There is probably nothing that challenges us more than our relationships, since every aspect, every nuance of our life involves a relationship of some sort. Every waking and sleeping moment, we are engaged in a relationship with something or someone—with our spouse, boss, children, friends; with coworkers, store clerks, strangers; with our thoughts, dreams, body; and finally with ourselves, our higher self, and our God, whatever that means to you. So in many ways, this area of practice is the ultimate one, the final frontier, the one that we can acknowledge without a second thought is ever changing and never ending. We are never completely alone, for even when any given relationship is not active, there is still a connection with that person. And it is important to remember that our behavior affects those we are in relationship with, and vice versa. Paradoxically, however, we are alone and solely responsible for our actions.
Here’s how the practice of being challenged in relationships works.
- Whenever the behavior of someone else bothers you, turn your focus around, observe your reaction to this person, and ask yourself what it is about this that disturbs you so much, and why.
- Know that you cannot control anyone else—you can be a guide and a teacher and an example, but you can never determine how someone else will ultimately think or behave.
- Practice giving others the freedom to express and be themselves as they uniquely are, without expecting them to conform to your idea of who they are or who you’d like them to be.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- Listen, listen, listen.
- Let the most important human relationship you have be the one with yourself; from there, you will be able to love others.
- Don’t take anything too personally.
- Don’t take anyone or anything for granted
- Look to your pets to learn about unconditional love.
- Express yourself. And rather than pointing out to someone that their behavior is bad or wrong, let them know how their behavior affects you. Keep it all on your side of the street.
- Be alert, aware, mindful, caring, generous, forgiving, loving, gracious, and kind to yourself and others, all the time, every moment.
And when there is trouble and discord in a relationship, you might take the following advice from St. Francis: “. . . grant that I may seek rather to comfort than be comforted—to understand, than to be understood—to love, than to be loved.”
Say this or some other favorite prayer each day. And trust that as the above prayer also expresses, It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.