they are part of your history and of no further consequence.
If they’re still alive and they’re still actively in your life, they are drawing energy and resources from you. It’s very likely the same for them. There is no reason to have any further involvement. You may just want to avoid future contact. Neither of you will miss the other party. Perhaps you’ll cross paths at professional or social or community events periodically and you’ll pass pleasantries, maybe some small talk and you might talk of getting together for lunch to talk about old times. However, nothing useful will transpire from such a meeting and it most likely won’t come about.
The neutral people are easy to deal with because, well, they’re neutral. Nothing flows either way. No hits! No runs! No errors! Tie score 0 – 0. It’s hard to believe that such relationships exist, but they do and they are probably the majority of your relationships.
The Positive Relationships
Positive relationships are those where you and the other party both gain something positive. Let’s call this a “Win-Win” situation. I like to think there are three interactions that occur in relationships. First, is giving. Second, is receiving. Third is taking. A truly positive relationship is when both you and the other person are “givers.” The challenging part of a positive relationship between givers is learning how to receive without feeling like you’re taking from the other party. It’s been my experience that giving people often have a difficult time receiving anything from anyone else.
Some important components of a positive relationship that makes it work are honesty, trust and open communication. It doesn’t matter if it’s a relationship between a parent and child, husband and wife, manager and employee or best friends. If these three elements aren’t present then the giving-receiving process will be strained. It’s also important that through these various components neither party ever feels manipulated, used, taken for granted or taken advantage of.
It’s also important to understand that when I’m speaking of giving and receiving, I’m not necessarily talking about something tangible. A giver can give support, encouragement, compassion, sympathy, acceptance, credit, applause, ideas, opinions, advice, suggestions, endorsements and so on. A giver can also give tangible things such as a gift of something the receiver has been wanting or may be a total surprise, a loan of something or help to do something the receiver may not be able to do himself or herself. Additionally, giving is always done without strings attached. The giver does not give with expectation of being repaid in kind or otherwise. Each party in the relationship will place value on different things.
Here are some examples. A schoolteacher or a college professor identifies some real talent or ability in you. The teacher/professor spends extra time with you out of the classroom on their personal time. They make you stretch to realize your potential. They encourage you and cheer you on. The result is that you complete the course with a high grade and you’re accepted to an exceptional university in a major the teacher helped you discover or you graduate and are employed by the top organization in your chosen field with an exceptional pay and benefit package.
You know that you achieved this only through the help of that teacher or professor. They expect nothing in return from you. This was their way of giving to you, a person they had a special interest in and a positive relationship with. By being responsive and excelling you have received in a positive way. A simple “Thank You” is often the only gift you can give that teacher or professor. Maintaining contact and a positive relationship with that person is even more rewarding. Perhaps, you come back and talk with the teacher’s or professor’s current students and encourage them to excel with the assistance of the teacher or professor. You have each given to the other in different ways and you have each received.
Another example is in a marriage. You have found the husband or wife of your dreams. You are compatible in just about every way. Sure, there are always some differences because that comes with being human. Your spouse loves to fish or play golf or enjoy a day of pampering at a spa or going to wine tasting with her friends. Perhaps you both have careers and a couple little people you’ve spawned. Without discussion you tell your spouse that you want him/her to enjoy a weekend every month doing whatever his or her passion is and you’ll take care of the kids. You don’t expect anything in return for this gesture of affection and interest in the other person’s well being. Another gesture might be to contract with a cleaning service or a lawn service to take that responsibility from the spouse, again, with no strings attached.
Again, these positive relationships may be for a reason, a season or a lifetime. And, while it may sound negative to imply that even a marriage may actually be for only a reason or a season, it’s true. Forcing any positive relationship beyond what its useful lifespan is can ultimately reverse it and turn it into a negative relationship. You may enter a marriage because you believe you have met your soul mate and the most compatible, perfect person for you and you’ll be together for a lifetime. However, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, even 40 or 50 years later things go rotten in paradise. Any relationship is a continual learning process. All human beings change with time. Life happens. Attempting to maintain a relationship that has outlived its natural life is seldom, if ever, going to result in happiness.
Also, just because your mother and father conceived you and gave you life doesn’t mean that, ultimately, you’re going to have a lifelong loving relationship with them. Sure, that’s the way it might be in fairy tales, but that isn’t always reality. Despite the blood flowing through your veins, love is not necessarily supported by blood. A positive relationship between parents, children, siblings, employers/employees, business partners, husbands/wives, even twins means a mutual respect must exist, some form of love, at least one of the types mentioned earlier, must exist and a giving attitude must be present. Without all of these components a positive relationship may not be realistic. Positive is about love, respect, giving and sharing, all without strings attached. Paradoxically, givers will always receive more then they can ever give.
Once you go through your positive relationships list and evaluate them using some of the simple metrics I explained, you may find that you don’t have as many truly positive relationships in your life as you thought you did. This doesn’t mean you should end the relationships that aren’t as positive as you originally thought. It simply means that you have a better understanding as to where these people fit in your current world.
The Negative Relationships
Here we are at the relationships that not only don’t contribute to a positive life, but they actually detract and make your life worse. It’s often hard to accept that there are people who actually take from you, but there are lots of takers in the world. Some of the most negative relationships aren’t because the person knowingly or maliciously wants to make your life worse or troubled. However, there are people who are consciously negative and take from you in many ways.
So, who are these toxic, negative, taking people? Perhaps you already know who they are in your life. Perhaps you know who they are, but don’t want to look reality in the face. Yes, there really are some people in this world who are just evil. However, most people are not evil, they just aren’t compatible with a lot of other people. Is this genetic or is it societal conditioning? This is often referred to as “nature or nurture.”
Here is a list of people who have in the past and can currently be impacting and influencing your life negatively. Your mother, father, one or more sisters and/or brothers, grandfather, grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousin, neighbor, co-worker, schoolmates at any level, teacher, professor, clergyman, manager, CEO, business owner, long-time friend, childhood buddy and here are some real surprises – girlfriend/boyfriend, fiance or spouse. Even your own offspring can fall into this category. Wow, you say. These are the same people who could be on my positive list or even my neutral list. Precisely.
Here’s the reality. You can be in a negative relationship with just about anyone including the people closest to you. Remember what I said about blood relationships in the discussion of positive relationships? We often rationalize the behavior of those we think we’re supposed to love because they are “family” or because we’ve been friends since elementary school, college or wherever. None of these reasons have anything to do with love or justifying negative behavior or constantly being drained as these people take whatever they can from you. The difference between receiving and taking is that receiving is graciously accepting something that was freely given. Taking is when nothing is offered, nothing is given and there is nothing gracious about the taking process. It is just expected that you’ll give the taker whatever they want.
Now, here’s another paradox. You know a relationship that should be positive is negative. You’re kidding yourself, lying to yourself, don’t know what to do about it or you simply turn a blind eye and don’t deal with it. All the time this relationship is draining you of your joy, resources, time, energy and freedom. Here’s a simple concept to contemplate. If someone you supposedly “love” because you’re supposed to and “trust” because of the relationship you have with that person were to give you a bottle with a substance you know to be toxic and you’re told to drink it, would you drink it? Remember, this is a “loving,” “trusted” person. I hope you’re saying NO!
Well, this relationship you’re involved in is toxic. It’s draining life out of you just as that toxic substance would have. Oh, but you say, “You’re exaggerating.” Am I? Let’s try these relationships. A young adolescent girl is in her bed at night when her father or brother comes in. Remember these are “loved,” “trusted” family members. They proceed to do things to that little girl that should never happen in her worst nightmares. But, she can’t tell anyone because they won’t love her anymore. Or, a young boy becomes an alter boy at his church and the trusted and beloved priest takes the boy off alone and molests him. How about a husband or a wife who verbally belittles and demeans his or her spouse everyday? Or an adult son or daughter says they can’t find a job and needs to move home for a while, brings the spouse and three kids to the, now, retired parents home. The parents never see the son or daughter actively and earnestly seeking employment. So, the parents, the son or daughter, spouse and three grandchildren are all living off the retired parent’s Social Security and whatever pension and savings the parents have.
How about considering the sister or brother who just never seems to get their relationships and life right. So, they are constantly hitting you up for money, dumping and venting their problems on you and cutting you off at the knees when you attempt to offer some sound advice. Then there’s the childhood friend who has remained your buddy for forty years. He has constant financial problems and is always hitting you up for money or letting you pick up the tab for meals, golf and so on. Or, she is a closet alcoholic and refuses your offers to help her help herself. Maybe the buddy is having an affair on his wife of 15 years and you know, love and respect her, too, but he wants you to lie and cover for him. Need I continue? These are all real. I know these people. You know these people. Worse, yet, you may be one of these people.
The Negative Relationship Bottom Line
Here’s the bottom line. You can only fix yourself – if you choose to. You can’t fix anyone else. You can’t fix any of the issues I just described unless you are the negative and toxic person. And as long as you maintain these relationships you are first, an enabler and second hurting yourself and the positive relationships you do have. This is where the “tough love” enters. You need to eliminate these relationships regardless of who it is – parents, siblings, spouse, spouse’s parents/siblings, your own child, friends, co-workers, etc. Whoever it is. Believe me, this is another of the toughest things you’re going to have to do to live free and be truly happy.
I’ve seen people do this. You don’t simply cut someone off at the knees. You explain to them that they are infringing on your right to live a free and happy life. They don’t have the right to infringe on your life, happiness and freedom. Their issues are not your responsibility nor do you have any obligation to them. So, to pursue your own life of living free and happy, you have to terminate any further relationship with them. If and when they are able to solve their problems and not involve you in them or drain you, they may contact you, but only on those terms. This is tough love, but necessary for your own betterment and for those positive relationships you have.
There are other negative relationships that won’t be as close as the kind that I just discussed. These are people who are users, takers and hangers on. They often come out of nowhere. A friend, relative, business associate or others may refer them to you. You have nothing to lose with these people. There will never be a positive relationship. You will never gain anything positive from the relationship and the more open you are, the more they will take and drain from you. These are pure toxic relationships. Cut them off at the knees and don’t look back. Believe me, it won’t take them long to leech off someone else. Life is difficult! You don’t need any more leeches sucking your blood and draining your precious time and life from you.
You’re going to be moving some of the relationships from your positive list that you now realize are actually negative (wolves in sheep’s clothing, so to speak) and eliminate them from your life. They are more “intangible stuff,” baggage, dead weight, anchors, if you will. This is a very tough task, however, once you start eliminating these anchors your sails will fill out and you’ll start sailing across a smoother sea.
“Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.” Winnie the Pooh
Okay! I started out saying, “There is no human being alive, that I know of, who doesn’t have and hasn’t had relationships with other people. Relationships are universal.” And as I wrap up this topic that statement remains true. A woman, who shared eight years of our lives together, said to me when we first met that she had two important characteristics. One was good and the other bad. She then stated, “ The good characteristic is that – I care. The bad characteristic is that – I care too much.” I had never heard that before and I’ve never forgotten it. Unfortunately, our story had a sad and painful ending for both of us. She chose to see it all negatively and tried for a while to spite, embarrass and belittle me as much as possible. I chose the opposite route, but found it better to avoid being where she might be, including gatherings of our friends, to avoid embarrassment for both of us.
Relationships are absolutely vital for your well being and mental health. It would be wonderful if you could have nothing but positive relationships throughout your life. But, you and I know that’s not the way reality works. As you travel your journey through this life, you’ll encounter literally thousands and thousands of people you’ll have some kind of relationship with. The relationship could be as short as buying something in a convenience store and paying the clerk . . . to as long as the lives of your parents, perhaps your spouse, if you choose to have one, your offspring, friends and so on. Each will, in some way, impact or influence you, perhaps for a few moments in time or for the rest of your life.
Like everything else, relationships are about choices. You can choose to have a relationship or not. You can choose to maintain a relationship whether positive, neutral or negative or not. As you look back at your history of relationships you’ll remember some that you’ll wish you had maintained and some you wish you had eliminated years ago.
The reality is that the only time you really have is right now. Embrace all the positive relationships that you have, past and current. Allow the neutral relationships to silently slide away. They made their impact and have no further true value to either party. Eliminate the toxic, negative relationships that are draining your life, time, resources and holding you back from your dream of living freer and happier then you’ve ever been. And, choose your future relationships carefully, because you do have the right to choose who you will share your life with.