If you want to participate in a growth-fostering relationship, let this list of 8 things be your guide.
In a healthy, growth-fostering relationship:
1. We can talk openly about things that matter.
2. We can define our values and beliefs and keep our own behavior in the relationship congruent with them.
3. We can take a clear position on where we stand on important issues.
4. We can clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable to us in a relationship.
5. We can define the limits of what we can comfortably do or give.
6. We can only share your competence as well as your problems and vulnerability with the other person. (We all have both)
7. We can engage in wholehearted listening and dial down our own defensiveness.
8. We can make sure our positive comments exceed the negative ones by a healthy margin.
My psychiatrist friend and Mentor, Dr. Jean Baker Miller (I still miss her), has identified five “good things” that occur in a growth-fostering interaction, whether it’s with a spouse, family member, co-worker, or friend.
Add her list to my own.
In a healthy growth-fostering relationship:
1. Each person feels a greater sense of “zest” (vitality, energy)
2. Each person feels more able to act and does act.
3. Each person has a more accurate picture of herself or himself and of the other person.
4. Each person feels a greater sense of worth.
5. Each person feels more connected to the other person and feels a greater motivation for connections with other people beyond those in the specific relationship.
If these five things are pretty much absent in your interactions with a particular person, should you disband?
If you’re in the early phase of a relationship, say, with a new friend or someone you’ve been dating, my answer is yes. Don’t ignore any big red flags waving in your face. Get out sooner rather than later.
But if you’re in a key, enduring relationship, say with a spouse or family member, don’t bolt. The longer and more important the relationship, the more you’re going to go through cycles of closeness and distance, ups and downs.And more is at stake in leaving or cutting off.
If the relationship matters, and you want to foster more of these five good things, go back to my first list and pick a couple of items from the eight to work on. Remember that working on your own self is the best thing you can do for any important relationship, no matter what the outcome.
The challenge is to have a relationship that is not at the expense of the self, and to have a self that is not at the expense of the relationship. Here’s a book that will help you a lot with this project.