Let’s face it; relationships are tough.
While some are definitely harder than others, they all challenge us at times. Even the best ones. This is why we should give thoughtful consideration when entering into new ones.
Some are chosen for us: family, teachers, coworkers, and Uber drivers. Sometimes we get lucky. Our parents and coworkers are wonderful people and the teacher is inspiring. But, sometimes our luck runs out. The Uber driver is a disgruntled, ex-husband, who rambles incessantly about alimony, working three jobs, and his bad luck at the blackjack table. Suddenly, a twenty-minute ride to the airport feels like forever.
Thankfully, we do have control over other relationships: friends, lovers, and Facebook followers, to name a few. When chosen wisely, we’re able to build positive, supportive networks that enrich our lives. However, poor judgment often results in ghosting, unfollowing, and other awkward situations.
But, awkwardness is easy when compared to escaping truly toxic relationships. These can wreak havoc on a person’s life and they’re not as simple to get out of. This is why we should choose wisely. Before making new connections it’s helpful to learn about the person’s background and what worldview they bring to the party. Their mindset about life’s most important issues is a good indicator of what that “party” may ultimately look like.
Worldview is a person’s belief system about four core areas: attitude, ideology, philosophy, and religion. Attitude describes their basic approach to things, such as optimistic versus pessimistic. Ideology defines their values concerning economics and politics. Philosophy addresses fundamental questions of life and the universe, while religion encompasses beliefs and practices related to spiritual matters. The individual interpretation of these areas reflects their personality and behavior patterns.
One’s belief system begins to form during early childhood. Children are raised according to their parent’s or caretaker’s own worldview. They have no choice or input over where they live or go to school, how many siblings they have, whether they attend church, or which political views they’re indoctrinated with.
Years later they’re exposed to different ideas and opinions, which are often in direct conflict with their own. Some people seek out further understanding and change their positions accordingly. Others reject thinking contrary to their own and remain bonded to what they’ve been taught.
This unwillingness to see another’s perspective is problematic. We should be wary of those unwilling to listen to and consider other points of view. Rigid thinking keeps people stuck in old patterns and prevents the growth necessary to thrive in relationships.
Because relationships form the foundation of our mental and emotional health, we shouldn’t make snap judgments about a new acquaintance. We’re all on our best behavior with people we don’t know well and only reveal our true selves with those we’re closest to.
“Sometimes you have to get to know someone really well to realize you’re really strangers.” ~Mary Tyler Moore
Fortunately, there are warning signs to watch out for.
Most toxic people exhibit certain characteristics. Controlling behavior is big one. They want to dictate how others live their lives. How they dress, who their friends are, how to manage their careers, etc. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but if done consistently and on purpose, it’s for purely manipulative reasons.
At times it may be for a good cause, like the other person’s health. Suggesting to a loved one that they should quit smoking isn’t necessarily being a control freak. However, badgering them daily about their habit probably won’t persuade them to stop and will place added strain on the relationship. Being controlled by someone, whether it’s through their bad habits or constant nagging, robs us of our truth and freedom.
Passive-aggressive behavior is also destructive. Consisting of negative emotions, it’s expressed in subtle ways meant to coerce another person’s conduct. Passive-aggressive people hide their true feelings and refuse to discuss whatever is bothering them. Rather than solving problems through honest communication, they deny their anger. Controlling people often use this tactic.
Diminishing someone’s personality, whether overtly or covertly, is another red flag. Beware of anyone who uses character assassination to put others down. Watch how they treat people in subordinate positions, like the server or cashier. People who respect themselves treat others the same way, regardless of who they are.
Accountability is a hallmark of healthy people. They own their mistakes and recognize that being human means we all mess up at times. Justifying bad behavior by blaming others (i.e. “look at what you made me do”) is a copout. Nobody’s perfect and the ability to laugh at oneself is a desirable trait.
Likewise, negativity can ruin friendships. It slowly chips away at an otherwise good relationship. No one enjoys being with people who constantly see the dark side. When life rains on our parade, as it often does, it’s helpful to have a tribe to remind us that the sun will shine again.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” ~Maya Angelou
Healthy relationships begin with honesty and mutual respect. We don’t have to agree on every issue, but respecting another’s thoughts and opinions is crucial.
It’s also important to be considerate of their feelings, even if we don’t understand their motivation. Life experiences shape our feelings and those can vary greatly from person to person. A casual remark, made in jest, might stir a painful memory. That’s the time to be transparent and explain why it’s hurtful. Educating others through honesty helps them understand us better.
Growth equals success in any relationship. Learning what works, what doesn’t work, and committing to positive change cultivates a healthy environment. People who encourage and support each other enjoy greater satisfaction. Those who don’t will struggle to get along. Think of that coworker who isn’t a team player. They won’t step outside their job description to help anybody else.
Values like integrity, compassion, and accountability can’t be compromised without selling out who we are as people. Honoring those values makes us happier and more fulfilled. We should never lower our standards for anyone. People who share the same values have rewarding partnerships compared to those who don’t.
Another component of a healthy relationship is goals. Do you want the same things in life? Whether it’s having children or starting your own business, a shared vision provides the incentive necessary to work together. Flexibility should exist wherever compromise is possible, but having eyes on the same prize helps a lot. It keeps us focused and moving in the same basic direction.
All relationships add some meaning to our lives. They provide a sense of purpose by being a part of something larger than ourselves. They also offer emotional and social support to fight stress. Think of the worst moments you’ve suffered and how they were made bearable by the compassion of another person.
Despite our best efforts, we are human and will fail on occasion. Acceptance of this fact and the ability to forgive – ourselves and others – allows us to develop as individuals.
During good times the shared camaraderie brings us happiness. We have others to celebrate life’s many joys. During hard times they’re a network that will sustain and care for us.
However, relationships are a two-way street. Each person has a responsibility to themselves and the other person. Before investing our time and emotions, we should carefully weigh what the potential return on investment will be. And are we prepared to offer what they need from us?
Some connections are casual while others are more permanent. Knowing a person in-depth is essential to deciding whether to move forward with a relationship and if it will stand the test of time.