Relationships are difficult. Romantic relationships take effort, consistency, and flexibility. Good friendships can even be difficult when circumstances don’t cooperate. It’s easy to fall in love and easy enough to meet people you like but it’s a different story to stay in love or maintain that friendship. It’s also hard to cultivate a strong and healthy relationship with yourself and that’s not something I think a lot of people consider.
Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a relationship with yourself, or a friendship, the requirements for a good one are pretty much the same. After reading this article, I think you’ll have a much better idea of what’s needed on your part to keep your relationships strong, what to look out for in others, and where to set the bar so you can also be in good relationship with yourself.
Generosity and honesty are the two working parts that really foster a good relationship, and both have to do with cost. Building a good relationship requires paying a bit of a price and having to give something up for another person or for yourself to have a good outcome. The idea of cost is probably clear when it comes to generosity because we all know that generosity implies giving. But, there’s often a cost associated with honesty and that’s when you really know how honest someone is… and when you find out how honest you are. I believe honesty and generosity are what make up integrity.
To have a good relationship, you need to be generous. Nobody likes a selfish friend or partner. Actually, I don’t think we care much for selfish people no matter what role they play in our life. It’s also hard to respect someone who doesn’t give enough to themselves, especially if they don’t have good boundaries, give all the time, don’t say no, and don’t take care of themselves. I’m also going bet you won’t respect yourself all that much if you’re not generous with yourself and don’t give yourself what you know is best for you. I bet you’ve never thought about treating yourself well as synonymous with being generous with yourself.
A good relationship with others starts with having a good relationship with “you.” To have a good relationship of any sort you first need to be put yourself together. That means having good boundaries, knowing when to say no, and building yourself up and having a strong foundation. In essence, you need to give to yourself appropriately and be generous with your time and energy and dedicate it towards what’s most important to your growth and wellbeing. Cultivating generosity towards yourself requires discipline and responsibility. For example, sometimes it’s hard to be generous towards yourself and give to yourself what’s needed, like the time and effort needed for good balance, or enough exercise, a healthy diet, doing now what you know will benefit you later… doing what you really know you should do to grow into the best version of yourself. It’s easy to give ourselves what we don’t really need such as too much wasted time, too much bad food, too much alcohol, too much sleep… fill in the blank with whatever it is that pulls at you.
This is where honesty enters the room, and you take that good look and get real with yourself about what you really need and not just what you want. Our tendency towards confirmation bias will lead us to be dishonest with ourselves if we’re not careful and then we’ll be stealing time and resources away from ourselves and not be able to do with it what’s needed. So, when you’re able to be honest and get behind what’s best for yourself and you’re generous with your time, energy, and efforts, you’ll treat yourself with respect and feel good about how you live. When you learn to be honest with yourself, even if that makes things a bit harder at first, and you learn to become generous with yourself and give yourself what you really need while having healthy boundaries in place, then you’re set up to have healthy generosity towards another person in a relationship.
When I see couples for premarital counseling, one of the first questions I ask them is why they want to marry each other. I look for something very specific. Most people say, “Oh, they’re fun, they’re cute. They make me feel good.” or something of that nature. And that’s all normal and natural. But what I listen for is when somebody speaks some version of “I want to help my future spouse be the best person they can become. I want to support them. I want to rally for them. I want to be behind them, and I want to make their life better.” That’s the type of mindset I look for in couples, and when both people have that attitude of generosity, I pretty much know they’re going to have a good marriage. Generosity of this type is what I look for and, of course, this is assuming they have basic boundaries in place for themselves.
In a relationship, generosity is more of a mindset and something you dedicate yourself to. It’s when you want your partner, friend, or even co-worker to succeed and be their best. It means you’ll be there to help assist or support them and you’ll be on their team. Now, honesty is where things can get hard. Really hard. It’s easy to be honest when it doesn’t cost us much and it’s then we tell the truth because we like what the truth is or it’ll have a good outcome for us. But, what about the times when it’s an inconvenience? The times when you might not look so good. What about the times where honesty feels like or is a risk to what you want or what you want to keep? That’s when you know how honest you are.
Staying honest might be as minor as saying you’ll do something and keeping your word. Perhaps its become an inconvenience and you don’t want to do something. Do you follow through? You ask yourself do you really have time to pick up those groceries after work like you said you would? Or it could be something much more significant. For example, I’ve seen many clients when someone had an affair and then didn’t want to tell their partner. Nine times out of ten they tell me it’s because they “don’t want to hurt their partner” with the truth. Well, that’s not the whole story or they probably wouldn’t have had the affair. The real truth is they don’t want to risk their partner leaving them or don’t want to go through the aftermath and upheaval of telling them.
Giving their partner the truth is giving them information and it’s giving up control. It’s giving information and control to the other person because you value and respect them and yourself enough to tell the truth even when there’s a cost associated. Here is where honesty enters the scene again. It’s so easy to justify not giving to another person what they deserve to know. It’s so easy not to be honest because there’s a cost involved. And, when we’re not generous with the truth, we prevent trust from developing. We degrade our character, and we harm the people we say we love.
I encourage you to think differently about relationships with yourself and others. Be honest and be generous. Also, forgive yourself where you haven’t been so in the past. Today is a new day.