We all long for lasting friendships, happy marriages and nourishing parent-child relations. But how to get there? Are we stuck with being the kind of person we are, or can we work towards becoming the best friend and partner who ever lived?
The golden foundation of meaningful relationships
The answer to the last question is: Yes, we can definitely grow in the way we interact with the social universe. Each one of us is capable of becoming the great center of joy and happiness whose company is cherished and coveted.
The first important step on this road is to realize that every true change in our life starts with us. We occasionally have a tendency to get caught in an “if-only” perspective: ‘If only my boyfriend was more considerate,’ ‘If only my colleagues could stop being so obstinate and narrow-minded,’ ‘If only our child could show more maturity in handling difficult situations,’ etc., etc. But this is nothing but a blind alley.
When you rely on others to change, you not only give up control over your own destiny – you will also remain waiting forever. The reason for this is that the patterns we see emerging and re-emerging are, to an often incredible extent, based on our own attitudes, desires and challenges. So if you have noticed some disturbing pattern being repeated over and over again in your relationships, then it’s high time to stop whining — and start upgrading yourself.
This brings us back to the first question posed at the beginning: How to get there?
Each person is unique and what works for one may not prove to be overly efficient for another. However, there’s at least one universal and unfailing recipe for improving your social relationships: Make sure you are not too stressed out!
No one loves a cornered cave(wo)man
We’ve all experienced how strain at work can wreck havoc with our relationships at home (or the other way around). Scientists call this “the stress spill-over”: when we experience stress, it will trigger a robust reaction which takes over our brain. As a result, we find ourselves in a basic survival mode – we either run as fast as we can or we stick our heels into the ground and put up a fight. In the survival mode, our brain will block off all other, more complex solutions.
Whereas this is not a bad fix when running from a tiger, it certainly ruins the skills and abilities needed in harmonious relationships. Because this is exactly the reason why — when angry, irritated or feeling threatened – you lose your patience with the world. You stop listening to other people and trying to understand their feelings (empathy), and suddenly you don’t give a hoot about calm arguments leading to best arrangements (rational information processing). You just want to explode and release the tension as quickly as possible.
The obvious problem with this approach is that not many people are willing to stick around an active volcano. They tend to leave and set up their camp elsewhere.
So if you want to build relationships which really last and make everyone involved nice and comfortable, then you basically just have to learn to relax.
Easier said than done? Well, let’s look into this for a moment.
Meditate your way into happy relationships
One of the most interesting and effective methods here is … well, doing almost nothing, really.
Recent studies show very clearly that people who practice meditation do not respond as strongly to their daily stresses. They still have to go to a dentist or face an angry boss, but with regular meditation practice their brains have been slightly rewired. In brief, they are more balanced and in control: the stress overdrive is curbed, and recovery from a tense situation happens much faster.
As a consequence – and mind you, this is a scientifically proven outcome, not some urban myth – the people who practice techniques like the Transcendental Meditation have significantly better relationships both at home and at work.
They are able to love more, and they are being more loved and respected by others. And as researchers are finding out, this in turn leads to an overall rise in one’s success and happiness. It even helps to keep the doctors at bay by setting one up for a longer, physically healthier life.
So make no mistake: Building better, more rewarding relationships is not some kind of a flower-power mission of softness and surrender. On the contrary. It is the hard currency of your life – and the best possible investment towards taking full control over it.
For further reading: Three recent studies on relationships and meditation
A study looked at the effect of meditation practice on workers in a large manufacturing plant of a Fortune 100 corporation and a small distribution sales company. After 3 months, employees in both locations who practiced the TM technique reported significant improvements in work and personal relationships.
Another study used Locke’s Marital Adjustment inventory to compare women who practiced meditation with matched controls on the measure of marital satisfaction. Subjects in the meditation group reported significantly greater marital satisfaction than controls. The effect was strongest for those individuals who practiced TM regularly.
One research found that the effect of Transcendental Meditation practice is also cumulative over time in the positive direction. A study comparing families with long term Transcendental Meditation practice (5 years or more) and short term TM practice (1 year or less) found higher results on scales measuring healthy family functioning for the long-term group.