My wife and I recently binge-watched the TV series Imposters on Netflix. Per IMDB, this dark comedy “focuses on a female con artist who marries people and then disappears with their money.” The show touches on many themes including authenticity, betrayal and desperation.
The second season’s third episode really struck me. Maddie, the show’s antagonist, is speaking with a therapist. The therapist asks Maddie, “if you suddenly died, who would attend your funeral?” Maddie closes her eyes and envisions a near-empty chapel with only her parents and three people she scammed in attendance.
Maddie’s poorly attended funeral didn’t surprise me, but it certainly made me think about my current relationships with friends, family and colleagues. I thought about the time when my manager told me I wasn’t emotionally intelligent and how many people I may have offended along the way. Five years later, did I successfully repair those relationships?
How about you? Are there people in your lives you may have unintentionally hurt? Are you holding grudges or harbouring resentment towards anyone?
Repairing Relationships Starts with Empathy
I believe that there is no such thing as sole culpability when a relationship breaks down. People tend to focus on how the other person may have wronged them, rather than ask themselves what they could have done differently.
If you have an estranged relationship and want to repair it, can you honestly say you’re aware of the other person’s feelings, needs and concerns? Better yet, have you tried to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and tried to understand how they feel?
One of my relatives recently shared a story with me about how frustrated they were with a friend of theirs, who was “grumpy and difficult to talk to.” It had reached a point where daily phone calls or text messages between the two are now weekly at best. In my relative’s words, “I can’t take it anymore.”
What my relative failed to do was try to understand the underlying reason behind their friend’s perceived grumpiness. It turns out the friend has been living alone during the pandemic, their pet recently died and as a result, they felt completely socially isolated. As an outsider, it’s hard to not empathize with this person, knowing the hardships they’re going through and my relative has since admitted they need to do better.
I’ve shared in a previous blog how grateful I am to my psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Howlett. His thoughtful approach to my emotional well-being has really helped me cope with hardships in my life. One of the many things I have learned from him is how to express myself by orienting my thoughts to how I feel. In other words, I have learned to stop playing the blame game.
Those who know me well know that my number one priority in life is to be a good father one day, so you can imagine that my wife and my fertility struggles have taken a toll on my emotional health. While I usually feel fine, there are days when I feel sad and sometimes I get very irritable.
Last April, for example, I remember a specific conference call where the other attendees were complaining about how hard their lives were, now that their kids were home from school due to the provincial lockdown in Ontario. I remember how frustrated I was being forced to listen to these people, especially since they were keenly aware of how much I wanted to become a father. My immediate reaction was to avoid meeting with these people going forward because they clearly only cared about themselves.
The reality, however, is I was blaming others for exacerbating my sadness. My expectation that my problems outweigh everyone else’s is unrealistic and unfair. The truth is, it was up to me to share how I was feeling without blaming anyone else.
Listen Intently and Defer Judgment
I’d like you to observe your current surroundings. I’m in my bedroom. My wife is watching a video on her phone, one of my dogs is patting my arm asking me to pet him and my phone is prompting me that I received an email. I’m also hungry. It’s about 9:30 on Saturday morning and I usually eat at 7:30. And somehow, I’m writing a blog post.
Needless to say, it’s really hard to pay attention to one thing these days.
But if your intention is to repair an important relationship, you will need to listen intently, which requires giving the other person your undivided attention. You need to take in every word they say so you fully understand why they’re feeling a certain way.
You also need to defer judgment. As humans, we all have “personal filters, assumptions, judgments and beliefs which can distort what we hear.” This requires you to never rush to a conclusion. Give this person the same opportunity to be heard that you would want for yourself.
And when having this conversation, try and find a room where you will be able to minimize distractions.
Take the first step
Take time this week to think about the relationships in your life. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank them? Are there any you’d like to improve?
If so, take the first step and reach out to this person. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.