We are surrounded by our relationships. We’re born into families and, big or small, they shape and define our growth and learning. As adults a constellation of relationships describes who we are: mother, father, aunt, uncle, son, daughter, employee, manager, friend, rival, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband, partner. Whether we are working, caring for others, going to school, finding love or hanging out, we are doing so in relation to others.
Positive and supportive relationships contribute to both success and happiness. Supportive and nurturing relationships help us recover from setbacks, create new directions, take risks and find our way. In a 2008 study, Fowler and Christakis found that happiness spreads like a contagion within social networks. Happiness spread through clusters of people like a cold, with a network of relationships as the conduit.
In contrast, strained and conflicted relationships create stress and anxiety and can have a negative impact on our overall functioning. Disagreement can lead to productive change, but unresolved conflict and strain can result in fractured relationships, regret, anger, aggravation and hostility.
Although we cannot control the behavior of those with whom we have relationships, we can improve our own ability to negotiate the ups and downs inherent in our social world. It is possible to change how you interact and with that change the quality of your relationships and your ability to get what you want and need while maintaining the relationship and your self-respect.
Changing our reactions within our relationships includes:
- Learning to analyze a situation, before either impulsively reacting or telling yourself that it is hopeless.
- Determining your goals
- Obtaining changes
- Solving problems that strain your relationships and
- Altering negative and painful emotional environments.
Sometimes we feel stuck and tell ourselves that because we can’t change other people, we are doomed to difficult social interactions. Small changes of your own can impact the quality of a relationship and reduce painful and negative feelings that come when you feel misunderstood and unheard.