As you reflect on 2022 and look forward to the rest of 2023, are you content with what you see in your personal, professional, and even familial relationships? I observe that many people go from day to day, month to month, and year to year with the awareness that many, most, or even all of their relationships are unsupportive or unfulfilling. Worse, they may have relationships that are harmful and toxic. People avoid addressing the underlying issues because they either don’t know what to do or they promise they’ll address relational issues later when they’re not so busy working or raising children. Do any of these sound familiar:
- What friends? Who has time for that?
- When our kids move out, my spouse and I will have time to reconnect and do things we enjoy.
- By the time I work a full day, chauffeur the kids back and forth to practice and games, and do all my other tasks, I’m lucky to eat and sleep, let alone have a meaningful conversation with another adult.
- Having friends when you’re a kid or in college is one thing, but when you’re an adult, it’s just different. It’s harder to meet people.
- After a few years of marriage and especially with raising kids, my spouse and I became more like roommates than soulmates.
- I long for a deeper connection with people and to have meaningful conversations with people who can relate to me, but I don’t even know where to start.
I want to encourage you at the beginning of this year not to kick that can any further down the road. If you feel today like you are not engaged in enough meaningful and mutually supportive relationships that give life and energy to each party, then there are some things you can do about it. First, it starts with intentionality and believing that things can be different. Second, it involves fostering and stewarding the relationships that you do have. Here are some ways that you can experience deeper and more meaningful relationships in 2023 and beyond:
- Listen to others with your eyes, mind, and heart. Have you ever noticed that while most people pass quickly with surface-level greetings, it really stands out when someone actually pauses to listen and connect like they actually care about your response? In your current relationships, be the one to move past surface-level exchanges. Pause when you talk with someone and meaningfully listen with your eyes, mind, and heart. Ask thoughtful questions that allow the person to share something beyond the surface with you. I promise you this intentionality around more meaningful connection will be noticeable and will help you develop a pattern of interpersonal interactions that foster a deeper level of engagement.
- Share what’s on your mind, with grace. So often, whether it’s a kind word or a confrontation, we avoid sharing our thoughts or feelings with others. You feel a nudge in your heart to share a piece of encouragement with someone, give them positive feedback, or tell them how much they mean to you, but you rationalize it away, telling yourself they will think you’re strange or won’t return the sentiment. On the other hand, you may find yourself wanting to challenge someone or let them know what they said was hurtful, but you decide it wouldn’t be worth it or you’re just being too sensitive. In either case, following these prompts to share genuinely from your heart (with grace if it’s a confrontation) can help you to connect more deeply and meaningfully with others in a way that is empowering and energizing for both.
- Invest in relationships. If you resonate with the idea of your spouse being more like a roommate, it doesn’t have to stay that way. You may feel powerless because even if you want things to change, the other is content to leave things as they are. Remember that you are half of the relationship. It’s impossible for you to change and things stay exactly as they are. Decide how you would like things to be different and then do what you can to implement those changes. Maybe it’s couples counseling. If you can’t get the other to go, then schedule individual counseling and work on yourself. Making yourself healthier and empowered will have an impact on the relationship! Just like a 401K or other fund, you can make steady investments in your relationship over this year that make a big difference in the long-run.
- Schedule time for connection. Just like some of your tasks won’t get done unless they make it to your personal calendar, meaningful connection is more likely to take place if you are intentional about creating opportunities. As you look forward to 2023, who are the people with whom you would like to spend more time or connect with more meaningfully? Maybe it’s you and your spouse creating a daily check-in or weekly date night. My wife and I were married on the 11th, so we try to do something on the 11th of each month at minimum. Maybe 1 or 2 friends come to mind – reach out and see if they may be interested in a weekly or monthly call, coffee, or meal. This can be as structured or unstructured as you like. For some people, it’s helpful to plan to meet on a monthly basis to check in and review personal goals. For others, it’s perfect just to schedule the time together for open and unstructured sharing. A special note for men – people sometimes think men aren’t interested in sitting around talking and you’ve got to be fixing something or playing sports. Sports and activities are great too and I love them, but I’ve reached out various times over the years to set up groups of men for this type of connection and have always had enthusiastic responses. In fact, in some cases we started out meeting monthly and moved it to as often as weekly. I’ve never had men respond with, “No thanks, I’m not really looking for connection right now.” It’s always quite the opposite.
I love the New Year season. It’s always exciting for me to think of the next year as a blank slate or a fresh canvas. I get to decide what to do with it! There’s so much opportunity ahead. Imagine an area of your life and how you want it to improve. How might things look differently at the end of the year if you approach it with intentionality and purpose throughout the year? I hope that you experience rich and meaningful connection this year as you plan to intentionally steward your relationships all year long and beyond.
~Mike Haarer, PhD, LMHC, Compass Rose Academy Vice President & Executive Director