Resolving relationship problems requires good communication skills, great conflict management skills and the willingness to look inside ourselves first. This morning I read a quote that caused me to write this post:

“People are anxious to improve their circumstances, but unwilling to improve themselves. They therefore remain bound.”  ~ James Allen

Working with clients and students each day as I do, I know this is true. People want things to change but want the change to take place in others. If I had a thousand dollars for every couple I have worked with who say they want their relationship to improve, I’d be a wealthier woman. But, most couples come in to see me with a balloon over each of their heads that says,

“Our relationship would be so much better if only my partner would change!”

I go into workplaces to help teams mediate disputes and disagreements. Initially, each person wants to hold on to their solution as the only one. And, SURPRISE! It usually involves other people changing. Repeatedly, it’s the “if only the other would change” phenomena.So, for obvious reasons, when I found the James Allen quote, I was moved to write.

Is there anywhere in your life that you are just sure that life would be better in your relationship at home, in the community or at work if only someone else or some circumstances would change?

I’m not suggesting by any stretch that there is not room for change in every person, condition or circumstance. There definitely is. But, if you have not looked within yourself first, you’re looking in the wrong place for the beginnings of change. We have to do our own work first. Here are some questions we might ask ourselves:

  • In what way am I contributing to the situation or relationship I have problems with?
  • Am I seeing the situation from all sides?
  • Am I looking at it with compassionate eyes?
  • Is there anything that I am imposing or projecting on the situation that may not actually be there?
  • Am I demonstrating my values by what I think, say and do in this relationship?
  • Have I been self-reflective enough to enter into a conversation about this issue?

When we have asked ourselves these questions and worked through the answers, we then have to look to our communication skills and styles. 

  • Do I communicate in ways that are totally kind and totally honest at the same time?
  • Do I blame?
  • Do I shame?
  • Do I judge?
  • Do I justify my own behavior or assessments, rather than own my perceptions and prejudices?
  • Do I come with an honest intention to learn about the other person?
  • Am I willing to truly listen, not just leave air-time for the other to speak while I’m mentally preparing my next shot?

Unless we are willing to do our own work first–to honestly asses the alignment of our values, vision, beliefs and purpose that we are demonstrating, it is best to stay silent for a while. Do the self-reflection. Find what may need to be changed within ourselves, before we start trying to change others.

Believe me, I know I have enough work to do on myself, without starting in on others first thing!  You might find the same is true for you. It’s an important first step!

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