Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions
Dear Coach,
I’m not sure why, but I am finding that relationships with significant people in my life will always deteriorate. I seem to start well, whether it’s with a new boss, colleagues, friend or contact, but then I end up having to do all the work to keep the relationship going. The other person involved doesn’t appear to care whether the relationship continues or not. In most cases it has to continue!
I’m not aware that I’m doing anything wrong, there are no real incidents that happen, but things always seem to go sideways. What am I doing wrong here?

There’s a pattern in your description of the issue that’s revealing; the relationships ‘start well, and then appear to deteriorate’. There’s little evidence of causation but inevitably the relationships decline over time.

When agreements and expectations are clearly constructed at the outset, it’s relatively easy to detect when they are coming off the tracks. Relationship agreements are rarely this clear cut, however. As a result any relationship can morph from one which appeared to be acceptable, even desirable, into one which is border-line and even into one that’s problematic.

As this happens we may not detect the changes until they become very obvious and, as a result, we don’t take action to build or sustain the relationship. Now, I suspect that all relationships, if left to chance, would slowly atrophy and I also believe that every relationship requires some measure of sustaining initiatives.

After all, our long-standing friends and close acquaintances can begin to ‘wear’ on us at times. This can happen especially where they’ve had a downturn in their fortunes and become generally negative as a result, or when they become fixated on their own realities and show little or no interest in ours. Even our life partners can become self-absorbed and fail to show proper appreciation for the efforts we might be making.

What can emerge from these trying situations is that we create stories to explain their less-than-desirable behaviors.  These stories will now convince us that the fault must lie within them – their situation, upbringing, temperament or whatever – so there’s nothing we can do about it and we cast ourselves in the role of victim.

You appear to be enlightened in this respect; you are still conscious that there’s something you can or should do to remedy the situation — well done! You’re not sure though what you need to do or stop doing, so here are some practical suggestions:
Ask yourself —
  • Am I acting it out rather than talking it out? In this case we talk about the other person (perhaps only to our self but often we’ll include others) instead of talking to them about the issue.
  •  Am I fixated on my own concerns?  Is my inner voice telling me that I’m right, and that they are living down to my expectations; am I seeing in their behaviors all the confirming evidence that I’m anticipating?
  • Am I confirming that the problem is in them?  This way I cannot do anything about it – it would be too difficult and besides I don’t have the right to change them even if I could.
  • Am I telling myself there’s too great a risk in taking action? Would speaking up only make the situation worse than it already is, and that I don’t have the ability to make it better?
  • Have I lived with the situation so long that it’s almost comfortable? Is it really true that the devil you know is better than those you haven’t met yet? Why disturb it; it's not that bad, yet!

Start afresh —
  • Make a new agreement. Go back to the basic reasons for the relationship allowing that there are ‘friends for a reason; friends for a season and friends for a lifetime’ and renegotiate the agreement and expectations. If they agree, the job is done; if not, ask why not!
  • Share Intentions / Assumptions. Open up your reasons for having a relationship and solicit their input; state your terms and conditions and invite theirs; present your expectations and request that they do likewise. If there’s a relationship in the making you’re already half-way there.
  • Consider from the future back to the present. What’s the legacy you are seeking from this relationship? How will both sides be benefitted and enhanced through investing in each other? What are the outcomes, which can be different in form and substance, which each person might reasonably expect?
Whatever you design you must now support. You will have planted a seedling perhaps and it will need to be fed and watered intensely for a while until natural events can take over the job; keep the weeds at bay and don’t neglect to appreciate and reinforce it, to cross-fertilize it as needed and to harvest the fruits.

It may well be that you have been a neglectful gardener, or just that your initial planting techniques need a little work. If you desire the fruits, you’ll need to put in some deliberate work.

I hope this helps.