Pretty much everyone knows that any relationship, whether it is with a friend, family, or a romantic partner, requires a certain amount of work by both people involved in order to be strong and healthy. Not only do both people need to devote some energy to maintain these connections, but they also need to put in relatively equal amounts of effort, if they want the relationship to last. We all have had those relationships with people where you feel as if you are the only one trying to maintain your bond. These lopsided connections inevitably come to an end, because the individual putting their time and energy into maintaining the relationship begins feeling taken advantage of and resenting the other party. That is why it is so important when building and managing your relationships to remember that there has to be some give and take. While this may seem extremely straightforward and obvious in theory, it is much harder in practice, and it is something that I struggled with for a long time.
Like most people, I learned fairly early on that you have to put some energy into your relationships if you want to have any kind of social life. As a child though, your relationships are all friendships, and the effort required is as simple as watching “Power Rangers” every afternoon to discuss the next day at school or bringing an extra cookie in your lunch to give to your friend (to be a kid again, right?). As you get older and enter adolescence, your relationships start to get more complex. Your friendships become more intricate and begin to require actual effort to be maintained. Additionally, you begin having romantic partners, which brings about an entirely new type of connection to master. You go through the heart-wrenching experiences of being betrayed by your “friend,” having your heart broken, and all of the other teenage relationship issues angsty, pop groups sing about. These relationships continue to grow more and more complicated as you mature into adulthood and make your way out into the world, but thankfully you also get better at maintaining them. You learn the difference between lust, love, and “Love,” that a broken heart will eventually heal, and even though “rebound relationships” are fun that they never last. Then you finally get to the point where you have learned how to tell your “real friends” from everyone else, what to look for in a potential life partner, and that, even though you will never be able to completely figure out this whole relationship thing, you know enough to have healthy, strong connections with others.
While I went through this same social growth as a physically disabled person, or at least one fairly similar, I struggled with all of my relationships for a long time. I am not saying that I did not have any healthy connections with people, as I have always been close with my family and had a great social life, but it was very difficult for me. Internally, I had a hard time emotionally with nearly every relationship in my life, even if I did not show it on the outside. This difficulty with making and maintaining my connections with others stemmed from my feeling that every relationship I ever had would always be uneven, due to the fact that I require help with nearly everything in my life. I was convinced that any relationship I had would eventually end, because I could not reciprocate the number of things the other person did for me, and they would start to feel like they were my caretaker and not my friend. For a long time, as so often happens, this feeling of inadequacy became a self-fulfilling prophecy as I subconsciously sabotaged many of my relationships. Thanks to some great counseling and a ton of personal introspection though, I was able to gain some perspective and develop the tools to work on my feelings of social deficiency. This eventually led to an enlightening revelation that allowed me to build strong, lasting relationships and changed my life forever.
About four years ago, there was a three month period when several of my friends came to me to discuss something major in their lives. These were not conversations about hating your boss or having an argument with your boyfriend. These were conversations about things most people would not tell anyone other than their priest. I heard about how they cheated on their spouse, were abused as a child, and how they were the victim of domestic violence. I was also told about other, far more disturbing events that literally made me nauseous, but to protect the privacy of my friends, and spare you from having to envision these atrocities, I am not going to write about them. While hearing about all of these horrible memories from my loved ones was very difficult for me, and even though I would do anything to take away their painful past, I was happy that they told me. I felt honored that my friends trusted and felt safe enough with me to divulge their darkest memories. I was happy to give them an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a hand to hold, so they could talk about their past and begin to heal. It was after having heard several of these troubling tales that I realized something about myself and had a life-changing epiphany. I suddenly recognized that, even though I cannot help my friends physically, I can still give a lot to our relationship by helping them emotionally.
This period from my life made me realize that my high emotional intelligence, ability to communicate, and listening skills were a unique and powerful combination of tools that could help others. While I do not fully understand why it happens, this skill set has made me someone that people feel comfortable talking to about almost anything from their life, no matter how private or painful it may be. I am like an emotional lightning rod. I attract other people’s emotions, give them a safe, comfortable environment to discuss their difficult memories, and in turn get rid of some of their pain. Not only does this special ability help the individuals I care about cope with their unpleasant emotions, but it is also my way of putting effort into my relationships and avoiding the feeling of inadequacy that plagued my connections with others. It is how I can put something into a relationship and repay my friends for all of the assistance they give to me. It is my way of giving and not just taking, which in turn will ensure that my relationships with others will be strong, healthy, and last a lifetime.
Relationships are not easy. They are complicated, require a lot of time and effort to remain strong, and can make you feel awful when they fall apart. We are willing to overlook all of this however, because when you build one of those incredibly strong, close relationships with someone really special, you experience a feeling of bliss that is unlike any other. In order to have any chance of creating one of these life changing connections though, you have to make sure there is equal give and take. As I have said countless times before about other aspects of life, there has to be balance. Think about your close friends, your spouse or life partner, and your family, and then ask yourself whether your relationships with these people are balanced. Are you being taken advantage of by someone in your social world? Worse yet, are you not putting enough effort into a relationship and running the risk of losing someone you care about? Find the answers to these questions and take action to fix the broken connections in your life before it is too late. With just a little effort, you can strengthen your bond with others and bring happiness to the people you love most. This will bring more happiness to you as well, as these individuals complete the circle and put their own energy back into the relationship.