December 2014 By Suma Varughese The only way to safeguard our relationships is to express what needs to be expressed. But can we do it in a way that is respectful of the other, and also strengthens the relationship? asks Suma Varughese There can be no doubt that relationships are among the most challenging aspects of our lives. And they therefore offer the most potential for growth. If we can learn to perfectly balance our needs with the needs of the other; if we can perfectly learn to safeguard our boundaries while making sure that we do not impinge on the other’s boundaries; if we can free ourselves from the need to control or be controlled; if we can balance our need to speak out our truths with the other’s need to be dealt with respectfully; if we can learn to overcome all that comes between us and a natural intimacy with the other; if we can use our conflicts as instruments of mutual growth; then not only will we have the most beautiful relationships but we will also attain Nirvana. However, none of this is easy. And one of the things that stops us is fear. We are afraid to confront the other even if it is needed because we do not want to rock the boat. We swallow disrespectful and downright insulting behavior because we are afraid that the relationship will collapse, or the other person will go on the offensive and make us the villain, or that we will not be able to face the discomfort of being out of harmony with the other. And so we compromise and do not say the things that would save the relationship. Instead, we swallow it and react by silence, withdrawal and inauthenticity. We pretend to be okay with what we are not. And to counter their behavior we create defence mechanisms of our own – perhaps by invoking guilt, sarcasm or insult. We are afraid to confront the other even if it is needed because we do not want to rock the boat. Recently, I read a book called Radical Honesty by a person called Brad Blanton, who makes pretty much the same point, but also argues vehemently for the need to speak out and say all that needs to be said. I am not sure I would go that way. Unless we are in a space to speak out our truths without hurting the other and with a capacity to be self-reflective, self controlled and focussed on the other’s welfare, I am convinced that we will not be able to negotiate the innumerable pitfalls that bog relationships. In the process we may damage the other, ourselves and almost surely the relationship. What I have been doing over the last several years is incremental change. I started off as extremely volatile, capable of hair-trigger reactions to even the slightest provocation. I was also incapable of protecting my boundaries and allowed disrespectful behaviour without the capacity to protect myself. I was also very fearful of confrontation. Over the years I have been getting steadily stronger and with that has come a greater robustness. A greater capacity to protect myself and at the same time, a greater need to put the welfare of the other ahead of mine. Slowly, I am learning to express my needs, my concerns and my hurts. And the other responds generally with an apology, or with an explanation for the behavior or something with which one can work. Inevitably, each such confrontation results in greater space in the relationship. There is more ease, comfort and trust because we know that the relationship is capable of weathering rough weather, and so we can relax and not be afraid of every squall or gust. And of course, there are many more milestones to reach, for I am getting increasingly aware of how many times I choose not to speak when I ought to have; or spoke when silence was a better option. But with every turn of the screw, more space is created in all my relationships. About the author Suma Varughese is a thinker, writer, seeker, latent crusader and Editor-in-Chief of Life Positive. Write to her at email@example.com
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