Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about our personal relationships with family and friends, which can make it seem like the dynamic is a little bit…Off. For instance, you may feel like you’re not always able to ‘be yourself’ around someone close to you. Or it could be the idea that this person isn’t respecting your feelings or boundaries enough. Whatever the disconnect, as time goes on it has become more and more clear to you that you are not getting back what you put into the relationship, and you find that you’re more apt to avoid contact with this person rather than maintaining regular correspondence. But instead of emotionally ghosting someone you really do care about, why not try and repair the issues by simply establishing some boundaries for how you want to create more fulfilling relationships with the important people in your life. Here are some tips on how to successfully communicate your needs in personal relationships:
1. Tell people (exactly) how you feel: Don’t beat around the bush when it comes to your comfort level and the boundaries you want to maintain with the people close to you. Let’s say there’s someone in your life who you feel tends to steamroll your thoughts and ideas, making it so that you adopt a more timid persona around them…This can be anyone from a close friend, to a sibling, to an uncle…First, ask yourself why you are enabling this uneven power dynamic? Is it because you’re choosing to take the path of least resistance? Are you looking to avoid conflict with someone who reacts poorly when you disagree? Figure out the root of your feelings, so that you can articulately explain your perspective to them. Communication is much more productive when you make attempts to express yourself clearly and respectfully. If it’s still not well-received, continue to maintain your composure and come away knowing that you tried your best to be respectfully forthcoming with someone you care about.
2. Be yourself: Don’t adapt your personality to people you are close to. Genuine relationships don’t require anyone to mask certain characteristics about themselves or to dial down aspects of your personality which you think the other person may not appreciate. This goes for ALL relationships and friendships in life, not just romantic ones. If you find that you are regularly speaking or acting differently around someone, or that you are often stifling your perspectives and narratives in an effort to stay comfortable in a relationship, then you are not being your true, authentic self and you will never be able to find real comfort in this person’s orbit. Always be unapologetic about who you are because it requires much less energy, not to mention that when you liberate yourself into this level of self-possession, it can seriously reduce social anxiety. Why? Because it’s easy and natural to just be you! And while those who are close to us aren’t required to love one-hundred percent of us all the time, there should always be a consistent level of mutual respect and acceptance for one another. So, the next time you take a phone call from someone you love, who maybe hasn’t always “gotten” your sense of humor, just keep using those amazing puns, sweetie…Because isn’t it more fun to be who you really are, instead of who you think someone prefers you should be?
3. Reject outdated roles: Often times we will fall into old habits and behaviors when we spend time around people who’ve known us all our lives, and especially when those people sometimes feel compelled to perpetuate previous themes and concepts about us, which are no longer indicative of who we’ve become. Shatter any preconceived notions about yourself by being your authentic and amazing self around these people. Disengage from any comments directed towards who they think you used to be, and continue to showcase the person you’ve been for a long time now. For example, sometimes people will focus on events or moments in time in which you may have faltered, or were overcoming personal challenges such as depression and anxiety, or a former bad relationship. (Show of hands for who survived their twenties?) Politely remind these history buffs that things are on an entirely new trajectory now and that while you don’t mind a trip down memory lane every now and then because you have nothing to be ashamed of, you would be much happier to share with them about how things are currently going in your actual life.
4. Stay in contact: It can be challenging to maintain deep, personal relationships, especially when life gets busy. Yet it is possible when you truly care about the person. My oldest sister and I used to spend hours on the phone together, about once or twice a month. But in the last year of her life, I started to sometimes skip those phone calls when I didn’t feel I could sacrifice that sort of time. I know now that we could have logged in many more phone calls before she unexpectedly passed away, had I just called her more frequently, instead of avoiding contact because I didn’t feel I could commit the time. I may always worry that I made her feel like I didn’t want us to be in touch at all, but had I instead just described these simple boundaries to my sister about how long I was free to chat, I believe she would have made an effort to understand. Always give your loved ones the opportunity to hear you out and to understand your perspective, so that you are doing your part to help maintain the relationship, too.
5. Speak up: Sometimes it can be difficult to say what you mean. Family histories run deep and there can be certain topics that tend to feel perpetually off-limits, or too controversial to approach. Maybe a family member has an alcohol or drug dependency that everyone is aware of, yet no one is really talking about. Or maybe there’s a person who has behaved in damaging ways in the past, and some are still uncomfortable confronting them. When someone else’s negative behavior is affecting you, internalizing your feelings for too long will only lead to depression and anxiety. Approach tough conversations with mutual respect, but you should never feel the need to protect others when it comes to your own truth because this can cause additional emotional trauma.
For years, I kept quiet about some events in my life which later became a clinical diagnosis for complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I felt that if I shared too much, I was only hurting others and perhaps causing people collective inconvenience. It wasn’t until I realized that my choice to be so careful about the truth was only leading to issues in my own daily life. I waited until the time was right for me, and then I chose to share my story with certain people, asking them to please allow me a safe space to do so. It wasn’t easy, and it definitely caused a vulnerability hangover for a short time…But then the conversation sort of shifted, and I noticed others were actually willing to approach the topics I had previously discussed, with respect and loving care. No one shamed me or questioned my validity, which was a huge relief. Feeling empowered enough to be your truthful self every day will do wonders for your psyche. Work towards your own healing however you choose, but when you’re ready, allow the people who love you to gain a deeper understanding of who you really are.
6. It’s okay to take breaks: Do you need to step back and take inventory of a personal relationship? It’s okay to break the cycle and utilize some time to re-evaluate, especially if certain behaviors are causing you repeated angst. Don’t blatantly ignore the person you’re taking space from, but let them know that you need some space to recalibrate and that you’d like to pick things up after some time away to reflect. Be sure to convey that this in no way diminishes your love or respect for them. Sometimes returning to a personal relationship with a fresh perspective opens up new possibilities for improved communication, and you may notice a new and much better dynamic once you’ve regrouped.
Remember, all relationships are complicated and it can take time and effort to create an effective dynamic where both parties feel that they are supported and loved equally. Don’t give up on the people who matter most to you, but do give them a chance to understand who you truly are and what you actually need. When we communicate productively with the people we love, we are essentially offering them an open door to do the same in return. And while we can never control the behavior of others, it’s important that we continue to reflect on how to better-nurture the long term relationships in our lives—Specifically those which run so deep.