People and Relationships

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Enjoying Loving Relationships

The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud singled out work and love as the two most significant aspects of human experience that are most important to get right if you want to be happy. While the pursuit of meaningful work occupies a high proportion of your attention and time, your relationships with the people around you provide the main context for living well. And if work occasionally causes you angst, I’d bet that love – defining and finding it, sharing and nurturing it – has already presented you with even more bittersweet challenges.

Creating a Relationship with Yourself

When it comes to relationships, the only constant you have is the relationship that you build with yourself. Family members and friends may not always be there for you; you may never find ‘the one’, or you may be together for a while and then separate. Your children grow up and your relationship with them may change. Your wider networks may not always support you. You can deal with all this and you can accept that everything changes over time – as long as the certainty of your self-esteem remains.

If your self-esteem is strong, you’re comfortable in your own skin and you don’t feel the need to fill your time alone with distractions that may not enhance the overall quality of your life. If you don’t manage to develop selfesteem, no matter how hard you try to please the important people in your life – and sometimes because of your efforts – you often find that real connection with them remains just out of your grasp.

Nathaniel Branden, an expert on self-esteem, describes self-esteem as ‘the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirements of life’. This means that you feel secure about your place in the world and the challenges you face, even when they’re tough. Self-esteem may equate to selfconfidence certainly, yet self-confidence in itself is a fickle thing and is often tied in some way to external factors such as the approval of a partner or good feedback from a boss. But if you have high self-esteem, you can still march bravely into the unknown while quaking in your boots. Building reserves of quiet self-esteem is far more beneficial for you than any quickfix boost of confidence. Real self-esteem comes from a mixture of healthy respect for yourself and a mature understanding of your role in the world. I’ve summed up Branden’s six pillars of self-esteem:

Living consciously: Being aware of the power of your thoughts and how your behaviour affects yourself and others.

Self-acceptance: Knowing that you are bound to experience lapses and setbacks along with your successes and leaps forward.

Self-responsibility: Accepting accountability for all that you do, even when that realisation is painful.

Self-assertiveness: Knowing your needs and being able to express them clearly, directly and calmly to others.

Living purposefully: Feeling that what you do (not just at work) is worthwhile and has meaning for you.

Personal integrity: Knowing your values and always aiming to live up to them.

You can see that self-esteem can grow naturally from the self-awareness and growth you generally experience through coaching. When you focus on coaching yourself in self-esteem, you also enhance your success in many other areas of your life too.

Set aside some quiet time for this activity and write your answers in your journal so that you can keep an eye on your progress. Coach yourself to selfesteem by asking yourself these questions

Powerful question: What kind of relationship do I want to have with myself?

Personal style: What factors naturally build my self-esteem? What factors drain it?

Beliefs: What beliefs about myself stop me from appreciating myself?

Motivation: How do I affect my self-esteem when I act according to my most important values? What is the reverse of that for me?

What’s working: What’s good about my current level of self-esteem? What do I want to change?

Exploring options: What actions and choices help me to build strong selfesteem? Which of these appeal most and fit with my natural preferences?

Taking action: What’s my first step? How do I know when I am making progress? What can I do to celebrate?

Finding your Soul Mate

If you’re meeting your own needs and building your own self-esteem as a single person, finding a soul mate becomes a much less anxious pursuit. You’re already presenting your best self to the world, which is naturally attractive and gives you the best chance of finding someone who is attracted to the real you. When you have high self-esteem you can make relationship choices that feel healthy and mature. You don’t fall prey to flattery or insincerity that feeds your vanity, and you can enjoy each other’s company without wondering if this is ‘the one’ relationship to bring you happiness – because you’re already happy.

Are you holding on to an ideal of romantic love that may not be realistic? Do you feel that you’re looking in vain for Mr or Ms Right? If this search is a source of unhappiness for you, think honestly about what a relationship can give you that you don’t already have or can’t get elsewhere.

If you find yourself alone after a separation or bereavement, you may feel uncertain about how to fill what feels like a big hole in your life. Certainly, people need people but not always in the way they think. The more clarity you have about why you want to meet someone, and the consequences of the choices you make, the better placed you are to forge the right kind of relationship with the right person for you. So quickly getting back into the dating game may be just the boost to your confidence that you need. But you also need to take account of the fact that you may not be ready to start a serious relationship for a while and may benefit from some alone time to sort out exactly what you want from your changed lifestyle.

Here are some suggestions to consider if one of your whole-life goals is to meet someone you can share your life with:

Check out your beliefs carefully. Are you holding on to a romantic dream that only one person is out there for you and that you’ll know instantly when you meet your soul mate? What pressure is that belief putting on you and the friendships you’re building right now? Would changing that belief help you to see clearly your potential soul mate who lives right next door, or works in the next office?

Consider where you’re looking for your soul mate. For example, Internet dating works wonderfully for some people and for others it’s an unmitigated disaster. Notice the patterns that occur for you and if you always seem to get the same kind of poor results, consider that you may be fishing in the wrong pool. Try different waters for a change.

Your soul mate is going to share some of your most important passions, so make it easy for them to recognise the passion in you. If you love reading, you can join a book club. Maybe you won’t meet a romantic partner there, but you may discover some great friends. And who knows who they may introduce you to?

Don’t think that all your attached friends are gloriously happy while you are still single. Every life choice has ups and downs, and your coupled friends may envy the freedom and fun of your single life. Remember that a true zest for life is one of the most attractive qualities around, whether you are looking for love or friendship.

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Building and Maintaining a Strong Partnership

Have you seen the episode of the sitcom Friends where Chandler and Janice break up? Chandler spends his time moping around listening to sad romantic songs, bemoaning the loss of their ‘movie love’. Even though you can laugh at this, when it comes to your own view of how love and romance should be, you may find that you cherish similar tendencies. Being in love can make you giddy, wanting to edit out the realities of life and cut to the scene where hero and heroine kiss and ride off into the sunset together.

What happens beyond the sunset? Do the hero and heroine enjoy a fairytale marriage and produce perfect children who are sweet, funny and bright? Even if you’re fortunate that your romantic life has broadly followed this kind of script, I’m sure that a lot of mess, confusion, worry and angst have simply refused to end up on the cutting-room floor along the way.

Biology may be partly to blame for the path of true love rarely being smooth. Human beings can be biologically attracted to people with opposite qualities and style to themselves, as nature attempts to mate two halves of a whole for the greater protection of future offspring. In the first flush of romantic love this dynamic is exciting and enjoyable, but over time these differences can be the very things that cause tension and disharmony. Coach yourself to a greater understanding and awareness of different styles.

If you’re in a settled relationship, do you wonder how you’re going to sustain your commitment to each other amid all the strains, stresses and temptations of modern life? The following activity can help you to identify areas of strength and room for improvement in your relationship.

Powerful opening question: How do I play my part in maintaining mutual love and respect in our relationship?

Personal style: What behaviours do we have in common? What behaviours in myself and in my partner cause friction or tension?

Beliefs: What beliefs about myself and how my relationship should be cause me to hold back, to blame or to behave selfishly?

Motivation: What goals and values do we have in common?

What’s working: What are the great things about our relationship? What can be better? What isn’t working very well? What must change?

Exploring options: What ways can I begin to make changes? What options are most natural for both of us?

Taking action: What’s our first step? How do we know when we’re making progress? What can we do to celebrate?

Deciding to Leave a Relationship

One of the hardest decisions to make is to leave a relationship, especially when children are involved. No matter how compelling the reasons are for a break-up, you’re going to feel pain as you move away from the situation. You need to ensure that protection and support is available throughout the process for all concerned.

Rebuilding or ending a very troubled relationship may require more than a coaching approach. The counselling service Relate began as an organisation to help couples through problems in their marriage and has evolved to offer a wide range of relationship counselling and therapies.

Nurturing Family Bonds

Close family members are likely to be the people who draw out the best and the worst in you. Siblings may drive you mad at times and parent-child relations can get fraught, but in times of crisis the bonds forged with your nearest and dearest often prove to be the strongest.

Sometimes the extremes of emotion generated within families can be hard to handle, however. You may feel you’re making great progress with coaching yourself to an enlightened state of inner calm and goodwill to all humankind – and then your teenager walks muddy football boots all over the new cream lounge carpet for the fifth time in a month. Or you find yourself having one of those conversations with a parent where you feel like bursting into angry tears and flouncing from the room, despite the fact that you left childhood behind more than a couple of decades ago. Family members push your buttons more than anyone else and controlling your emotions is not always easy.

To deal successfully with any family upsets, take the time to stand back and look at how the relationship between you and members of your family has changed. You can easily fall into old patterns of unhelpful behaviour. Coaching can help you update your relationships with your family members so that you see each other for the evolving human beings you really are. (And you can still have a good flounce, but maybe in the privacy of your own home on your private stage!)

What role do you take in your family dynamics? What part do you have to play in ensuring that your relationships evolve in a mature and adult way, where all parties accept that change is inevitable? How can you use your energies so that your family becomes a support and inspiration, not a source of tension and play-acting?

Peter lived some distance away from his father but spoke to him regularly on the phone and visited as often as possible. Peter’s mother died many years ago when Peter was a teenager and his father remarried a few years later. The second marriage ended three years ago, and Peter’s father now lived alone.

Peter and his father had always had a pretty good relationship and shared an interest in golf, but over the last year Peter had noticed that his father was reluctant to join his son in a game when he came to visit and seemed to prefer to stay home and watch daytime television. Peter found himself getting increasingly frustrated by his father’s lethargy and tried several times to spur him on to more active pursuits, but to no avail. They quite often ended up arguing about it.

It took Peter a little while to see why he was so determined to force his father away from the television set. During a self-coaching session, he asked himself if he would feel so strongly if this weren’t his father and the answer was a definite no. At first Peter thought his feelings were because he cared about his father’s well-being, but as he probed deeper he realised that a part of him felt embarrassed that his lively, energetic father, who he had always looked up to, seemed to have given up enjoying his life. This realisation helped Peter to see the situation from a different perspective, and he decided to broach the subject with his father in a more neutral way. After all, if television was what really gave his dad pleasure, then who was Peter to judge? After Peter stepped back from his former hectoring stance, his father felt able to open up and admit that he had lost some confidence since his divorce. He now found it easier to stay home than face social situations, even at the local golf club where he was a well-respected and popular member.

Several months passed before Peter’s father decided that he was ready to dust off the golf clubs, but their new understanding allowed Peter to provide the right kind of support for his father as he regained some of his natural self-confidence.

Setting Family Ground Rules

If you run a business or work in a team, you’re used to agreeing and setting boundaries that contribute to harmony. So why not do the same within your family unit?

Consider the following as starting points for your own family manifesto:

Banish blame. Beating yourself up or accusing others of ruining your day is rarely the best or most enjoyable option. Notice what’s really going on when tensions run high and be attentive to the emotions behind actions.

Watch your language. Statements such as ‘You make me feel so angry’ may come from the heart, but they’re not even very accurate. You choose your emotion and you control how you can change it, sometimes in a heartbeat. Acknowledge your primary role in generating your own emotions and let your language reflect this by not blaming others.

Devise get-out strategies for when things get out of hand. Disagreements and conflicts can escalate simply because no one knows how to bring them to an end. Have a strategy in place that you can pull out of the hat when what started out as a friendly disagreement threatens to turn into tears before bedtime. This strategy could be setting time limits on heated discussions and agreeing to cool-off periods.

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Giving and Receiving Friendship

I remember listening to an interview on the radio with a famous woman who’d been married several times, and who now, in her mid-fifties, had finally realised the real importance of her friendships. ‘Do you know,’ she said, ‘I spent so much time wringing my hands over the men in my life and yet I now look back and over the years the people who gave me the most happiness, and who I had the most fun with, were my friends. I’m more content now than I ever was when I was chasing after that one single relationship that I felt would somehow define and satisfy me.’ Friends can come and go – you have probably lost contact with some, fallen out with others and are busy forging friendship bonds with new people. Whatever your approach to your friendships, they constitute a key part of the satisfaction you get from life. But finding ways to keep friendships alive and thriving can often be a real challenge in a hectic lifestyle.

Maintaining Lifelong Friendships

You may choose your friends because they share the same attitudes to life as you do. You’re often attracted to people with very similar qualities to you. Bear in mind that your similarities mean that your friends have some of the same challenges as you. If you both tend to race through your days and never have enough time for the important, but not necessarily urgent, things in your life, then you can find that you’ve drifted miles apart before you know it. People sustain friendships when both parties get what they need and want out of the relationship. Sometimes knowing that people are there for you when you need them is enough. However, at other times your inner coach may tell you that you can usefully give a little more quality time to your faithful best friend.

Communicating Through the Levels

What do you get from your friendships? What you share when you talk to your friends often determines the quality of that friendship. The three main levels of friendly communication are:

Level 1: You talk about the weather, celebrity gossip, your last holiday or a car you’re thinking of buying. You may really get on with this person, but you haven’t yet established a strong mutual trust.

Level 2: You express your feelings and emotions, concerns and fears. Perhaps you’re worried about job security, or have a mutual interest in a hobby. You find this person supportive and have developed good rapport with them.

Level 3: You share the things that are most important to you – your values and beliefs, hopes for the future and your sense of purpose. You have developed strong mutual trust and may well be very much on the same wavelength with the things that are most important to your friend.

You may always have friends who stay at Level 1 throughout your life. And you may very quickly move to Level 3 with a new friend. Consider what levels your current friendships operate at. Are there any mismatches in the levels? Do you have a friend who communicates with you at Level 3 while you are holding back on Level 1, or vice versa? What impact does that have on the friendship for you both?

Staying in Touch

Think about how you maintain your friendships. Some people have probably fallen by the wayside as you’ve gradually lost touch or moved out of the area, or you may have let someone go because of a heated argument or disagreement that proved painful at the time. Not all friendships are lifelong, of course, but sometimes the ones that deserve to be can fall foul of the accidental circumstances of life or the challenges of geography. Think about the friends you now spend time with and check that those relationships are healthy and nurturing rather than draining your energy.

Watch out when you hear yourself say ‘We must meet up sometime soon!’ Aim to fix a time and a place so that you don’t both drift along and suddenly find another year has gone by without seeing each other.

Answer this powerful question: If you were throwing a party next week to celebrate all the people who had positively contributed to your life, who would be on the guest list?

Perhaps the time has come for you to reposition friendships in your life. What are the focus areas for you? Is it to nurture and develop the friends that sustain you, to step back a little from the people who may drain your energy or to consider how you can build bridges with those who have faded out of the picture?

For this coaching activity, write letters to four people from your present and your past:

✓ A friendship that ended badly – perhaps a trust was betrayed or feelings were hurt.

✓ Someone whom you have simply lost touch with.

✓ A good friend whom you know you often take for granted.

✓ Someone whom you now spend time with, but who tends to feed your negative thoughts.

Don’t send these letters! Instead, use them to answer the following questions for yourself:

✓ What do I/did I get from this friendship?

✓ What can be different?

✓ How can I be with this person now?

Maybe you decide that you want to communicate some of the things you write in your letters. What is your inner coach telling you is the best first step?

Staying Open to New Friendships

Some people prefer to have a few close, lifelong friends, while others thrive on having a wide circle of people around them. Either way, making new friends can become less of a habit over the years, especially because your life is likely to be full enough already and you have to work pretty hard at maintaining the good friendships you already have. Or maybe you sometimes struggle to make new friends because you feel shy or self-conscious when meeting people for the first time. You may even think that encouraging new friendships reduces the time you have for other important people in your life. And you probably don’t want to be the kind of person who adopts a new best friend at the drop of a hat. But remember these advantages to staying open to the arrival of new friends:

✓ All relationships settle and stabilise over time, and new people coming into your circle can re-energise the whole system.

✓ You are changing as you coach yourself to greater satisfaction, balance and fulfilment, so you may naturally widen the scope of the kind of person who attracts you as a potential friend and support.

✓ As you become more self-confident, you may find that you welcome the challenges and stimulation of people who are dramatically different from you.

✓ If you suffer from shyness, remember that people rarely pick up on how you’re feeling inside and instead they simply enjoy the fact that you’re listening to them. So don’t put pressure on yourself to be fascinating and interesting – you already are those things, you simply express it in different ways.

How do you integrate new friendships into your circle? Do you keep certain groups of people separate because they’re different? Consider mixing the groups up and watch the fun! You may see different things in old friends as they start to appreciate a new side to you too.

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Building Productive Networks

Your wider networks are unique to you, and taking the time to build productive relationships with people outside your immediate circle of close friends and family can really pay off. Casual acquaintances, neighbours and work colleagues can turn into good friends – even if they don’t, a little investment in the people around you helps to oil the wheels of your daily life.

Widening your Circle of Influence

The more people you have access to in a positive, mutually beneficial relationship, the more support you have when you need it. Not everything you want to accomplish in your life is within your power to complete alone, no matter how self-sufficient you are. If information is power, other people often hold the information you need.

Your circle of influence contains all the people you have contact with in your life, from those who are closest to you, to your casual acquaintances. You touch or influence the lives of all these people in some way, and they do the same for you. Consider for a moment the areas where your circle of influence is already extensive. Perhaps you already make the effort at work to get to know people in other departments or divisions, or you’re particularly good at building relationships with customers and suppliers. Do you maintain personal contact with some of these people when you move on from that job or do you invest all your energies in a new circle of people? You have a limited store of time and energy, so it may be impossible and unrealistic to stay in touch with everyone, but you may be able to keep in contact with a few key people who you’ve established rapport and respect with. How can you continue to benefit from their influence and support over the years?

What about your neighbours? Communication breakdown with neighbours can lead to painful disagreements and strained relationships that become difficult to repair. How satisfied are you with the quality of your connections with your neighbours? What opportunities do you have to play a bigger role in your community, perhaps at a local school, a neighbourhood watch group or a social club?

Getting into the Networking Groove

Networking – the process of meeting new people and adding them to your circle for mutual benefit – isn’t just for finding business opportunities. You can apply networking skills to any new social situation – a party, a fundraising event or chatting to other parents during the school run. Try out these tips for successful networking:

Be interested rather than interesting. Use your coaching skills to ask open questions and really listen to the answers. Don’t be tempted to cut in with a ‘me too’ story too quickly. People find you fascinating if you show that they fascinate you.

Look for ways you can help one another. This might be in very small areas – perhaps passing on a useful article on an area of mutual interest – but it can be something pretty significant, such as a skill, resource or business introduction.

Play the host. If you’re among a group of strangers and want to break the ice, try to find ways of carrying out simple tasks that make people warm to you. Maybe you can offer to get them a coffee or fill up their glass.

Taking a Role in your World

As you improve your relationships with the people around you, you start to notice some common themes that shed light on your unique qualities. Ask yourself what qualities people tend to get from you. Do they see you as someone who always knows the best restaurants, or can they rely on you for a good laugh when someone needs cheering up? The small gifts that you give out to the people around you can be more precious than you realise. You can develop a quality that you take for granted into something that helps you to define part of your role in your world. Sometimes this may even lead to a business opportunity – you bake a mean pie and find that people are prepared to pay you for it – but equally it can result in simple, effortless ways of using your natural gifts for your own enjoyment and the delight of those around you.

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