Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Relationships

There are two primary groups of thought when it comes to Valentine's Day:

Group A: It's a wonderful day filled with flowers and pink, hearts and dinners! An opportunity to show love and appreciation! A day of guaranteed romance! Bring on the chocolates and balloons!

Group B: I wish Cupid would literally stab me directly in the heart so I wouldn't need to endure the tragic, materialistic, greeting-card-concocted waste of money and time that is Valentine's Day.

I fit nicely right in-between the two. I adore flowers, but hate that close to 80% of the flowers found in the grocery store are shipped to America via poor Ecuadorian and Colombian farmers who are treated unfairly and paid even worse. I love chocolate, but again, poverty-stricken, unfair trade practices make it difficult to justify a few sweet bites of goodness at someone else's expense. And then there's the extravagant jewelry....yet again, stones shipped in from unknown places, mined by unknown, mistreated people, all so I can smile for an hour or two on a holiday the people who provided my goodies prolly never even heard of. So I suppose if done correctly, fairly, and with the right intentions, I could like Valentine's Day. But in my perfect world? Love would be celebrated and shown every single day.

And what better way to celebrate then by committing to renew the relationships in our lives?


Gather Friends Close
One of my best and wisest friends, when confronted with my worries that I am too "co-dependent" because I don't like being alone, reassured me with the following advice: "We are human beings, biologically made to exist in groups. We were not designed by nature to be alone and isolated. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be around others."

I get the need to be alone. I'm learning how to venture out and be comfortable alone more and more each day. But when push comes to shove, I am a gregarious creature in spirit, heart, and mind. I laugh harder, smile bigger, worry less, and learn more when I am around others. It doesn't need to be a huge group, nor does it need to be a specific person. I just grow better in a garden.

I often put pressure on myself to cut ties with this "needy" mentality of mine. I feel guilty for wanting to be around people. I worry that I'm not "being enough for myself" and therefore will never be enough for others. But I think that's the catch - if I really want to be true to myself, I need to accept all parts of myself....embrace them, even. And that means soaring high with my inner empath and allowing myself to depend, however vulnerable it makes me, on others.

On the flip side, some excel best on their own. They relish and delight in isolation. And I respect that, despite not relating as much to those needs.

But if I could go out on a limb here and just quickly speak to those isolationists.....friends enhance the world around us. Good friends, real friends, yes they require work, yes they can make you tired, yes they can disappoint you. But good friendships, really good friendships, they offer a hand to hold while you're at your weakest. They offer a sounding board. They offer a soul to share your joy with. One of my favorite quotes is by Emery Allen, who said, "You don't need another human being to make your life complete, but let's be honest. Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn't see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in this world."

In exchange for vulnerability, you receive love....a love that will stand beside you while you work to be independent, while you work to make yourself happy, and while you strive to learn from your mistakes. Gather your friends close. They can be rays of sunshine on your cloudy days.

Reconnect
Renewing relationships can be as easy as shooting off a quick text or sending a Facebook message. Want to meet for coffee this Tuesday? What day works better for you? I'm heading out tonight if you're around! It can also be incredibly hard and awkward.

Life gets in the way of plans. Life gets in the way of forming connections. Life gets in the way of relationships. Sometimes our perspective becomes complacent on accident, like when we're so ridiculously busy with our own internal drama that we forget to include a friend in plans or forget to reach out and wish a good friend a happy birthday. Other times our relationships purposely take a back seat to new priorities in our lives. Children. Work. Travel.

The good news is, almost every broken relationship can be resolved by simply making a choice. Do you want to make the time for this person? Do the benefits to having them in your life outweigh the work it will take to reconnect? Are you willing to apologize? Are you healthy and strong enough to accept they might not accept your apology?

If you miss someone and you truly want them back in your life, you've gotta be willing to be humble, you've gotta be willing to take responsibility for allowing the relationship to slip without projecting any of that on the other person, and you've gotta be prepared for the other person to turn you down flat. It's that simple. That is your choice. You cannot predict what the other person will say, or do, and that's ok. If the only way to resolve a disconnected relationship is by permanently closing the door, then so be it. At least you've got closure...see what I did there. Hopefully the person on the receiving end of your effort will also make the choice to be humble, to take responsibility, and to apologize. Or maybe it truly is all your fault and you've just got to eat that. Or maybe the reconnection process won't have an ounce of drama at all and you can just pick up where you left off.

The point is, you are in control of your half of every relationship. If you're missing someone, take consistent, solid, repeating steps to bridge the gap. Make the choice to invest in that relationship and make it a priority. Maybe it will blossom, maybe it will fizzle into obscurity, but either way you can say you tried your best and are taking steps to improving your relationships with others.

Retrain Expectations
One of my favorite things about being around other people is how much I learn. Everyone is so different...even those I am close to and deeply care about sometimes have different opinions from me. It's incredibly interesting to me when a large group of people engage in friendly, intelligent debate. I love watching reactions, seeing tempers quietly flare, and feeling the passion coming off everyone in the room.

But the flip side to this diversity is that you won't always see eye to eye. Yes, it is great to hear other perspectives, but sometimes those perspectives work against the relationship you're trying to form.

A perfect example of this is my tendency to be extremely territorial of those I care about. For someone who considers herself a half-empath, I sure do turn my back on how others feel when they try and become a part of my close knit-relationship circle. Now I could wax poetic about how I was isolated and bullied as a kid and dip deep into the psychological reasons behind why I am the way I am, but then this post would be 400 more words and to be honest my kid will be up from her nap real soon here so let me just say - I am extremely territorial. Do not encroach on my relationships with others or behave in any way that I could perceive as threatening to the bonds I've worked tirelessly to maintain. I speak about this at length in my understanding territorial behaviors in females post - I get to "cut-a-B" levels when I feel like my relationship with someone I love is disrespected.

Unfortunately, those who are new to the group or who have not met me or know anything about my history don't understand this. They unknowingly walk right into the fire, a fire that burns as a deep grudge within my heart for way longer than it should. Did I mention I also suck at letting things go? I do. I suck at letting things go. Which is basically a death sentence for the new girl who tries to invite my best friend to coffee without me. First impression destroyed, wedge driven, mind shut.

Ultimately what this all leads to is me snarling in a corner while the newcomer looks around wondering why this lady is hunched over and snarling in the corner.

I need to retrain my expectations, you see. I cannot expect everyone to know my backstory. I cannot expect them to understand my version of a threat vs the traditional version of a threat. They do not and cannot read my mind. The same can be said of friends who've known me my whole life. They don't always know how I'm feeling. They cannot always understand why I'm upset. And instead of holding that against them, I need to understand this is the flip-side of the diversity that I love and hold so dear to my heart in almost every other circumstance.

Because we are different, we are never 100% one. This is the joy and this is also the sadness. I'm gonna hafta be a big girl and explain myself...which I've gotten better at doing over the years (lots of practice! heh heh! Hehe...ugh). I'm going to need to practice forgiveness and compassion. And yes, I'm going to need to provide for and tend to my own feelings instead of expecting them to be constantly met and coddled by those around me. Friends are wonderful, but like I said before, relationships are enhancements to your life.....a life you, yourself need to build on a steady and sturdy base.

Release the Weight
It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while I need to let people go. I think a healthy part of renewing your life and your relationships with those around you is to occasionally step back and ask if the relationship is serving you well.

Now I purposely wrote this section under the "expectations" section because if you go looking for flaws in your relationships, you're bound to find one or two in every single one of them. Everyone judges your decisions, especially those who care about you and think they know better than you do. Some are outward about it and others try and remain neutral but everyone has an opinion and will judge you from time to time. There are ways to deal with that judgement, and ending relationships is not one of them.

But every so often there are relationships that need to be released. You don't need to hate the person, you don't need to not care about the person, but sometimes your efforts are better spent elsewhere. I wrote a pretty long post about dealing with painful people last fall when things really started to take a turn for the worst with my ex-husband. It is very hard to get me to a place where I will no longer try, but once that happens, I've mentally and emotionally closed the door on that relationship. I do it for my own safekeeping. I do it for the safekeeping of the relationships that truly do nurture my soul and understand me and see me for who I am. And I do so with the understanding that should anyone I once made an effort to love ever came to my door in need of food and shelter, I would open it to them without question. I don't beleive that love ever really dies. It just gets locked up. And that's ok.

If you have relationships in your life that are weighing you down instead of helping you fly, that make you feel worse about yourself than better, it might be time to close the door on that relationship. Hope that one day the person shows up on your doorstep changed and filled with perspective....but do not count on it. It's hard but this step is imperative to renewing the relationships you do have left...the ones with those who truly do love you and need your attention.

Ooze Gratuity
One of my biggest fears (outside of losing relationships because the other person randomly decides I am not what they want....another story for another time) is being taken for granted. Getting comfortable with your relationships is inevitable. You become intimately attuned to the other person's mannerisms....the same things don't make you laugh any more. The little quirks are no longer unique, they are just a part of that person's persona. The touches and phrases become routine instead of tingling. It's what happens, naturally, as part of a relationship's natural rhythm.

But screw rhythms. It's perfectly ok to be comfortable and secure. It's a completely different thing to become lazy. Relationships take work....lots and lots of work. They take discomfort and inconvenience and sacrifice. For the right person, especially in the beginning, that discomfort and inconvenience and sacrifice might not seem like work at all. But once you start to truly know another person, it takes unique, appreciative, and proactive thought processes to keep relationships alive.

I will forever be grateful to my best good friend cuz despite being friends for over 20 years, and despite me having kids and us both moving far far away from each other multiple times and despite relationship troubles and post-partum depression and changes to our circle of friends she has always, consistently made time for me on my own terms. She will come to me, she is flexible with me, she does not ask for anything in return except my willingness to go along with the plans she's already created. She calls me, she texts me, she deals with my crap, and I deal with her crap. We are far from perfect and we fight. But despite our differences I have so much appreciation in my heart for who she is and what she's done to keep our friendship alive over the years.

That kind of appreciation is often forgotten. We get bogged down and we forget to say thank you. We forget to pay it forward. We forget to return kindness with kindness. I am so, so guilty of not wanting to leave my house much. I like it here and this is where I am most comfortable. But I tell you what, you come over, and I'll try and reward your effort by feeding you good food and giving you all of my attention and treating you like the most honored king or queen in all the land.

You don't need to return kindness in the exact same way it is delivered. The idea is to simply return the kindness. Try. Make effort. Do the best you can without needing to be reminded that yes, it takes two to make things magic. Be grateful for those in your life and don't take them for granted. An appreciated relationship is a rewarding relationship.

I think the hardest part about tending to our relationships is the fact that we need to really look at ourselves and evaluate what we could be doing differently. Relationships include at least two people, always, but you as an individual can only control one side of that equation. Dive into your relationships with a grateful heart, an understanding spirit, a selective eye, and a willingness to view those you keep close as embellishments on a canvas that should already be sparkling with all the wonderful things you have to offer this world. Keep your garden clean, nurtured, and loved, and everyone will blossom :)

How do you handle the relationships in your life? Have you found children, work, or other priorities getting in the way of holding on to those outside of your own home? What's your favorite way to bring the "spark" back into your relationships? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading.

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Jen 

Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:

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