Relationships are a huge part of our everyday lives, and rarely are relationships ever simple. In fact, I think the deeper and longer you’re in a relationship, no matter who it’s with, the more complex it becomes.
But despite the inherent complexity of life and relationships, too often we make things more complicated than they really need to be.
Whether we’re talking about your relationships with your partner, your children, your extended family, your friends or your colleagues, all of your relationships will have their own unique tenor of complexity….but how you experience and interact within these relationships can be greatly simplified.
Over the years I’ve come to observe that there are a handful of simple and straightforward truths that I think are essential to cultivating thriving and fulfilling relationships with others.
When you begin embracing these truths and and implementing them into your daily lives and interactions, the relational complexities you used to deal with on a regular basis begin to seem less apparent.
You’re able to relate with the people in your life with so much more peace, freedom and fulfillment, without the same level of stress, confusion, discomfort and frustration as before.
At the end of the day, simplifying your relationships (with both yourself, and others) has everything to do with being intentionally mindful in your thoughts, words and actions.
Here are a few simple relational principles that will help you begin to simplify your relationships, and in turn simplify your life.
1. Communicate clearly, with honesty and transparency
One of the biggest culprits of relational conflict is a lack of honest and clear communication. It can be really easy to assume other people know what we’re thinking or what we want, but if we aren’t intentional about communicating those things, conflict is inevitable.
We can’t control what other people think, say or do, but we can control our own thoughts, words and behavior. If we have thoughts, feelings, desires or expectations left unexpressed, it isn’t fair for us to get upset because the other person didn’t clue into them.
Don’t leave things open to interpretation. Be honest with both yourself and others about what you think, what you want or what you need. Communicate openly and freely, and you’ll save yourself and others loads of frustration and grief.
Let go of any fear you have with communicating from a place of honesty and transparency. Even if it feels hard to do, you’re doing no one any favors by pretending to think, feel or want something you don’t.
Show yourself and others respect by being clear and honest in your communication, 100% of the time. Which leads me to the next principle….
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2. Treat others the way you want to be treated, and set a standard of respect
The golden rule is an obvious standard for navigating the complex waters of relationships, and for good reason! You really can't make things any simpler than this.
Before you do or say anything to anyone, always take a moment to pause and think about whether you're coming from a place of respect and kindness or not. Ask yourself if how you're about to treat someone is how you'd want to be treated in the same circumstance.
By consistently practicing this principle, you will save yourself and others so much heartache, and you'll have deeply rooted relationships grown on a healthy foundation of kindness, empathy and compassion.
3. Establish clear boundaries and learn to say no
Too often our relationships get messy because we aren't intentional about identifying, establishing and enforcing healthy boundaries within those relationships.
To effectively set good boundaries, you have to start by figuring out what kind of boundaries are needed in the first place. This can be difficult, but here's a bit of insight to help you find a starting point...
First, evaluate the nature of the relationships in your life. Which are the most important and central as compared to others?
Next, evaluate how each relationship currently makes you feel. When you spend time with someone, do you feel refreshed and uplifted as a result of being in their presence, or does spending time with them drag you down and leave you feeling frustrated or depleted?
Lastly, identify what boundaries could be implemented to maximize peace, joy and fulfillment, and minimize the yucky.
A big part of setting boundaries is learning when, where and how to say no effectively. When you feel confident and comfortable exercising your ability to say yes to what you want, and no to what you don't want, navigating relationships becomes so much more seamless.
4. Actively work on building trust
Trust in relationships can be a really touchy subject, and there are lots of opinions out there about when and how you should go about giving, earning and building trust.
Honestly, I find it easy to overcomplicate this because it IS such a complex thing. So here are my two cents, the personal code I live by when it comes to trust in relationships...
Understand that there are no perfect people in the world, and using a reasonable amount of caution, trust people until they give you a reason not to. If and when this happens, you have a decision to make: either walk away from the relationship or actively work on rebuilding a new foundation of trust again.
The one thing that you can't have: a healthy, thriving relationship with anyone when there isn't trust present.
People overcomplicate their lives by continuing to be in relationships with people they aren't willing to build trust with again. Trust is always a two-way street, and building trust with people requires courage, perseverance and vulnerability.
Trust isn't ever required of us....but if we want to cultivate deeply rooted, fulfilling relationships with people, we do have to be willing to actively build trust.
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5. Magnify what you want, minimize what you don’t
How often have you been in a relationship with someone and had a hard time with only being able to see the things you wish were different about them? It's pretty common for people to be idealistic when it comes to the standards we set for other people, but we will always be met with frustration and disappointment when we stay focused on the things we don't like about someone, instead of the things we do.
Also, I've found that by magnifying what we do like and want in another person, being intentional to affirm them in those areas, those things multiply and the best is brought out of that person.
Conversely, if we magnify what we don't like or want in another person, constantly nagging or pointing out shortcomings, the relationship deeply suffers as the person detaches from you, and becomes unmotivated to operate from their place of strength. How counterproductive is that?!
When we learn to magnify what we want, and minimize what we don't, focusing on the good things and the blessings, those things will multiply...and it will change OUR hearts and the way WE see others. Remember, we can't change anyone but ourselves, so stay focused on how you are thinking, speaking and acting.
6. Ask questions and listen more than you speak and make demands
At the end of the day, the best relationships are the ones that receive careful tending on a regular basis. Cultivating beautiful, thriving relationships doesn't have to be complicated...it just requires us to show up, take notice of people, ask questions and listen.
People want to be seen, heard and understood. Instead of being solely focused on what someone brings to your life, what they can do for you, and how you feel in the relationship, learn to seek them, get to know them, find out how they're feeling and what you could do to make their experience of life as wonderful as possible.
Words Of Wisdom From Women Just Like You
All of the amazing women who are part of our Simplicity Sessions contributors panel are wives, moms, sisters, daughters, friends and business owners who have a great wealth of wisdom and experience to share about how they strive to simplify and be intentional in their relationships. Here is what they had to say...
"We work on minimizing distractions and being present during our days. I say this not because we are so great at it, but because it is a work in progress. We plan our week ahead of time so we know when I plan work in the day, when my husband comes home from work, what our weekend plans our, and when our "date night in" is. Knowing what comes next in our schedule (with room to be flexible) helps us put down the electronics and be present." - Dr. Meghan Birt, Chiropractor & Founder of the Just Enjoy Health Podcast
"With my husband, he and I have learned that I need to make it very clear when I am working and when I'm not. Otherwise, I end up trying to multi-task and getting frustrated - and he didn't know I was needing to focus. So I set my work hours in advance and fully communicate when I'm "on" and when I'm "off." This helps with my parenting as well so that I know when I should be on my computer and when I should shut it down and focus on my kids. This can be a challenge with friendships since I don't have a traditional job - I walk the line between being able to do mid-day play dates and volunteer for preschool events, but also I have work that needs to get done and people that depend on me - so this boundary is one that I'm continually learning how to manage." - Robin Long, Pilates & Barre Instructor & Founder of The Balanced Life Online
"We keep minimal commitments. We have one night a week committed to during the school year and this has made for a very simple life! Our kids are still young, but we are committed to limiting their "planned" activities. Right now, we don't attend birthday parties or showers just because we are invited, but limit this based on the quality of the relationship with the person as well as what the cost will be." - Valerie Woerner, Founder of Val Marie Paper & Author of The Finishing School
"I think the key with boundaries is that you have to set clear ones - and not be afraid to talk about it. Too often we feel that people have overstepped their bounds, but many times it's because those people don't know our boundaries. Once you make the conscious effort to share your personal boundaries with others, you'll find that they get respected more. For example, my friends do not call me in the late evening because they know that time is focused family time for me. I want to spend the majority of my attention and energy at that time of day on my family. When I have new friends that don't know this about me, I make sure to share it with them. If they call, I text back a reply saying, "Thanks for calling...I'd love to talk to tomorrow as my evenings are for my focused family time." No one has ever complained to me about it and several of my friends have since instilled the same policy for themselves. It had never occurred to them to tell others that they wanted to spend evenings with family. We get caught up worrying that we are being selfish putting our priorities first but you have to do what really aligns with the way you want to live your life." - Tonya Dalton, Founder + CEO of inkWELL Press, Co-Host of the Productivity Paradox Podcast
"Having my kids stay in their rooms until a certain time each morning before they're allowed to come out and have breakfast gives me and my husband time to be productive and have a positive start to the day so we're not stressed out right off the bat. My kids watch a movie every night while I'm cooking dinner. I do this because I really dislike cooking but it's how I serve my family and it's a big part of my role, so I make it enjoyable by letting them have their TV time during this time while I have a small glass of wine, play some acoustic music, and get to work. This also really helps to cushion the most chaotic and stressful time of day and our house. Weekly date night with my husband, time set aside to be alone with each of my kids throughout the month, and alone time as needed are also a part of my life." - Allie Casazza, Blogger, Author, Speaker & Co-Host of The Purposeful Home Podcast
"My family is what matters most to me so I had to intentionally make my daily life reflect that priority. For us, that meant staying home more often, sometimes politely saying no to invites, and making time for family adventures. I take time every day to give each one of my kids some special love and attention. My husband and I set aside time for quality conversations, date-nights without our phones, and time building our relationship outside of our roles as parents. We know that the stronger our marriage is the stronger our family will be...so we make that a huge priority. I think keeping the bigger picture in mind is key to establishing healthy intentions with your relationships." - Sami Womack, Budgeting Coach & Founder of A Sunny Side Up Life
"Our biggest boundary we have as a family of 3 is that we don't make plans on Sundays. Occasionally, there's a special family event, and we will certainly not miss that, but otherwise we leave Sundays open as a day for church and Sabbath rest. If we feel like making last-minute plans on Sunday, we will, but normally when we get to Sunday, we're craving time at church and then downtime at home more than anything else. It has absolutely transformed our marriage and our work weeks having a day totally free from productivity. We set boundaries for ourselves about what we will and won't do on those days (because otherwise the go-getter in me would try to get a bunch of stuff done), and we trust that God will keep the world spinning even if we take a full day off." - Diana Kerr, Certified Professional Life Coach & Christian Writer
"I am a big believer in healthy boundaries and find that they are the reason I am far less stressed than I have ever been in my life. I take my mother's advice and say yes to the things that are yes, and no to things that are a no. I don't say maybe. This creates amazing boundaries, especially with my children. I also create space for work and play and keep them pretty separate. My family knows that when I am working, I am working and when I am done, I will be all in with mommy/wife mode." - Kendra Hennessy, Home Management Strategist & Founder of Mother Like a Boss