I am not sure if it is a primarily Western mentality that presumes that life will be easy and as an extension it will require little effort. In fact, we belittle work as an encumbrance, instead of recognizing it for the value it brings to who we become as people. This phenomenon is true in many places in life, but none so much as in the world of relating. For some odd reason, we have collectively never identified or taught the truth about the significant work involved in relating to each other. In both work and personal relationships, we are continuously shocked that relating successfully requires so much attention, patience and resilience.
Here are a few of the fundamental realities of relationships:
1. There are no low maintenance people or relationships. It is faulty thinking if that is what you are looking for or expecting, or worse still, if that is how you perceive yourself. In all the myriad ways that we are different from each other, we all require and demand the same respect, understanding and acceptance, which requires those who love or work with us to stretch. Coming into any relationship, knowing that at times, and sometimes frequently, it will feel like a burden is the only realistic way to begin.
2. The fastest way to fail at relationships is to focus on your own needs. This is the classic oxymoron of relating that often goes unlearned. A relationship that works, whether in the workplace or in the family, acts as a container for growth. That is its purpose and why it requires so much energy. Focusing on the needs of making the relationship work, which are different from any of the participants, is not our first response. We go into most relationships looking to meet our own needs and then grow progressively more frustrated that we cannot. Ironically and surprisingly, when we grow up enough to look at what the relationship needs, we find our needs being met.
3. Relating successfully is a growth process, which by definition, is an activity that includes moments of discomfort and even pain. It never ceases to amaze me the resistance and fear that relationship growth can generate in some people. This seems especially true among younger people who have grown up amidst so much relationship instability. Employing avoidance over attention is a fruitless approach to relating. Instead we need to accept the inevitable suffering that comes from pruning away what is not really helpful in our own personalities so that the relationship can thrive.
4. Human hearts grow stronger and more resilient through use. Having the courage to face our weaknesses, our unreasonable expectations and our stubborn immaturity is painful but useful. This is how relating carves us with precision into the best version of ourselves. And there is nothing else that will do it at effectively. This work of the heart is literally the work we were born to do; everything else: all that we accumulate and achieve, is a shadow of the work of the heart.