We all have them. We've had positive experiences within relationships, and we've had negative experiences. It is virtually impossible to be human (and alive) and not participate in relationships. And although relationships are an instrumental part of our daily lives, they are a piece of the holistic health puzzle that is so often overlooked even though the quality of our close relationships has been consistently linked to both our mental and physical health, as well as our over all life expectancy and happiness. According to functional medicine practitioner, Dr. Mark Hyman, surrounding ourselves with a supportive community is what, in fact, keeps us strong. In a recent social post, Hyman offered 4 things he does to nourish and improve his own relationships:
1. Set aside time to reflect on your relationships
2. Step away from negative relationships
3. Be present and participate
4. Express appreciation on a regular basis
This week, I'm going to expand on each of these 4 points and offer some practical application ideas to help you implement these practices into your life--to pursue happy, healthy relationships for the sake of your health and wellbeing.
Set aside time to reflect on your relationships
Do you do this? We take time to think through our schedules, our meal plans, our to-do lists. But do we set aside intentional time to consider the relationships we have? Do we practice mindfulness in this area of life? For many, I would argue the answer is no. Unfortunately, reflecting on the health of our relationships is not something that is often taught or facilitated. In fact, this kind of reflection often only comes about in a professional counseling or therapy session after there has been some kind of damaging breach in relationship between two or more people. It doesn't have to be this way. Our physical and mental health can be protected and improved if we would simply implement a regular check in on our relationships as part of our regular health and wellness routine.
What does this look like? It doesn't have to be complicated or even time-consuming. For me, a once a week reflection time works great. I find that Sunday often works best for me as it allows me to look at the entire previous week and consider the relationships I engaged in--relationship with my spouse, my kids, my extended family, my friends, my work Team, my customers, etc. I think about the interactions that went well and were positive and I express gratitude for those exchanges. I consider the interactions that were negative or relationships that appear to be strained. I take time to think through my role in the relationship and to consider any areas in which I may need to ask for forgiveness or reach out to address a miscommunication. Then I make a plan to follow through on taking care of whatever might need to be resolved. This entire process of reflection usually only takes 30 minutes. And it is 30 minutes well spent.
Step away from negative relationships
This one is really hard for me. I'm a fixer, a problem-solver. And for us problem-solver types, stepping away from any relationship (even a very negative one) can feel like giving up or leaving a problem unresolved. It is especially difficult when stepping away feels like writing someone off, or discounting his or her intrinsic worth. After all, nobody wants to feel like a "mean girl."
This practice is one I am still trying to understand, and am, most definitely, still learning what applying it looks like. One thing I have learned, however, is that stepping away is not forever. Oftentimes negative relationships just need a season of separation for both parties to gain perspective and grow in maturity before each involved person is able to interact in healthy ways. Or, perhaps a season of separation is needed due to unhealthy levels of enabling. In instances when unhealthy habits are being enabled, the most loving thing to do is allow some distance. And, as long as practice #1 is happening, that reflection time will help determine when a relationship has become negative to the point of needing a period of separation. The beautiful part is that reconciliation is possible and there are countless stories that can be shared about restored relationships.
Be present and participate
As someone living in a culture where shiny lures are dangling in front of us 24/7, it is getting harder and harder to avoid biting as it relates to time spent on our cell phones, using social media, watching TV, gaming, working, shopping and filling our schedules too full. Yet, all of these activities keep us from being fully-present, fully-engaged participants in our own lives. I recognize that I’m not above getting caught either. In fact, I've had to put some pretty solid boundaries in place in order to avoid being lured away from what I know matters most to me.
Around Christmas this past winter, I decided that deactivation was the only effective option for me with my personal Facebook page. It had become a constant distraction, a time-sucker, and a shoddy replacement for the authentic, uncurated life I wanted to be living. For me, a personal Facebook page stretched me too thin relationally, leading to lots of surface-level relationships and less meaningful interactions with the people in my daily “real” life. The voices I heard/read in social media comment feeds didn’t sound like the voices I was hearing in real life, and I found myself making assumptions and feeling misunderstood far too often. Recently, I decided to get rid of my personal Instagram profile as well, just to see what life feels like without it--to experience the uncurated life. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the value of social media. Our business relies on it to pass along information, to provide resources, and to share glimpses of our life with our customers and clients. It is valuable and can connect people. We would all just be wise to consider how we are using it and to examine the ways in which it might be impairing our ability to be present, active participants in real life.
Another way to practice presence and participation is to avoid being on our phone (other than taking time-sensitive or emergency calls) when we are with other people. I’m always deeply saddened when I am out for dinner and see eyes around a table glued to screens rather than locked into one another, listening, laughing and sharing real life together.
Express appreciation on a regular basis
This is perhaps my favorite of the four practices because I love telling people how much they mean to me. It goes beyond just saying “I love you” or “thank you.” It is sharing what you love about another person and why you are thankful for her. It can be as simple as telling him the reasons in person, catching someone doing well, or writing a note or card to a family member or friend. It can be a quick text sent when someone in your life comes to mind. It might be recognition of an employee or co-worker. It could be sending flowers. There truly are countless ways that we can express appreciation to the people we are in relationship with. How you choose to do this is far less important than making sure you do it. Make it a priority, a regular practice in your life. You’ll discover that the health of your relationships is significantly impacted in a positive way by this simple practice.
I look forward to hearing from you as you begin to apply these happy, healthy relationship practices into your own lives. We do hope you’ll share your success stories with us!