Relationships form the foundational framework of our social dynamics, integral for emotional… | by Gagan Adlakha | Jul, 2024

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Relationships form the foundational framework of our social dynamics, integral for emotional support, personal enrichment, and sustaining well-being.

At the heart of every thriving relationship is the delicate dance of balancing ‘You,’ ‘Me,’ and ‘Us.’ Reflecting on my own experiences, I realize that while some relationships have flourished, others could have been better.

Relationships permeate every aspect of life — with a partner, parent-child, siblings, friends, in-laws, colleagues, business partners, or teams. The more significant the relationship, the more crucial it is to work on it. As the number of people in a relationship increases, so does the complexity, with various ‘Me’s’ contributing their unique perspectives to the ‘Us’ and ‘You.’

Here are some thoughts on how to do this dance more gracefully and make it work for everyone involved. When done well, this dance can create magic and great joy; if neglected, it can lead to pain and ugliness.

Let’s delve into some key principles that can help us navigate the complexities of relationships effectively.

Celebrate the differences

In any relationship, each individual brings a unique blend of individuality, adding essential variety and spice to our perspectives on life. These perspectives shape our truths and influence our responses.

Much like the story of the blind men and the elephant, each perspective can be ‘right’ but becomes ‘wrong’ when believed to be the only one. Our sense organs provide us with limited views based on our point of observation, the faculties’ limitations, and what we focus on. The mind processes these inputs, assuming them to be complete, and uses our unique internal algorithms and coding (called sanskaras) to create our reality. This subjective truth varies from person to person. Yes! everyone sees the world differently.

A different view is not necessarily ‘wrong’; it’s just emerging from a different vantage point and processed using different algorithms and coding. It’s the subjective truth of the other.

The more diverse perspectives you can gather, the better you’ll understand the ‘reality’ and respond to it effectively. It’s good to have the humility to acknowledge that you have but one perspective. Respect, be curious about, share, embrace, and celebrate these differences. For example, you may see a career shift as the path to success and know how to work on it, whereas your partner might see the possible risks and drawbacks. Working with both views will greatly help in making choices.

Similarly, consider a team project where one member is focused on innovation and pushing boundaries while another is cautious, emphasizing potential pitfalls and ensuring stability. By valuing both perspectives, the team can create a balanced approach that leverages innovative ideas while mitigating risks.

Sense the flows

Just as we never step into the same river twice, each of us is in a constant state of emergence, incessantly shaped by new experiences and learnings.

The Yoga Sutras (2:15) says this can create three kinds of dukkha (obstacles) in us:

  1. Inability to perceive or accept change.
  2. Not calibrating your response to the change.
  3. Unable to make changes in oneself, still operating from old habits and patterns (sanskaras).

Each of these can become an obstacle to thriving. Wisdom lies in accepting this fact and responding accordingly.

Similarly, each relationship and team goes through its unique journey and trajectory. Changes occur due to: (a) Individual-level changes and (b) The response of the dynamic to external changes from various aspects of life, such as career, health, finances, marriage, children, location, caregiving, and more.

Responsibilities change, priorities change, interests change, and peer and reference groups change. Newer needs replace older ones. Essentially, everything is constantly morphing, and even the proportion of each part keeps changing. Take a family for example, you will see that it is constantly changing and morphing.

What we need to do is to fully accept the changes and see how you need to respond. Accepting does not mean you are okay with it; it means acknowledging its existence and figuring out the best way to respond. For example, if a health issue arises, every minute spent bemoaning it, cursing it, or being angry about it is wasted. It’s best to accept it and determine the best response.

Consider a team project where unexpected challenges arise. Instead of resisting or denying the change, the team can adapt by reassessing goals, redistributing tasks, and supporting each other through the transition. This approach not only addresses the immediate issue but also strengthens the team’s resilience for future challenges.

By embracing change and responding thoughtfully, we can navigate the complexities of relationships and thrive together.

Own the whole

When considering your response, it is vital to embrace the whole relationship dynamic — Me, Us, and You(s). Inspire others to do the same, ensuring everyone is comfortable with balance and harmony. Only when all parts are in harmony can the relationship thrive. Focusing on only a part of the dynamic will result in a lopsided and sub-optimal relationship. In a thriving relationship, it is beneficial to find joy in focusing on “You(s)” and “Us,” while inspiring and trusting others to care for your “Me.”

To facilitate this harmony, regular, authentic conversations are key. Each person should listen, understand, clarify, and appreciate the other’s perspective. Sharing excitement, hopes, concerns, fears, and pain helps deepen the connection. Just as a well-tuned orchestra requires each musician to listen to one another, a thriving relationship relies on each person’s ability to engage in meaningful dialogue. As they say, the quality of a relationship is largely determined by the quality of conversations within it. However, do remember to co-create boundaries as needed.

Keep the energies right

While nurturing a relationship requires many elements, nothing is more crucial than dedicating adequate time and attention and having authentic conversations that address real issues. The relationship dynamic heavily depends on the energies within it. We need to regularly infuse genuine positive energies and detoxify the negative ones.

To ensure a healthy relationship dynamic, consistently convey and infuse positive energies like pride, belonging, hope, learning, empathy, and love. Create opportunities and occasions to celebrate, appreciate, and compliment each other, expressing gratitude and offering apologies when needed.

Negative energies are inevitable but often ignored. Hidden and unexpressed, they fester and grow, eventually casting a shadow on the relationship. The longer they remain unaddressed, the bigger the shadow. Regularly detox these energies from the dynamic by sharing fears and concerns and addressing differences, hurts, and slights. Much healing happens simply by being able to express oneself without fear or guilt. Better out than in.

Just as a garden flourishes with regular care and weeding, a relationship thrives with attention to positive energies and the removal of negative ones.

Create a Space

Often, these conversations need to address ‘difficult’ topics. Initially, the dance may be inelegant and awkward, with lots of stepping on each other’s toes. As we learn the dance together, we discern when to lead and when to follow, when to give space and when to lean in, when to go with the flow and when to call a time-out and restart. Until we reach a level of synchronicity, it’s crucial to work on the misalignments together.

To facilitate such conversations, we need to create a space in the relationship — a psychologically safe space where there is trust, respect, openness, and empathy. In this space, one feels safe to be vulnerable, completely honest, and not fearful of being judged or reprimanded. Fundamental to this process is the intent to make it work and work well.

The best time to create this space is at the beginning of a relationship; the second best time is now.

Just as a plant needs the right environment to grow, a relationship needs a safe space to thrive.

Eat the frog — Talk

Your success in relationships is proportional to the number of authentic conversations you’re willing to have. Doing these well takes the relationships to the next level. Adequate friction is what makes things move. Neither too little nor too much is good, but having some enables moving ahead. I am sure you have seen couples, families and teams stuck. It’s either because of too much friction or too little.

No one likes having difficult conversations. Yet avoiding them can come at a high cost. When you evade challenges, you risk letting problems fester and escalate, which can result in a host of negative outcomes. You need to do your bit and inspire the other(s) to do theirs.

While expectations are de rigueur in any relationship, we must remember that almost all our negative emotions come from the gap between our expectations and reality. Very often these expectations are not shared nor expressed and thus unknown to the other(s). We ‘expect’ them to know and measure them and their actions from these expectations. We should not be surprised if they fall ‘short’. Ideally, these need to be shared, discussed, and agreed to. Otherwise, you are playing different games and scoring each other differently. A perfect recipe for negativity and conflict.

The following steps can help to have difficult conversations (Vyaktitva’s ESCA construct):

  • Set the stage.
  • State the objective of co-creating a way ahead.
  • Listen with empathy and curiosity to completely understand their subjective truth.
  • Share your subjective truth and the consequences of the conflict/differences between them.
  • Explore deeper differences.
  • Co-create/find a solution/ a common truth.
  • Reset, agree on next steps and schedule followups.

Remember you are here to co-create the way ahead, not to get them to ‘agree’ to your way ahead. When you enter the space be ready to, if needed, drop/ change your subjective truth. Remember its only one/your view. Genuinely co-created solutions are almost always better and certainly more owned and thus worked on by all involved. It’s a new harmony created for the you-us-me dynamic.

Till the time your relationship has reached all this to happen organically, it may be best to be proactive and do regular check-ins to celebrate, empathise, discuss, share expectations, brainstorm, co-create, apologise and detox hurts from any perceived breaches to co-create a new balance/ flow. It is advisable to make a ritual of meeting regularly in this space — once a month/quarter, on a weekend, on your monthly date night, or on vacation, offsite. Something like a periodic servicing of the car to prevent possible future breakdowns.

Work on yourself

Remember, you are responsible for your ‘Me’ and for each of the aspects discussed. Blaming others or the situation is a common defense mechanism, but it hinders the growth of both the relationship and yourself. Every situation is an opportunity for learning and growth, and not seizing this chance to understand yourself better is a missed opportunity. We all have habits and patterns that lead us to respond almost algorithmically. If we do the same things, how can we expect different outcomes? Cultivating self-awareness, continually working on yourself, responding consciously rather than compulsively, and being filled with joy are some of the best contributions you can make to a relationship.

Some good questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do I respect and actively celebrate the other(s) and the differences they bring to the table?
  • Do I help create a space where we can have authentic conversations? Do others feel comfortable being vulnerable and honest?
  • Am I completely honest and vulnerable in my sharings, and do I actively listen to other(s) with genuine curiosity?
  • Am I too attached to my subjective truths and find it difficult to co-create newer ones?
  • Am I constantly diving within to understand my deeper patterns and stories, and do I tweak them if and as needed?

By asking yourself these questions, you can gain insight into your behavior and its impact on your relationships. Just as a gardener tends to each plant to ensure the health of the whole garden, you must tend to your own growth to nurture a healthy relationship.

Remember, it all begins with you.

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