Increasing Resilience within Relationships
By Dr Angela Smith
My experience as a Psychologist and trainer for the past 18 years has taught me many valuable lessons, the most valuable is the way in which trust within relationships can be eroded over time. I often think of this slow erosion as the silent assassin of relationships. This takes me back to one of Tina Turner’s songs called “On Silent Wings”, “you never see it coming you just go separate ways – on silent wings” what I believe this means is that we hardly ever see the slow erosion and we very slowly start to become distant from one another.
When we no longer trust another person whom we once respected and trusted we can get used to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. What replaces trust is the sense of fear, anxiety and helplessness. Many people can spend their whole lives in a relationship like this. If we live in fear for long enough without doing something about it, we then learn to become helpless to change that situation in any meaningful way. In other words the fear sets off a chain reaction where we learn that no matter what we do nothing changes, so it’s better to do nothing and become uncomfortably numb, better the devil we know. This also takes me back to one of Pink Floyd‘s songs called “Comfortably Numb”, I am not quite sure that you can ever be comfortable if you have numbed to a situation because of the underlying sense of helplessness and fear but I do know that numbing to a situation happens much more than most of us would like to admit. And many relationships are numb.
So how does the slow erosion of trust happen? Well in many ways it is a long slow process. We may start to listen differently by not really paying attention to what is being said, and that can come across as not being interested. If you really think about it, if that is the way you start to listen and communicate with the same person over a period of time, it really is just a matter of time before the relationship becomes distant. That person will no longer trust that you are interested in them and then they start to talk to other people. Is it really a wonder that this is generally the point at which a relationship starts to break down, be it with your manager, partner or children? If you really value a relationship then it makes sense to invest some of your time in it.
So how can you start the process of rebuilding a distant relationship? There is a three step process which really helps a relationship get back on track.
Step 1. Build a consistency bridge to increase trust
One of the biggest reasons for the erosion of trust is inconsistency. In other words saying you will do one thing and either not following it through or doing something entirely different. Building the consistency bridge helps the other person start to trust you again. For example, at work if you tend to be inconsistent with your manager, how about you change that and be more consistent in meeting deadlines and being more positive at work, after all it is a two way relationship. The same applies within a personal relationship, try becoming more consistent in giving the other person your full attention at least once a day for 15 minutes. In other words, no mobile, computer or television distraction. Simply pay attention and listen. This different way of communicating can really transform relationships with your partner, boss, colleagues, friends and children.
Step 2. Knock down the criticism wall
If you tend to criticise your partner, kids or manager a lot of the time, this will start to erode their confidence within themselves and toward you. I am sure most of us don’t mean to do this, but we still do. For example, criticising your manager to colleagues is something which is common, but have you ever thought about what your colleagues may think of you when you do this? Do you think this increases their trust towards you or decreases it? If you’re criticising the manager on a regular basis then it is just a matter of time before you start to criticise your colleagues.
Look beyond why you are criticising, if it is a genuine concern you have that the other person is not saying or doing something right, then that is more of a complaint. Or is it that you feel helpless to change the situation so it’s better to attack as a way of making yourself feel better about feeling helpless. If it is a genuine complaint then change the language from criticism to complaint. For example, instead of saying “you are always late!” which is a critical value judgement, change it to a more assertive complaint “When you are late, it means that I can’t get to my class on time, can you try to be back earlier in future please” this is a much healthier way of communicating and certainly increases trust. Remember, to be consistent in this way of communicating
Step 3. Happiness increases trust so plan for it
Happiness is a key component in resilience. The ability to plan to be happy may sound odd, but if we are on autopilot we miss out on so much around us and within relationships, this in itself reduces the pleasure and happiness we get from others and certainly from what we can offer others. At work, perhaps plan your happiness each day, enjoy your breaks, and try to increase your enthusiasm for what you are doing by questioning why you are doing it. Even if you do not like your job, working may still mean that you are providing for your family, so be kind to yourself for having the ability to do this. Perhaps plan to spend one technology free evening per week with your children and or partner. That evening can be solely devoted to enjoying your evening meal and fully engaging with your family. This can have a remarkably positive effect on family life. Also plan to look after yourself each day by being kinder to yourself and enjoy each day in a mindful way. Or spend an afternoon with your family keeping a photo journal of where you go, take photos of things you enjoy and get each member of the family to write down why they enjoyed it. This can be a great way of keeping photos and engaging with family.
Increasing your resilience within relationships is not magic or a secret, it simply means that each day you focus on yourself and others and start to really engage with the way you perceive yourself and the way you communicate with others. Small things done consistently make a difference.
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