Last month, we had a series of reflections about relationships and I’d like to circle back to that topic and relate it to resilience.
Building long-lasting and meaningful relationships involves being resilient but it is also healthy for our emotional and mental wellbeing to know when to keep a connection or when to move on and let go.
CONFLICT IS PART OF RESILIENT RELATIONSHIPS
I’d like to begin this week’s blog with this 10-minute video from doctor of psychology, Stan Tatkin. In this video, he explains why we fight and have tendencies to miscommunicate with the people we care about.
What stood out for me is the statement, “There is nothing more difficult on the planet than another person.”
The term “difficult”, at least for me, translates to, “we are complex beings with intricacies we sometimes don’t understand ourselves.” These individual complexities have a direct correlation with the types of relationships we choose to keep or detach from.
During the first primitive era, humans chose to stay in tribal relationships for better chances of survival. This behaviour still rings true in today’s society.
In modern medicine, healthcare workers are encouraged to use the Biopsychosocial Model in treating their patients. It is an approach in which they consider the complex interactions of biological, psychological, and social factors in analysing and treating a disease.
As holistic healthcare practitioners, we apply a similar concept to assess a client by taking into consideration the imbalances and influences of body, mind and spirit, as well as epigenetic factors.
That is why before any medical operation or disease disclosures, a physician always asks, “Is there anybody you can talk to?”1 It has been stressed that people who have a good and holistic support system have higher chances of recovery and improving their quality of life, while social isolation proved detrimental to one’s health. [ 2]
And so, going back to Dr. Tatkin’s talk, conflict happens to everyone. It is a normal part of healthy relationships. We are all capable of being threatening even to the people we love. The biggest takeaway is that when it comes to making a choice of whether or not to stay in a relationship (be it a friend, a partner, a family member), the unconscious assessment is whether the other person will be there to protect them from outside harm.
THE BRIDGES WE BUILD
Not all bridges are created equal. The relationship we have with a childhood friend is not the same as the one we have with our college buddies. We invest time and emotion differently.
Can you recall saying “We’ll be best friends forever!” or promising “I’ll always keep in touch.” The words “forever” and “always” especially during our younger years legitimately felt true but as adults, we’ve learned to not be so loose in using such terms.
Of course, we have friends that stay with us throughout our lives, but in reality, fleeting connections with people outnumber the close relationships we have–and rightfully so.
If we have learned anything from past experiences, we can say that bridges are all temporary. Yes, even the ones between us and family members.
The durability of these bridges relies on the willingness of the two opposite ends to reinforce and strengthen each plank, each screw and bold, each pillar. When one end contributes more to the job over the other, we end up with an uneven platform.
The phrase “burning bridges” is both powerfully sad and beautiful. Sad, because it symbolizes a loss. Beautiful, because the flames illuminate the darkness.
IS IT WORTH IT?
We fight for a relationship if what (or who) is waiting for us at the other end is worth the hard work. Does the end justify the means?
Dig deep when you ask yourself the question, “is it worth it?” Evaluate the long-term effect of your answer.
We have to take into account other factors such as:
- The other person’s willingness to compromise or change. Will they go back to their old ways after a period of time?
- Sincerity from both parties. Are feelings to mend the relationship mutual?
- Action plans to resolve a conflict. Has a map been drawn to lead the relationship to its goal?
- Re-establishment of trust. Can you trust the other person again and vice versa? Perhaps not immediately, but eventually
- Mutual values. Do your values match up or are you too dissimilar by now? We all change and that’s okay.
- Latent resentment if we choose to forgive. Resentment can develop even after overcoming a conflict. If we reach an impasse, then we reassess.
If holding on to a relationship gives you more happiness than grief in the long run, and if that person fights for you just as much, if there is a give and take, an effort to understand and respect one another, and an effort to solve the problems together, then those are sufficient reasons to stay. We become more resilient when we have another person’s hand to hold.
WHAT ABOUT FAMILY?
The truth is, we often know when a relationship has reached its end. We may be too proud, too dependent, or too afraid to move on. There’s a difference between being resilient and being stuck. There’s also our tendency to turn a blind eye because of strong feelings towards someone. Reasons such as “but they’re family” also does not equate to resilience.
For many of us, walking away from a family member may feel like a betrayal in its gravest form because “family” has the assumption of permanence and safety.
In her podcast “Dear Sugar Radio, renowned author of “Wild” and “Tiny, Beautiful Things” Cheryl Strayed briefly talked about her toxic relationship with her father and how she came to terms with that fact, while at the same time giving advice to those who face the same difficulties.
The link to the full 40-minute episode entitled “Dear Dad, It’s over.” is here.
Strayed emphasized that letting go doesn’t mean hate or indifference towards the person.
“You’re not doing it to be cruel, you’re not doing it lightly,” Strayed said. “You’re doing it for reasons that go so deep and are never going to change.”
We all have points of no return, even with family, and if it has come to abuse, then it’s time to let go despite that nagging feeling of guilt or society’s judgment of our actions.
“There are some points that we reach when there is no going back; that you do need to decide to end a relationship permanently so you can continue forward with greater strength, greater clarity, and greater light,” Strayed added.
MAINTENANCE & STAYING RESILIENT
The central idea here is “maintain”. When we say “maintain”, we do no just act when the bridge threatens to collapse. It is an everyday action of choice. Check for cracks that need tending. Are there hazards that have to be addressed? Are there improvements that can be made? A strong, well-maintained bridge makes for a resilient relationship.
Stan Tatkin said avoidance of conflict is hubris and conflict-avoiders are more threatening partners. Conflict is not a threat to a resilient relationship. As we’ve learned, embracing conflict results in beautiful endings.