It is this time of year when we are often setting our goals and making plans for the new year. Some of us are reviewing last year, but from what I have heard many just want to leave 2020 in the past.
When we really think about what is important to us it is our health and our relationships, or maybe the relationships we want to have. How do you go about setting goals or making resolutions about your relationships?
Do you say to yourself I will be more kind and generous?
This is a worthy ambition, however I think it is much easier to remember the times when you fail at this than when you succeed. The other thing that might be missing here is you bringing yourself to the relationship. Is it more kind or generous not to say something if you are struggling with something in a relationship? Maybe in the short term but what about the long term?
I think that it is helpful to acknowledge that all of us have automatic behaviours that tend to provide short term calm in the face of relationship anxiety. These automatic behaviours are the result of adaptive processes in relationship systems. The more stressed you are the harder it is to see and to interrupt these automatic behaviours.
I find it can help to have some ideas about what these behaviours commonly look like. In her blog Kathleen Smith highlights some of the ways we automatically react to calm things down:
- Distancing from others – withdrawing physically or emotionally
- Attacking or defending
- Seeking approval or attention from others
- Expecting others to calm you down
- Complaining or venting to another person
- Turning someone into a project
- Asking another to change so you can calm down
- Feeling more sensitive to others anxiety
Whilst these reactions may work to calm anxiety in the relationship system in the short term they usually do not improve your relationship.
One goal could be to observe and understand your automatic anxious behaviours. This involves getting calm enough to observe these behaviours, a challenge in itself. When observing these behaviours it is helpful to see when you react in these ways, what behaviours in others you are reacting to and how they then react to your reaction. Once you have been able to see your automatic anxious behaviours in relationships you can work on setting goals to change these.
Kathleen provides some ideas on what relationship goals might look like. If you would like to explore this further:
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