Relationships: Healthier Work and Intimate Life

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Dana Sarhan (MSc, MFT)  Photo Emile Issa

Interpersonal relationships constitute a large part of human development on a personal and professional level. Consequently, the success of any business organization or family household is directly linked to how healthy those relationships are.

A relationship is formed by the different dynamics that two people put on the table. It can be romantic, professional, social, or parental. It becomes a system on its own.

Being able to identify what healthy relationships look like and how to make favorable changes will help build stronger bonds and better lives.

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« Into my World »   Yasmine Issa,  Collage Photo & Paint 1m  x  1m

Making Difficult Conversations Easier

As a specialist in the science of relationships, my goal is to eventually replace dysfunctional behaviors with more effective dynamics that help build human connection. As research has proven, one of the most important factors of destructive relationships is lack of effective communication skills. John Gottman, a couples therapist, has focused primarily on influential interactions. From his Love Lab research to his “Four Horsemen Apocalypse”, he has listed several communication styles that need to be avoided. One of the highest indicators of unhealthy relationships is criticism and contempt.

Both criticism and contempt come in the form of put downs, distasteful ridicule or mocking, passive aggressiveness, superiority, sarcasm, or any other expression of judgmental disapproval. When an individual unconsciously feels attacked, they respond defensively. This only builds resentment with time. It is demoralizing and emotionally unhealthy. Silent treatments are one form of passive aggressive behavior. Other examples include put downs and criticisms about your looks or behavior and also happen to be subtle forms of emotional abuse.

Effective communication skills make difficult conversations easier and include empathetic listening, encouraging, taking responsibility for one’s own emotions, and highlighting the strengths instead of picking on the weaknesses. It’s how you say it more than what you are actually saying.

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Arabic Calligraphy Art  Dana Sarhan

It’s a Two-Way Street

We often get pulled into one-sided relationships with well-intentioned people. Certain behavioral patterns and lack of boundaries can shift a connection into one that does not feel like an equal win-win situation. Boundaries are what we, psychologists, call one’s own personal space. Lack of boundaries, or too much of them, do not allow for individual growth or relationship development.

A healthy relationship involves mutual satisfaction, substantive value, and trust. It feels nourishing and nurturing to both ends, not just one. Win-win conflict resolutions include compromises from both partners to meet halfway, not sacrifices. Conversations also feel like an ongoing open space for both partners to share opinions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

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« Splash !  »    Beirut Neon Series        Photo Emile Issa

What’s Behind Emotional Exhaustion?

Whether it is corporate consulting or intimate relationships, daily interactions include a certain amount of emotional or mental investment. Choosing where you want to invest your energy is smarter than leaving yourself emotionally exhausted and physically tired at the end of the day.

Unsuccessful relationships include a partner that feels emotionally drained due to unnecessary drama, emotional instability or unhealthy attachment styles. People have different attachment styles that are formed early on in their childhood. They can either be anxious, avoidant, or secure. Attachment styles end up forming their adult relationships because this is what normal is to them. For example, the more one responds securely, the more people will respond securely in return. Understanding one’s own attachment style can help understand what is compatible and healthier to them.

Being around people who are either compatible or are able to accept and work around your own boundaries can help maintain your maximum state of wellbeing. Healthy relationships do not trigger emotional exhaustion, defensive reactions, or leave you feeling inadequate, negative, or uncomfortable. They help you grow, feel better and more constructive despite life’s stress and daily struggles.

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« In Bloom »  Michel Karsouny

Making Stressful Situations Easier

Sometimes stress can outweigh optimism, but if you feel you’re continuously unable to enjoy good moments with this person, then maybe it’s time to look back and question that relationship. A temporary phase due to inconvenient circumstances is one thing, but a constant pessimism that serves as a default state is probably unhealthy for your development.

A common yet unnoticed example is when you find yourself in a relationship or friendship with someone who doesn’t seem to be able to feel happy or celebratory with you during the small events of life. Not feeling supported during different phases is more destructive than imagined.

Nourishing relationships include healthy people who react with sympathy and concern when we are happy or upset. They are supportive, encouraging, and celebrative alongside our ups and downs and vice versa.

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« Serenade »   Beirut Neon Series     Photo Emile Issa

 The Underlying Signs of Abuse

Abuse is when one person uses destructive behavior in order to maintain psychological or physical power and control, or to force an idea, behavior, or a person on another person. Sometimes abuse can be so subtle one does not realize it. Relational abuse can be emotional, verbal, financial, sexual, or physical. Communication styles, criticism, threat, force, isolation, intimidation, emotional manipulation, blackmail, violence, or rape (even within marriage) are all abusive patterns.

Assaults, harassments, and rape cases are easier to identify and define as abuse. However, a fair amount of abuse is extremely subtle and is often unnoticed yet felt. Emotional manipulation is a common example of a behavioral pattern where one partner manipulates or uses another’s emotional state to get what they want. A relationship that somehow ends up feeling like everything seems to be your fault without a clear reason is usually one that is based on emotional manipulation. Verbal exertion of power or control is also very common. A partner who keeps threatening that “no one will ever love you the way I do” is one who needs to be in emotional control.

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« Requiem – La Folie des Grandes Personnes » Michel Karsouny

An example seen both at home and at work is the partner who forces another to continue discussing an issue at hand by either shutting the door or blocking their way so that they cannot leave a room is a clear example of a violation of personal space.

If you feel you are under threat, degraded, always at fault, or belittled, question the relationship at hand. Healthy relationships do not include any of the above.

Key Connection Between Work and Intimate Life

Treat your partner like you would your client. Being attentive, creating unique experiences, and dealing with different situations needs flexibility for change in order to create a strong base and develop. Healthy relationships are functional and supportive. They allow for productive experiences. They feel good.

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Video Art by Elias Abkar

Kamsyn, August 2016