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Over the next several weeks, we are going to write a series on improving our relationships, particularly family relationships.
It will probably be a five- or six-part series, and it may not run consistently every week — we may feel the need to break away some weeks to write on a current topic — but over time we hope to present some ideas that will help readers think differently about their relationships and improve them in significant ways. Today’s column will be an introduction.
We would like to ask you to think about your life in a sort of binary way, being made up of two primary things: achievements and relationships. Almost everything we do, every energy we expend, every goal or plan we have are aimed at one or the other. Both are broad categories.
Achievements can take place at work, in sports or music, in church callings and just in the everyday tasks of life. Relationships exist with spouse, children, friends, co-workers, neighbors and even strangers we may meet any day. It is hard to think of anything that we do or would want to do that is not some kind of an achievement or relationship.
Most people, when asked what is most important to them, choose relationships. We tend to think of achievements as “things” and of relationships as people, and most of us declare that people are more important than things.
Yet when we calculate or keep track of how much time and mental energy we devote to each, we usually get the opposite result. We seem to work harder at achievements than at relationships.
Why is this the case?
Perhaps it is because we are generally better at (and better trained for) achievements than relationships. Very little of our schooling deals with relationships, and at work we are more often measured by our achievements than by our relationships.
We know how to set achievement goals, and they lend themselves to time frames and sequencing and percentages and short-term goals that lead to long-range goals. If I want to make a certain amount of money in 10 years, I can figure out what I have to do this year and next year and the year after that, and I can measure exactly how far I still have left to go.
If I want a promotion at work, I can set the goals and make the plans to get what I want. If I want a new car, I can quantify how much it costs and how much I need to save for it or pay on it each month.
But how do we do that goal-setting and quantifying with our relationship goals? Can we say “I want to have a 100 percent perfect marriage in 10 years, so my goal for this first year is to get 10 percent perfect"? It just doesn’t work the same way!
What we want to do in this column over the next several weeks is to shift some paradigms, resolve some paradoxes and solve some problems by suggesting some organized, deliberate steps by which our most important family relationships can truly be changed, upgraded, and prioritized.
You will not like all of the ideas, and indeed you may come up with some better ones of your own. But the goal is to get us all thinking more about the relationships that we say are the most important part of our lives and to be proactive in making them better rather than simply letting them go or leaving them to chance.
They won’t mean much to you without explanation, but some of the directions we will take in this series are: 1. How to strengthen commitments to the point where your most important relationships take on complete security and synergistic interdependence. 2. How to set relationship goals by writing an actual description of the relationship you want with a particular person five years from now. 3. How to “program yourself” to respond and react positively to someone you love in various unexpected situations and scenarios. 4. Communication and listening techniques that promote real empathy. And 5. Exercises and methods for resolving conflicts with those you love.
To help us with the series, please take the brief survey at left.
We will give the results in a future column.