Successful relationships

Reunion in the park, by artist from Belfast Lorraine Christie

Successful relationships: personal ones, friendly, professional, romantic, family relationships… Flowing, satisfactory, happy, fulfilling relationships in which we enjoy and where we can relax and feel comfortable, where we can find honesty & truthful availability. Where are they? How can we achieve them? What to do to display them and above all, what to do to keep them? Because sometimes they seem unattainable, light years away from our possibilities.

In these cases holding onto the role of the victim seems quite handy, complaining & becoming detached from our individual responsibility to put the blame on someone else’s shoulders instead. It is the boss who does not show us respect, the partner who does not make any efforts to understand us, the parents who have no idea of who we are, the neighbour from the 5th floor who does her own thing without caring about others… And we always come out clean. Nothing to do with us.

What if we change the focus to look at ourselves with honesty & value what we’ve done? What did we bring in? Which energy we contribute with at every relationship we have? What’s the impact of our attitude in others?

When talking about marriage counselling, Martin Seligman (the father of positive psychology) states that this type of therapy should focus not on the pathology or problem but on the positive aspect of the relationship, on what works. According to him, if we work from the positive side, the problem or pathology disappears. So, instead of putting our attention in what is broken, let’s build things up from what is still strong & steady. 

This means that things would be much better for us if we were dedicated to celebrate what we do well instead of focusing in what goes wrong.

Going even further: what if the key of a successful relationship is in how do we celebrate our victories together, our goals & joys, our reached dreams? Life is not just about facing difficulties together. Life is also empathic, fresh & continuous happiness. The key lies on:

- the energy we bring into the relationship, that can be active or passive, and

- the impact that we have in others, that can be constructive or destructive

Giving shape to this with a genuine & personal example of my own (and I mean ‘our own’, my partner’s & mine): I was offered to give a few days training, reasonably paid, about a subject that I like, in a great environment and to a group of people who truly want it. I am happy & satisfied and I speak to my loving life partner to tell him the news. What’s his answer? Guess which on of these four:

a) Passive-destructive: ‘That’s great! Congratulations! Did you take the mobile charger?’
Mmmm… What do you think? Not very fulfilling, right? I would feel downhearted, not very well listened and poorly attended. According to Seligman, this attitude shows a low level of involvement. So, wrong answer if what we are looking for is a quality relationship. Was that my Captain’s option? Of course it was not!

b) Active-destructive: ‘That’s great! Congratulations! And, are they paying you up front?’
Well, again, I feel quite deflated. It is true that he is asking me for something related with what I am telling him about; however, the level of personal involvement & empathy is still quite low. That’s how I feel when I try to imagine myself in that fictitious situation. Indeed, my man would never reply back to me something like that.

c) Passive-constructive: ‘That’s great! Congratulations! Sounds like a fantastic opportunity for you. You deserve it!’
What about that one? Yes, sure, there is an explicit praise, a clear & direct greeting, but I don’t sense a deeper move into our relationship… Was that maybe the real answer? Of course is not! My boy is much better than all that!

d) Active-constructive: ‘That’s great! Congratulations! Just what really motivates you, isn’t it? Who are they? How did they reach you? What was your first impression? Are you happy with the conditions? How are you planning to do it?’
There is quite a difference, of course. With this answer, he is getting fully involved in my experience; he is taking me to recall it again, going through it together, analysing it, learning about it, enjoying it again. No question about it: he is a master for me in many ways.

So I read what Seligman says, I pay attention to my partner, I analyse myself and look around to see the quality of our personal interactions. Observation tells me that we still have to improve loads in this field, so we manage to get less a)’s and many more d)’s.

Active-constructive… Sounds like a chemical component, a miraculous medicine that heals & repair. Would the GP prescribe it or do we better self-medicate? ;-)


“You are no longer here. What I see
of you, body, is shadow, deceit.
Your soul has gone away
where you will go tomorrow.
Yet even this afternoon offers me
false hostages, vague smiles,
slow gestures,
an already distracted love.
But your intention of going
took you where you wanted,
far from here, where you are
saying to me:
"Here I am with you, look."
And you show me your absence.”

(Poem Distracted, by Pedro Salinas)


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