The best relationship learning I ever got was to work on myself

I used to think I did not have many issues. Yeah right… turns out I was wrong and my relationships suffered. The moment I started working on my issues and mental health was the moment my relationships became healthier and happier. Relationships are about striking a balance that brings out the best of each other. You are responsible for half of that balance. Make sure your half is healthy.

The John Francis TED talk reminds me that how we treat each other is how we treat the world. Our reality is formed in relationships. Once you start working on yourself everything around you will feel more balanced because your relationships will feel so too. I don’t suggest you start walking the earth and not talking to other, but that you look into yourself to see what needs changing. Once you work on yourself you can start to be more demanding with your relationships.

There are two i’s in relationship

It’s the old boat cliché and you’re in it together. Whatever the nature and shape of the relationship, your actions will dictate its future as much as your words. The important thing is that you have a plan. Relationships are vessels for growth. And you are the captain of a small navy with multiple different relationships and pulling you in different directions. But ships always make me think about pirates, and drifting, and hurricanes… They’re not very stable. Or very safe.

So I learned to start treating my meaningful relationships like a great company instead. Great companies have a vision for the world — the future they would like to see, and a mission — a way to get there. Meaningful relationships, I thought, are no different. You must share a vision and help each other on the mission and you’re done. (Patience was never a virtue of mine).

Gardens take time

The pragmatism of ships and companies helped me be clearer about my relationships but as metaphors go they still did not feel quite right. They were too mechanical, maybe.

After a few years I started to think about relationships more like gardens and forests. An integral part of a natural world. You still need to have a shared vision and mission but the outcome and journey are less predictable.

And that’s ok. With gardens it’s all about the love you put in on a daily basis and still, nature’s randomness will throw you surprises. The focus is less on the outcome but more on the journey. On being present. Whatever your metaphor, it must serve to show you that you do need a semblance of plan (even if the plan is carpe diem), and along the way you measure happiness.

Photo by Inês Monteiro

Measure happiness

You may just be starting out in a Oprah/Sam Harris-like journey of self discovery, or maybe your relationship’s main goal is to hang out in great company. Regardless of where you are in life’s journey, you will want to be happy.

So what is happiness? How do you know you’re happy in a relationship, in a limbo or just miserable? This is a question I have learned to ask often. It’s harder to answer than one thinks. Try it.

In order to help answer it it’s good to have a definition of happiness. I define happiness as a set of experiences of pleasure and meaning over time That’s what I want for my relationships.

I want to feel pleasure and meaning, as often as possible along the way. Pleasure and meaning. Do you have a shared sense of purpose? Are you feeling pleasure as often as possible?

But I’m sure there are other definitions of happiness out there. Pick yours and measure against it. Your relationships will make you healthier and happier. Learn and treasure them. They are everything.

Kwame Ferreira