As we go into the holiday season, the most difficult thing to manage can often be our relationships with one another, whether we are relating to our spouse, primary partner, children, parents, or friends. Some basic rules of engagement are important to keep in mind as we eat, drink, and make merry over the next couple of months.
Take time to make sure that you are communicating all of your feelings, thoughts, and needs to those around you. Often in our daily lives, we forget to take time to be present to our needs and to communicate them clearly to keep life moving smoothly. We can be especially challenged in this area during the holidays. Most of us can’t read each other’s minds, and therefore it is very important to openly and honestly let others know what we are feeling, thinking, and needing. Communicating clearly can help us negotiate relationships with greater understanding and empathy. We are able to know where the other stands and what might be affecting him/her in any given moment. We can then be genuinely interested in what we are attempting to convey and how best to get our needs met.
Always remember that healthy adult interactions involve understanding where you are first and then letting your partner, friend or spouse know how to meet you in an appropriate way.
Although we are all unique, there are basically nine different personality types or nine ways to view the world. Because of this, we can keep in mind that “our way” of perceiving or seeing the world is not necessarily the way the other significant people in our life might view it. Most of us make the assumption that everyone feels, thinks, and needs the same way that we do.
Try to remember to care truly about how the other person in your life views a situation. Do not make another “wrong” for having his/her view. Simply try to understand where the other is coming from and be compassionate, not defensive, as you explore a situation together. It is important to respect what another person is feeling, thinking, or needing even though it is different from your point of view. Allow one another to fully express an opinion without interrupting or becoming defensive. Care about keeping the connection, not about being “right.”
Process emotions as soon as possible
My grandmother had one rule for keeping a relationship happy and healthy—“never go to bed angry.” Anger is more a defense than a true feeling. Anger is what separates us from truly being aware of what we are really feeling. We need to look under the anger and find the true feeling (hurt, pain, fear, sorrow) so that we can then clearly be present to how we are feeling. Once present to how we are feeling, then we can share this with someone who can listen compassionately.
If we believe that we have been heard or witnessed by another, then it is much easier to let go of the defensive posture that separates us from those we love. “I love you even though I don’t understand you” is a phrase that helps to disarm us and keep us connected with one another. So remember—“never go to bed angry.” Life is too short to be separated even for a moment from someone we dearly love.
Relationships of all kinds need boundaries. Boundaries are the space we need around ourselves in order to operate efficiently, effectively, and sanely. Think about how you refuel yourself. Do you refuel by being alone and going over the day’s events, or do you refuel by talking things over with others in your life? This is one of the differences between introversion and extroversion. Be sure to honor the boundaries that you need in life. Don’t forget to communicate these boundaries with the ones you love.
The most important thing that we can do in any relationship is to breathe. The old adage to “breathe and count to ten” is still the best advice we have for taking space, collecting our thoughts, and becoming aware of the present moment. There is no need to be in the past or the future, the present moment is all that we have. Please remember to “breathe” as you go through the holidays and stay connected to the ones you love.
Dr. Deborah Ooten is the founder and director of the Conscious Living Center.