How to Ensure your Relationships Serve You Well

Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

All of life is an exchange. A constant pendulum of positive and negative energy working feverishly to achieve balance. A cause and effect for everything. A price for every privilege. And the cost of being the ‘most evolved’ beings of our time is certainly a high one.

So much anguish plagues our hearts as we try to balance our expectations of ourselves and those around us, with what we receive in reality, or can feasibly achieve. So much weight we carry in exchange for the great joy and love we are able to feel. The challenge in the fight for balance, of course, is that all things do not weigh equal. Even a small measure of anguish has the ability to outweigh all of the other love and joy in our life. So it is critical to our happiness that we work to understand the origins of our anguish and assign it to the right source in order to be able to lift its weight back into balance.

Anguish can come from many sources and manifest in many different ways. It can be the result of anger, frustration, resentment, all or none of the above?

It isn’t easy, that’s for sure. But it is crucial if we are going to continue to grow and foster relationships that are positive and help us flourish.

I have this friend whose soul is so deeply connected with my own, it is [at times] mind-blowing. We share a similar personality type, views on the world, predispositions… we are crafted from the same fabric of sorts. I can safely say that every time I am in her company I learn so much about myself by watching and listening to her. We’ve both had some difficult years of late…and during one of many occasions where one of us held the other up while she lost her shit, (and vice versa) she taught me one of the most fundamental mindset approaches of my life.

The theory of ‘Positive / Useful.’

It is a practice that seeks to approach challenging moments [both good and bad] in your life more mindfully, and with a simple question: “Is how I’m feeling and responding right now positive or useful?” If the response is a resounding yes to both (++) then the exerted energy is beneficial to your being. If the response is yes and no for either (+-) then the exerted energy can still be beneficial, provided it is monitored with caution so as to not evolve into the final potential response… a double negative (- -). In the latter, the exerted energy becomes a waste of your most valuable finite resource [energy] and it’s time to plug the leak and redirect the flow!

I have followed this practice for some time now, with hugely positive results to my psychological and emotional wellbeing. But I have found, that on the really tricky stuff, the answer is not necessarily so straight forward…because what first needs to be understood is the reason the feelings are emerging in the first place. For this, we need to assign the anguish to the right source, before applying the Positive / Useful Theory.

This is a process I have recently started to undertake to help clear out some of the emotional and psychological garbage cluttered in the dark corners of my being. For me, I have found that the anguish usually results from one [or more] of several very powerful but very different responses. These are:

Disappointment
Every one of us has an expectation [conscious or unconscious] of what a suitable way is to behave in a relationship. We project so much of ourselves on those we build these relationships with. The human psyche is rather screwed up in this way, in that we manage to conjure the exact behaviour towards others that we feel we are lacking in reciprocate in our lives, hoping our message will be received and we will get what we need. Instead of focussing inwards to fulfil what we are missing, we become slaves to our relationships, waiting for our cups to be filled. Of course, when we do not get what we need, it becomes agony. We hunger…empty and aching for nourishment.

Frustration
We harbour a deep need to be heard and understood. We expect that those who we form relationships with will listen to these needs and see them as equally important as we do, changing their behaviour to be considerate of our feelings. But what happens when they don’t? Or worse, they refuse to even acknowledge the conversation [verbal or visceral] that we are trying to have with them? We experience agonising frustration at the realisation that we [and our needs] are not as important to them as they are to us. And it becomes deeply painful to us that we have given over so much of ourselves to their needs, and not received the same in return.

Anger
This one is tricky… because the anger can manifest both towards others and towards ourselves. Normally it is either the resulting outcome of one or both of the two feelings above, or if towards ourselves…the last straw of allowing a repetition of these feelings. No matter its origins, an undeniable fire engulfs us and often it is difficult to see any reason beyond it. The problem is feeding the flames can only end in the cinders of resentment.

Resentment
We need resolutions. It’s why, when we write stories, they have a beginning…middle and end. It’s why we make ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ every single year. It is fundamental in our biology and existence, for we too begin and end. When situations and feelings are unresolved, we feel out of control. This type of anguish brings with it so many mental and emotional, far-reaching effects …because we so easily drift across the threshold between resenting others and resenting ourselves without notice. Once there, we are in a veritable hell of anguish, constantly reliving not having done enough… not having been enough…lost opportunities… ‘What If’s.’

The uncertain is not something we deal well with as a species. Despite being extremely adaptable, we are yet to master the ability to forgive and embrace.

And this is where the Theory of Positive / Useful returns to our toolkit. After assigning our anguish to its source, we obtain a better understanding of the origin of our feelings. We can then apply the theory to see whether we obtain a ‘double positive’ , a ‘positive — negative’ or a ‘double negative’ to the feelings of anguish we are experiencing. I use this tool constantly now as a way to pull my feelings back into balance and help me decide how to respond next to the situation.

Chances are, when we are experiencing a negative emotion such as anguish, we are never going to end with a ‘double positive.’ So we can forget about this one. More likely, is a ‘positive — negative’ or ‘double negative’ result. What I have learned through this process is that the 4 emotions listed above are part of a scaled series of severity. A singular relationship can if left to deteriorate, cycle through this entire scale…ending of course in ashes. So it is critical to assign the anguish early and use the Positive / Useful Theory as a tool for informing our response if we hope to manage our relationship in a way that ensures they serve us well.

How it plays out as an example…

Situation: My friend says they are too busy to hang out but I see them doing things with other people all over social media.

Leading Emotion: Disappointment

Positive: NO (-) How I feel right now is not positive. I feel undervalued and, sad and empty.

Useful: YES (+) How I feel right now is useful as is highlighting to me that my expectations of this relationship are either not understood, or different from my friends’

Action: I can choose to speak to my friend about it and hopefully they understand and seek to change their behaviour. Or I can choose to walk away. Where you are on the scale of severity, will determine your action.

My tolerance is fairly high…some say higher than it should be. It usually takes getting to ‘Anger’ before I am forced into action, and often by then, I am so angry that all I want to do is stoke the fire and watch things burn…so that I am not hurt further and left resentful with a lack of resolution. Standing in the ashes, it then takes time for new life to flourish. Sometimes it’s on the same tree, other times on a new one in its place.

I’m working every day with these tools to try and prevent more fires and opt for water and nourishment to help my relationships flourish. But, I am also mindful that if the anguish becomes too great, and the growth and change ceases in the landscape, the only thing you can do is let it burn.

Designer. Photographer. Writer. Creator. Educator

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store