Relationships matter. A lot! “Ugh, every time I see my brother, I feel so stressed/undervalued/ mad/ alone (and want to go get a drink)!” Sound familiar? Substitute mother/father/classmate/ boss/friend and we are certain that you have significant people in your life with whom your relationship could be described as “difficult.” Then, there are those people where it is quite the opposite. These are the people who are really supportive; when you spend time with them, you generally feel better. And the reality is, relationships are often a mix of supportive and stressful, depending on the day, their mood, your mood, the context, whether you are alone with them or in a group (e.g. “my mom is great to spend time with, but when my dad is there, somehow she starts to drive me crazy!”), and the list goes on. In attempting to develop and sustain a supportive environment for the changes you are making in your life, it’s important to think through how to deal with both positive and not-so-positive relationships.
Similar to making plans for staying in good shape, we use the idea of relationship F-I-T-ness as a reminder of the ways you can work on both positive and negative relationships. In thinking about a given relationship (“boss driving me crazy”; “best friend in California makes me feel so safe”), it is helpful to step back and ask “what can I do to change the negatives or sustain/enhance the positives of this relationship”? Our acronym, F-I-T reminds you to think about this in three arenas:
F – Frequency of contact/time spent with this person…and the question is:
Can I increase or decrease this contact?
I – Impact of the relationship on me…and the question is:
What can I do within myself to enhance the good or lessen the impact of the bad parts of this relationship?
T – Type of relationship…and the question is:
What can I do with this person to change the way we relate to make it more satisfying?
Sometimes you can work in all three areas; sometimes you only have one or two avenues open to you.
“My boss is driving me crazy”
Frequency – “I can’t stop going to work, and he comes into my office whenever he wants, and he schedules all the meetings, so not much I can do on the Frequency front”.
Impact – “I think my co-worker down the hall feels the same way, and she is someone I trust…when I debrief with her at lunch, I usually feel a lot better and more able to deal with him”.
Type – “I’d love to be able to tell him how discouraging his comments are to me, but he often blows up at people, and I don’t think he is open to this kind of feedback”
In examining this somewhat stressful relationship, we seem to have only one FIT-ness avenue available to work on: the Impact of the relationship, where you can think through ways to get support, not take it so personally, feel calmer despite the other person etc.
“Best friend in California makes me feel so safe”
Frequency – “I can’t get out to CA, but I notice when we talk on the phone or Skype regularly, I feel more optimistic…maybe I can mark it on my calendar so I don’t forget to call”.
Impact – “I get so wrapped up in ‘stuff’ all day I almost forget to breathe…if I recall some of our adventures together when I am at lunch it always brings a smile to my face…almost like we’re having lunch together ”.
Type – “Sometimes I forget to acknowledge to him how much I appreciate him…when I do it always feels like it strengthens things between us (though it makes me feel a bit vulnerable)”
In examining this positive relationship, we can benefit the relationship in all three FIT areas, which will result in both feeling better day to day as well as strengthening the relationship. And don’t forget, we are including the positive relationships in all this because they are the good things in life! Providing sustenance to those relationships (as opposed to taking them for granted or holding your breath and hoping they don’t vanish on you) is vital. Like the idea of the physical workout, FIT-ness is not just rehabbing your strained ligament, it’s also feeling stronger and better as well.
In future writings, we’ll discuss strategies to consider in each of the three areas of FIT-ness; ways to help make these relationships work best for you, whether they are positive or negative. Again, relationships matter a lot, and they are often the lifeblood of support for initiating and sustaining change, not a side-show or distraction. You can have a big impact on how supportive these relationships are for you.