The tricky art of relationing


  • the position, association, connection, or status of one person or thing with regard to another or others

While traveling abroad, I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine, someone I always enjoy verbally jousting with and whose point of view I always appreciate. It was precisely about relationships. Our views differed.

The subject came up and we particularly addressed the family ties and relationing patterns; my friend was asserting that long time established relationships, particularly with close family members, have a pattern, and that it was seldom possible for one person to change that pattern, only to withdraw from it or enjoy it. But then if one withdrew, the relationship did not exist any more.

Hhhhmmm… I was of a mind that we can get our meaningful relationships to evolve, even if there is only one person to want and do the changes involved, through deliberate choice, mindful behavior and ultra frequent self-check.

We all know that close family relationships are among the most challenging ones in our life. They trigger old memories, push all kinds of buttons, and often have a momentum that ignores everything that has been experienced by a given individual in their own development outside of the relationship itself.

Nothing like going back to an old family house and be reunited briefly with family members to see how far and how much one has processed and moved on emotionally… or not. Many people actually avoid that kind of “test”.

I don’t know of any family sailing absolutely smoothly with all members aboard on the choppy waters of a life time… some are better than others, of course, and most are running an acceptable course including reasonable interactions, acceptance and often love enough to bridge over the differences. But still, it is easy to admit that we are more easily flustered or aggravated by a sibling or a parent’s remark, even when we are mature and rather wise in our relation with the rest of the world. What tools can we use to bring ease, flow and comfort into any creaky interaction with our relatives?

First and most our compassionate awareness.

Compassion, including compassion for ourselves, in any situation, brings a buffer and a time lapse between our knee jerk reactions, and the action we choose to take. Compassion, or mindfulness, permits us to see with a larger angle of vision, a more inclusive perspective of things. Compassion for others helps us to always consider that we never know the whole story in someone’s mind, and that we all do the best we can. Compassion for ourselves gives us the comfort, the self confidence and the understanding that we also do the best we can and that we are sharing human condition with anyone else, without the need to be perfect and to harshly criticize ourselves.

Awareness, added to a compassionate attitude, permits us to take stock, to witness, to understand effects, to modify our responses accordingly to what’s going on, to avoid emotional booby traps. Awareness is shedding light upon the mechanisms involved, without bias.

That being said, since we are all subject to occasional weakness, misunderstandings, and moments of blindness, it is reasonable to learn how to simply leave the scene when the handling gets rough. Often we tend to want and argue for the sake of making a point that has never been made with a challenging relative, and we get carried away, caught in an old groove, frustrated and incapable to let go. That is exactly the time where I learned to take myself out for a walk or an errand of some kind. It seems to be the most efficient thing to take a moment, cool off, and reposition myself where I want to stand emotionally and from where I choose to act, to create, instead of reacting. It is crucial then to leave graciously, as much as we can, so coming back later is easy and natural.

I was given the opportunity to use these tools myself, and to see that the more I used them, deliberately, rigorously and dynamically, the more positive results and small changes I got. I actually enjoyed the challenge to change and I was able to relax and let go of a lot of old guarded attitudes of mine in some cases.

It is obvious to me that we can induce change, even when patterns are deeply printed in our psyche. We can make a choice and apply ourselves to tiny changes, in countless opportunities in our interactions with our relatives, our lovers, our friends, even in our work environment. Basically everywhere, with everyone.
The change is and always will be, in ourselves.

We have to start from love. Love for our learning and always evolving selves, and love for others, no matter how challenging they may appear at times in our life. Doing so gives us the flexibility and the resilience needed for durable change and the creation of new patterns. It also keeps us from harsh reactions, disparaging behaviors and dismissing words, while giving always the benefit of needing less recognition and less approval from our interlocutor, since we find that in ourselves.

Any relationship challenge is in fact an opportunity to grow, and to become our higher self… No better teachers that people who push our buttons. It’s certainly not easy, and we wish we could live without it, but it is part of our maturation, of our journey here.

I am grateful for all my teachers. And I salute my mentors, the luminaries, writers, speakers, thinkers, who help me and show me the way through the maze of all my relationships, of all my challenges. I am happy to be given opportunities to grow, and to have tools to do it as gently and as elegantly as I can. Every step up is a cause of wonder, every positive change a reason for celebration.

That’s what I explained to my dear friend. He is still doubtful. But that’s t OK.

More later…

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