USA Wellness Café
Stress Management Take-Out Course:
Tools for Relationships

Written by Staff Writers of USA Wellness Café ™

If you trace much of the stress in your life to problems with relationships, you’re typical. Life is beautiful at times, but “people problems” can increase anyone’s stress significantly.

Some people are well-meaning, but immature. Some are lovable, but maladjusted. Some have been abused along the road of life, and they channel that abuse on to us!

While most of us can deal with our basic responsibilities at work and at home, we realize that relationship problems trigger issues that require some careful tactics. For example, you can feel your life is moving along okay -- until your child’s teacher sends home a critical note or your daughter comes home crying after arguing with her boyfriend. These types of problems call for taking a step back to evaluate what to do.

Key Point

Relationships can involve multiple tricky and sensitive situations. Every day, people-related problems seem to take on new life. Just when you figure out one problem with a friend, relative, or co-worker, another problem pops up with someone else.

Good communication is critical in relationships. However, some of us think communication is uncensored venting. We can be a little too good at getting our gut-level feelings across. We may speak up, lash out, and rock the boat even more. Listening to others’ opinions, or inquiring about someone else’s feelings, may escape us.

Communicating well means you say to someone, “Your actions are upsetting me,” without making the situation worse. You want to put the brakes on somebody causing trouble or ask for help from someone without starting World War III. But, it can be difficult to know how to speak up or deal with people at all. How can you draw the line on somebody’s behavior?

Here are some tips in speaking up when someone’s annoying you:

  • Use “I” statements. When you say, “You are driving me nuts,” this sounds accusatory and demeaning. When you say, “I would feel better if you come home by 10 p.m., this sounds more like a request.
  • Ask questions. This makes another person think versus react. You might say, “Would it upset you if you knew your remarks hurt my feelings yesterday?” When you ask a question, you’re requiring someone to move through a thought process--using logic and reasoning.
  • Draw a verbal picture of how you feel. Try saying, “I feel hammered when you speak to me like that,” or “I feel like I want to run when you speak to me like that.”

Words Have Power

Key Point

Try practicing some new language that’s kinder and less intense. Speak more about your own feelings and less about the other person’s wrongdoing.

Keep in mind that any two people develop a relationship “style.” If you get off on the wrong foot with someone, that pattern is likely to continue for years.

A couple we’ll call John and Angie married five years ago. They fought for three of those years over Angie’s demanding job. She was working 12-hour days, six days a week.

The marriage improved when Angie told John, “I hate working like this. I really feel trapped and don’t know what to do.”

When Angie was willing to share her fears and vulnerabilities, John started showing empathy. He sat down with his wife and drew up a two-year plan for helping her switch jobs.

“I had two problems,” she emphasizes, “I had a job that was killing me and an unhappy husband I was fearful of losing. My stress was so bad during our fights, I felt suicidal.”

John knows now that his relationship “style” with Angie and with his first wife, Barbara, needed attention. He describes his early years with Angie and the 10 years he spent with Barbara as “verbally combative.”

“It pays us all to stop and think about switching gears,” says John. “A relationship is really all about how healthy our conversation is. If you have healthy, productive conversation with someone, the relationship is built on solid respect. Crazy, uncaring conversation on your part makes the other person feel scared, lonely and mistrustful of you.”

Respect Is Key

Key Point

Most of us fraternize with people who help us obtain what we want. It’s very self-defeating to spend time with people who hurt our goals or stand in our way.

Here is a basic truth about any relationship: Without mutual respect, two people are not really having a relationship. All of our conversation should ideally revolve around respectful language. It’s impossible to show respect for someone without using kind, caring words. Slamming someone verbally hurts him or her almost as much as a physical assault.

In turning around a difficult relationship, it helps to get inside the heart and mind of the other person. You can do this by asking him or her questions such as these:

  • What are your biggest hopes and dreams?
  • Am I preventing you from attaining your goals in any way?
  • Do I help you achieve your goals by anything I say or do?

Before you invest time in giving of yourself, it’s critical to know if the other person is doing anything you consider inappropriate. For instance, if your dating partner hangs out with questionable people, you are investing in someone who is likely to damage your life in a major way. Make sure individuals you associate with share the same understanding of basic morals that you endorse.

Character Requires Evaluation

One way to obtain a good overview of someone’s character is to learn his values. Talk about the other person’s likes and dislikes to get a clearer picture about what is important to him or her. A person’s values aren’t likely to change over time, so plan accordingly.

If your best friend values reading, travel or investing in stocks, this speaks volumes about that individual. If your cousin values partying to the hilt or hiking the world’s tallest mountains, this says a lot as well.

You can enjoy people from all walks of life by keeping your own boundaries intact. You can, for example, spend time with your dare-devil neighbor who enjoys swimming with sharks. Just make sure you control the types of activities you share with this person.

Regardless of another’s values or personality, you will need to voice limits with other people. If you can’t do this, you will find it uncomfortable to be around people. By nature, all individuals will infringe upon your personal territory. Learning to say no or defining what you can accept as comfortable for you, is critical. People who lack character will always try to run over your boundaries.

Here are tips for setting boundaries with others:

  • Practice verbalizing your boundaries. Start small and become adept at stating your limits with ease. We all need to practice saying things such as this: “I’d like to go to the movies with you, but I’ve got an exam.” It takes more practice, maybe years of it, to say, “I know you’d like to move into my apartment, but I just don’t want a roommate. I can’t handle that kind of arrangement.”
  • Don’t worry about the person’s reaction. Don’t set a boundary while worrying over the other person’s response to your limits. Speak from your own heart. Don’t allow someone to judge you while you state where you will draw the line on something.

Self Respect Is a Compass

Key Point

If we attract needy, problematic people into our lives, this is a clear signal we need to set boundaries and work on making ourselves more comfortable. Overly needy or mentally unhealthy people will pull us down; we cannot pull them up. They alone must feel the need to change from within.

Working on becoming your best self is important for dealing with others. When you know your own values, and you can enforce boundaries to protect them, it’s easier to deal with people from all types of backgrounds.

In a dating relationship, for example, we all tend to attract a partner who has the same level of mental health that we have. If you have weak boundaries built around lack of self-confidence, you will likely attract another weak person or a very dominating one. People can sense how strong our inner self really is.

It will take lots of personal, private work to evaluate what, if anything, about yourself requires attention or needs changing. You will need to look at the role models you’ve had in life. If you haven’t really had strong role models, you may need to form some same-sex friendships to strengthen your sense of self. Asking someone to mentor you or provide professional coaching can help.

We all learn to navigate relationships and life itself based on how well we form friendships. If we become adept at solidifying relationships with people we respect, this gives us confidence to know we’re definitely doing something right.

A woman we’ll call Anna was raised in a household where her father was abusive and dominating. As a result, she learned to speak and act in ways that were overly accommodating to others.

“I lost my sense of self,” says Anna. “I only felt complete if I was over-giving, over-doing and bending myself out of shape. I wanted to make sure no one got hurt. But, the one getting damaged was me! I lost out in terms of lending money to irresponsible people staying up late to baby sit for friends who took advantage. Ultimately, I lost my job due to fatigue.”

Anna got into psychological counseling to develop a stronger sense of self. She needed to determine what about herself needed changing.

We each have enormous power to change ourselves. We can do it in small increments, learning to speak up here and set a boundary there. If we go slowly, we can determine how productive our changes are. We can determine when we need to voice something stronger or assert ourselves more graciously. We can learn what works.

Key Point

We all grow and develop by associating with other people. Without putting ourselves into lots of real relationships, our personal growth will never fully take place.

Even if a friend or dating partner hurts our feelings or does something destructive, we can take that knowledge and go forward productively. No experience is ever wasted if we learn from it. Consider all twists and turns along the “relationship road” of life as a productive learning experience.

A well-defined, healthy relationship you have with yourself (meaning you have self-esteem and confidence) will drive all of your other relationships. People enjoy being around someone who is sure of what to do and say.

Make it a priority to recover from old hurts and deep wounds. This will require thoughtful, psychological work to heal and gain needed confidence. This work will go more smoothly if you develop a sense of humor. Few people ever recover from deep pain without learning to take a more light-hearted approach to life. You can regain balance through laughter and looking on the humorous side of things.

When you take control of your inner harmony, you are in a stronger position to empower all of the people in your circle of life. Growing to a level where you can help others find their footing is a sure sign that you possess an abundance of relationship skills.