Good Relationships: A Recipe

by Thomas J. Schumacher, Psy.D., R-CSW
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Why do people fall in love … and then out of love?
What makes a great friendship?
How can you develop good relationships with your coworkers and clients?

How well do you get along with your siblings and parents?
Is there a key ingredient that makes relationships work well?

Although we are dealing with a complex set of dynamics, the short answer is yes -- there is a key ingredient that usually harbors well for all types of relationships.

The key ingredient is: The other person sees you, treats you, and feels about you, as you would like to be seen, treated, and felt about. To the degree that their view of you is in sync with the view you would like them to have, to that degree you will feel good both about them and yourself.

Correspondingly, if you see them and treat them as they wish to be seen and treated, then they will feel good about you and themselves. And, when both parties to a relationship see the other person and treat them as they wish to be seen and treated, then you have the basic ingredient for an enduring and productive relationship.

Conversely, fights usually involve a dispute about either how you are seen or about how you see the other person. For example, suppose your partner confronts you with the fact that you are a slob, never pick up after yourself, leave a mess wherever you go, don't put anything away etc. If you want to be perceived as adorable and cute, then you may well be hurt or angry. Also, these complaints seem insignificant to you. After all, you could clean all of these things up in just a few moments. Why the big fuss? It's not that big a deal. Why don't they focus on your wonderful attributes? But, at that moment, your partner is certainly not seeing you as adorable and cute. They are seeing you as selfish and self-centered. If you don't see yourself that way, then there are going to be problems. You will feel misunderstood and your partner will feel ignored and not taken seriously.

The same dynamic can occur at work with your colleagues and accounts. You may see yourself as a very desirable employee that clients and accounts would love to speak with. You know your business and have good instincts and sound judgments. Your client may perceive you as less than interested since they may have to call you over a small problem and get put off to a sales assistant or someone else on your staff. They are not seeing you as wonderful. They are seeing you as arrogant and too "busy" (or so you claim) to bother with them. The client or account wants to be seen as desirable and important. You see them as petty and bothering you with something beneath your talents. You don't see them as they wish to be seen. They don't see you as you wish to be seen. This is the formula for a wounded or broken alliance.

But, when you are seen, as you would like, then you melt and go out of your way to feel warmly and kindly disposed to the other person. I remember a personal example from my tenth birthday. I was feeling pretty good about reaching double digits and was helping my father shovel snow. I also remember that even though I was 10, it would have been even more desirable to be seen as even older. So I innocently asked my father how old I looked. He thought for a moment and said "about a young 14." From that moment on, I would do anything for him. He sensed what was important to me and gave it to me. He saw me, as I wanted to be seen. In that moment he cemented a lifelong bond with his son.

Correspondingly, we often know how someone wants to be seen and purposely refuse to grant it to them. In fact, we may even go out of our way to be nasty and spiteful knowing how important it is to them. As she entered adolescence, my best friends sister was very proud of her newfound development. So, in the spirit of a good sibling rivalry, he went around telling her boyfriends that she wore padded bras or falsies.

Similarly, some of your parents, friends, siblings, clients, etc., may torture you. They sense what is important to you and make sure you don't get it. They may sense, for example, that you have a strong need to have your thoughts and recommendations considered seriously. When you tell them something, they either respond with total silence or leave you hanging out to dry. Or they question your judgment and make you feel like you don't know anything at all. I'm fairly certain that you can think of some people who have tortured you in some way by depriving you of your view of yourself. And, it is fairly likely that you have behaved in a similar fashion to someone that you did not particularly like. You might want to take a moment and think about whom you have tormented and how have you done it?

The tormenting of others is rarely an initiated action. It is usually a reaction. You react when you feel hurt or upset. And, most likely, that hurt or upset usually comes from the other person behaving in a way toward you that is not consistent with how you want to be seen or treated. Although it is a dramatic oversimplification, this is in some measure the key dynamic of a doomed relationship. Both partners view each other in a way that is not consistent with their beliefs about themselves. Not good, emotionally draining, and extremely frustrating. Cross resentment harbors until your anger reaches a boiling point and one or both of you begin to have homicidal fantasies/wishes about your beloved.  Understandable … but just don’t act on your thoughts and feelings. 

Now some questions to ponder:
(1) How do you want to be viewed and treated by your clients, your boss, your company or firm?

(2) Do you feel that your company sees and treats you, as you would like?
(3) How do you want to be seen and treated by your partner, your parents, your children, your friends and neighbors, and by your enemies? (Note: It might be helpful to write out a list for each category and add any categories that may apply to you).
(4) How do you think each person from each category above wishes to be seen and treated?
(5) To what degree do you treat them in the way that they would like to be seen and treated?

If you complete these exercises, you will obtain a fairly good grasp on what has gone astray in your relationships and you will have some good clues as to what you can do to make some substantial improvements.

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Recommended Reading
  - Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent: A Guide for Stressed Out Children by Grace LeBow, et al.
  - One Family's Journey Through Alzheimer's by Mary B. Walsh
  - Are Your Parents Driving You Crazy? How to Resolve the Most Common Dilemmas with Aging Parents by Joseph Ilardo and Carole Rothman
  - Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents by Claire Berman
  - Nursing Homes: The Family's Journey by Peter Silin
  - Caregiver's Reprive: A Guide to Emotional Survival by Avrene Brandt

Available from ElderCare Online™    2002 Thomas Schumacher, Psy.D., R-CSW