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Ten Steps to Having Both a Relationship and a Self

How to have a strong self and a strong relationship without losing either.

If you want to learn more about building a strong “I” and a strong “We,” here are my CliffsNotes on what it requires:

I. A solid self in any important relationship requires authenticity in the context of connectedness. Authenticity means we can be who we are in a relationship. “Being who we are” means:

1. We can talk openly about things that are important to us.

2. We can define our values, beliefs, convictions, and principles and keep our own behavior in the relationship congruent with them.

3. We can take a clear position on where we stand on important emotional 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 openly share our competence as well as our problems and vulnerability with the other party.

II. A solid self not only requires that we “be who we are” in relationships. It also requires that we allow the other person to do the same. This means:

7. We can relate to the other person’s competence to solve his or her problems and manage reactions and pain over time.

8. We can stay emotionally connected to the other party, who thinks, feels, and believes differently, without needing to change, convince, or fix the other person.

9. We can give advice or feedback when asked, as a calm sharing of self (“This is what’s been helpful to me,” “This is what I might do in your shoes”) recognizing that this may or may not fit for the other party.

10. We can say how we see things without getting instructive and without getting in the middle of other people’s relationship problems.

Accomplishing the above requires "self-focus" in contrast to focusing intensely on others. When we are self-focused we can:

…empathize with other people’s problems without becoming overfocused on them.

…work on clarifying a life plan that will allow us to live our own life (not someone else’s) as well as possible.

...put our energy into observing, clarifying, and changing our own part in relationship patterns, rather than trying to change, control, interpret, diagnose, or criticize the other party.

The challenge of at least one lifetime is to have relationships that are not at the expense of the self, and to have a self that is not at the expense of the other person. Pick three things from the long list above and work on them. Your relationships (and your self) will thank you in advance.