One of the questions I’ve been asking myself lately is “how much is enough?” How much of my energy or attention should I be giving in relationships? What do healthy, respected boundaries really look like? These are tough questions to answer, especially for people who, like me, are empathic and sensitive to others.
Do any of these situations resonate with you?
“I do so much around the house and my partner barely helps. I love him and want to take care of our family, but I do so many little things that he never seems to notice. It feels like the workload is really one-sided.”
"My friend's totally MIA lately. I'm going through a really tough time and she just hasn't been there for me. I know she has her own life, but as friends, aren't we supposed to be there to help each other through these things?"
“My brother drives me nuts. Whenever he has an issue he always expects me to drop everything to help him get his life together. Seriously?? I love him, but he needs to figure stuff out on his own."
Yeah, me too. Anytime you bring two people together you’re going to experience some level of challenges. As individuals, we all have very different experiences, perspectives, and needs. And we’re constantly trying to balance the needs of others with our own.
So, what are some things you can do to ensure you’re staying balanced and nurturing yourself as you interact with others? Over the past few weeks I've spent time with the horses reflecting on this question. I've watched how they interact with each other, with me, and with my clients. Here’s a few reminders I took away from observing them that may help you maintain healthier relationships in your life.
[SPOILER ALERT: Not gonna lie, I'm still seeking better balance in several of my relationships. I definitely don't claim to have it all figured out, but I've found the following points have been very helpful in building stronger connections with the people in my life.]
Relationships take effort. My husband and I work on our marriage every day. That may sound exhausting, but we have a strong bond to show for it. I also make sure I call my Mom regularly, spend several hours with my horses each week, and make time for the friendships I cherish. As with most things in life, you can't expect to have great relationships without committing time and energy to maintain them.
You can't change others, you can only change yourself. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Remember, you can’t force someone else to change - even if you know it's in their best interest. Do yourself a favor and don’t approach a relationship hoping someone will change. Relationships are mirrors to what's going on inside of us, so if you're wanting someone else to change, take a deeper look at yourself. Ask yourself what you can change first.
You are responsible for your own happiness. Will Smith posted a story on his Instagram account on this very topic recently. One of the things he talks about is that it can be destructive to place your happiness on anyone other than yourself. This doesn’t just apply to marriages, but to any relationship. At the end of the day, only you have the power to make yourself happy. Don’t give that power away and don't put the burden of your happiness on someone else. Your life is your responsibility.
Grudges don’t serve anyone. By harboring resentment, we hang onto ideas of how we think things should be. This is destructive thinking. Of course, it’s normal for relationships to stir up tough emotions - whether it’s anger, sadness, grief, or frustration… but hanging onto those emotions is unhealthy for everyone involved. Holding grudges keeps you focused on what isn’t, instead of what is. By accepting what is, you’ll be able to allow the healing to begin so you can both move forward.
Notice the ways you receive. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on how much we feel like we’re giving in relationships, but sometimes we forget to pay attention to what we're receiving. Often we’re receiving a lot more than we realize. Here’s an exercise you can try - think about your most important relationships and write down everything you can think of that you receive from those individuals. I bet you’ll be surprised at how long the list is.
Give and you shall receive. Speaking of receiving, we naturally attract what we emit. So, if you want someone to trust you more, start by trusting others. If you want to be respected, start by respecting others. By giving freely to others, you open up space in your heart to receive more of that energy. One of the most beautiful ways I see horses doing this is through mutual grooming. In a herd environment, one horse will often start nibbling at the withers of another horse and before you know it they're sharing a mutual massage.
Fill your cup first. When we take care of ourselves, we give our relationships the best possible opportunity for success. When we’re whole, we can meet others fully without needing anything more. This point ties in with #3 - not only are you responsible for your own happiness, you also need to be able to stand on your own happy feet before engaging in a healthy relationship.
Relationships are dynamic. Relationships are constantly changing and evolving as we do. It's important to remember that what works at one point in time may change in the future. In a herd environment, horses are constantly assessing their relationships with others. They do this for their own safety and the safety of the herd.
Remember what they say about assuming. Don't assume you know the other person's feelings about particular issues. Making assumptions can create major rifts and misunderstandings in relationships. You may feel like you know your partner, friend, or relative well enough that you don't need to ask them how they feel about something, but it is alway best to ask rather than assume.
Honesty is the best policy. If you’re feeling an imbalance in a relationship, be honest about it. Don't be afraid to voice your feelings (of course, in a respectful way). There’s no use sweeping things under the rug or just hoping that the other person notices enough of your subtle hints before they realize what’s going on.
Check in... regularly. If you’re unsure about whether your contribution is ‘enough’, or if you feel your boundaries are being broken, talk about it! Sometimes it's easy to let emotions take over, making us feel like we simply want to shut down. True, it's good to take time to process emotions, don't let those emotions be the reason you don't communicate.
It takes two to tango. At the end of the day, it takes two - both individuals contribute to the health or dysfunction of each relationship. If you’re in unhealthy relationships, it’s important to look at both sides of the coin. What are you doing to contribute to the relationship? What is the other doing? Do they feel the same way?
Know your own boundaries. Boundaries look different in every relationship. What might work for one person may feel invasive to another. Explore what works for you based on how you feel and the role the person plays in your life. For example, your boundaries with a co-worker will be different to the boundaries you have with your partner. Explore what feels healthy and comfortable.
Know when to walk away. This is perhaps one of the most challenging tips when it comes to balance in relationships. You can only share how you desire to be treated relationships - you can't control how the other person responds. If the other person is regularly breaking your boundaries, and disrespecting you and needs, it may be time to end the relationship. This is never easy, but critical for self-preservation and self-love.
By keeping these points in mind, you'll not only help others learn the skills necessary to work through their issues on their own, you will also give yourself what you need to be a more compassionate and caring person for the people in your life. It's a win-win!
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