by Michael Padraig Acton

Firstly, if we are not experiencing relationship issues with our nearest and dearest, including our close friends, then we are not human. It is usual and necessary to reflect and re-evaluate our relationships. Covid forced this agenda and gave us the space to work out where we wish to invest in relationships and who may need to take a back seat. At least for a while, if not permanently.

Also, relationships are intrinsically organic in nature. Life morphs and so do the relationships we have. It is not about having good friends or bad, I explain to my clients that friends are like people on a bus; some get on for a short ride, some are on and off throughout our lives, and some stay on the bus for the duration.

Relationships therefore need management and understanding of the dynamic: the 'push and pull'.

Ask yourself what you want from people in your life. Then, think about who complicates and drains and who gives back and nourishes. Now, if we have a friend going through grief or issues of course they will be more draining. However, if there is that special someone where everything is a drama and more than likely only about them… we may need to boundary our exposure. There are many ways to do this without hurting a person. If a friend is going through trauma of some kind, it is more than reasonable to have a chat and explain that you fully support them and that you are there for them but one day a week why don’t we have a XXXXX free conversation. Instead, you could watch a movie and talk about new things. Also, if they are really having a tough time it may be an idea to suggest they talk it out with a therapist. Sometimes we aren’t qualified to talk someone we care about out of a cycle of stuck-ness. If you fear this, look upon it as a kind suggestion. If it were a friend who loves drama and themselves a tad too much, have a raincheck. Give yourself permission to take a vacation. Suggest things are busy for a few months and give them the heads up that you aren’t going to be available due to other pressures. If they challenge you or set demands or criticisms, they do not sound too much like a supportive friend and more of a user. Hard words but very probably the truth.

Each individual relationship will be different. When auditing post-lockdown relationships, it would help us to think of our top three 'deal breakers'. This applies to friends, lovers, family and work colleagues. So, what are the top three things you will not tolerate and why? The only way this exercise works is if you were to be absolutely honest, look deep into your gut and really work on what these three things are. If we see our truth and deliver our truth, we don’t often worry about what comes back. Games playing is truly avoided.

In other cases, you may find that being apart during lockdown has given you both a healthy shake up. Perhaps a person you found difficult before will realise how much they appreciate your company and try harder to make things work. It also may be that you, personally, have had your fair share of issues and dragged the conversations and experiences into a kind of victimhood. It is not only the “other” person, we are also part of the relationship dynamic. We also have to own our “stuff.”

If you both truly want to use this as a second chance at creating a happier, more successful and secure relationship, there are ways you can re-draw boundaries and shift the balance of power. For example:

  • If you have tended to hide your feelings to keep the peace, commit to being more open (My Truth). If you are the one comfortable expressing your feelings, learn to step back and ask the other party how they feel (and really get to their truth too). This will help to balance the power between you as both parties become free to be themselves.
  • Create a plan of action for dealing with rough waters. Discuss known 'hot button' areas and how you will do things differently this time. Decide in advance how you'll both solve problems together (rather than turning them into a "me" or “you” problem). Also, adjust your language at this juncture. Own statements with “I”. For example, instead of saying, “People who chew gum all the time are just gross.” Consider how it really makes you feel and change it up to your truth and own it by saying: “It really annoys me when someone is chewing gum loudly, it grates on me.” Very different statements. One’s a general judgment call and the later one is a truth about self and can be owned.
  • Take things slowly and commit to giving the relationship a chance. Making new and permanent changes takes time. Talk and build trust. Be gentle and nurturing with yourself and the person you are reconnecting with. Ask yourself how it would feel to really be “me” and “truthful”? Are my needs being met? How loved and accepted do we feel?
  • Resolve any negative feelings between you. Underlying resentment will sabotage your efforts. Come to a place of forgiveness and understanding. Resentment is, after all, unresolved anger and will poison any relationship when not worked out.
  • Be realistic. No relationship will ever be problem or disappointment free. 

Power is in our absolute truth. It is what separates humans from animals. Animals know their truth; we justify to ourselves all the time other people’s rules and opinions. This is good civic behaviour. However, when we follow rules that suit others, we start to live our lie. To put it another way, nothing we do or say has any power unless it contains our truth. 

So, the only way we can step into our power is to separate out our voice from the voices of other people in our lives. Only truth will get us to where we want to be but it does take work. This can be where consulting a life coach or therapist can be helpful because being truthful with ourselves is harder than we think. 

Finally, when dealing with any of the above situations, let there be no knee jerk reactions, please!

Think carefully about your needs. What are acceptable stressors and what are the ones that need attention? 

Again, being clear on your top three deal-breakers. These will help to shape healthy boundaries for you and others. You don't have to share these with people, but it is handy to have an agreement with yourself about what you want and who you want to invest in and have as part of your life.