Building good relationships takes time, and repairing broken relationships takes even more time. But, there are things you can do right now to start improving the way you relate to others, whether the relationship is with a romantic partner, an old friend, or just a casual acquaintance.
Because everyone possesses a soul that is on a journey of growth, everyone you meet is important and worthy of mindful attention and basic respect. Also, every person you encounter, even if they are only there for a moment at the grocery checkout or passing by on the street, is there for your growth, serving as a mirror that reflects something back to you about the condition of your own soul.
How you react and interact with people tells you something about the health of your soul, and the more you learn to cultivate love and respect for everyone, the more opportunities your soul will have for growth. Most relationships, however, are burdened by negative assumptions and habits. Here’s how you can turn that around today:
1. Look for assets, not flaws.
Relationships start to crumble when people focus on weaknesses they see in other people rather than on strengths. This way of thinking can make us blind to the many good traits others possess. The person’s negative habit then becomes his or her total identity (i.e., “He is a liar,” “She is overly emotional”), which is never completely true. So, even if you notice some glaring character flaws, be sure to look for the good ones, too.
2. Acknowledge the perfection of all souls.
Never forget that every human on this planet is a soul on a journey of growth during this lifetime. That flawless, immortal soul is the true identity of that person, regardless of what masks they may wear here on earth. When people wrong you or annoy you, never forget that that soul is there somewhere inside, even if hidden from view.
3. Distinguish interpretation from fact.
Be careful not to project negative intent onto people where it may not exist. Language is imperfect, so when something is said that offends you, remember that it may not be intended the way you assume. Likewise, do not take people’s actions personally, even if they seem to slight you in some way. The other person may have motivations and rationale that you cannot perceive.
4. Watch your own defensiveness.
Sometimes, it is tempting to hurt others with words of deeds if we have been hurt. If they say something mean, for example, we naturally want to retort with an even more biting insult. This is the ego defending itself, trying to win a never-ending game of one-upmanship. This can lead to an endless cycle of people hurting and hating one another. If you want to live by the soul rather than the ego, watch yourself closely and break egoic habits of this sort.
Gratitude is a foundational spiritual practice, and this should extend to the people in your life. Instead of taking people for granted, be sure to remind them of their value when you can by expressing your appreciation regularly.
6. Give without expectation.
Generosity is a gift to yourself since it lifts your spirit and gives your life a sense of purpose. After all, our lives have little meaning if we only live for ourselves. Avoid the tendency to expect something more from what you give, such as recognition or pay-back from others. When you help someone else, it is nice if they reciprocate, but it is best to give without expecting anything in return.
7. Drop your need to compare.
We cannot relate to each other well if we are eternally caught up in a better-than/less-than dynamic. Unfortunately, our societies are often obsessed with this form of duality, constantly creating ways to rank people according to their comparative status. The ways we rank and compare are practically limitless, ranging from financial status to fashion choices to political persuasion. Not only does this lead us to downgrade others, we downgrade ourselves, as well, since it is impossible to always end up on top of the heap. Instead, realize that every situation has value. Whether we are rich or poor or fat or thin, everything is there for our growth.
8. Seek happiness through yourself, not through others.
Sometimes, people think that being in the right in-crowd or meeting the perfect partner is the key to happiness. While others can bring richness and enjoyment to our lives, ultimately only we can make our own happiness. If you expect a mate or a friend to do something to make you happy, you are bound to struggle in your relationships since true happiness can only be found within yourself.
9. Communicate mindfully.
Caring about others means caring about how our words affect them. Also, it means being as honest and straightforward as possible. Use great care to choose words that directly convey your intended message, not beating around the bush. If there is misunderstanding, find a way to communicate more completely and clearly. When you communicate with someone, be there fully. Be present. Put other activities aside such as checking smartphones, watching TV, or engaging in anything else during the conversation.
10. Forgive quickly.
Building up walls against other people will never right any wrong that has been done. If you are hurt by someone’s words or deeds, express your feelings in a mindful way, but don’t linger in resentment about it, even if they do not acknowledge the wrong. You can walk away if the injury continues, but do your best to avoid striking back since that only perpetuates the harm being done. Whether you walk away or rebuild bridges, understand that this other person is a growing soul deserving of forgiveness, just like you.
Relationships are a spiritual practice that follows us through our daily lives. Meditation, yoga, prayer, contemplation, and spiritual workshops do little if we don’t apply spiritual precepts to our everyday relationships. Through our daily, one-on-one interactions, individual consciousness can be lifted a little bit, and from there communities, nations, and even the world can be lifted up, too. So, let’s not neglect this important spiritual practice called “relationships.”