Monday, July 15, 2013

Emotional Maturity: Growing Up on the Inside

Aging happens to all of us who happen to live into adulthood, but emotional maturity is optional. What are the signs of emotional maturity? Here's a checklist of some of the things emotionally mature people need to master:

1.You don't pout.

2.You are direct with others.

3.You recognize that other people are allowed to have different wants, needs, and feelings than you do.

4.You handle conflict like a grown up, calmly, and respectfully.

5. You are responsible with your money.

6.You don't throw tirades or temper tantrums. You are not a bully.

7.You don't blame other people.

8.You take responsibility for making your own life meaningful and developing a purpose.

9.You listen to others from your heart, not just expect others to listen to you.

10.You take responsibility for your own health, both mental and physical. You have an exercise and food plan.

11. You can set limits and boundaries with others.

12.You take responsibility for your own emotions- sadness, anger, frustration, boredom, irritability.

13.You don't threaten or manipulate others to get your own way.

14.You don't use alcohol or drugs in order to cope or numb your feelings.

15.You set meaningful goals and work towards them.

16. You see your own part in things, and have a willingness to change what you are doing if it's needed.

17.You demonstrate values and flexibility.

18.You keep your expectations reasonable. You don't expect others to read your mind.

19.You are willing to negotiate so that both you and others get what you want and need.

20.You realize you are not more important than other people. You have compassion for others.

21.You experience and express gratefulness frequently.

22. You don't take things too personally. Often, it's not personal.

23.You operate from a place of integrity.

24.You understand there is usually another side of the story.

25.You can express affection, and open up and be vulnerable when it's safe and appropriate to do so.

26.You can forgive.

27.You can and do encourage others.

28.You don't complain and gossip to a third party.

29.You are impeccable with your word. You follow through as promised.

30.You don't spend time worrying about what other people think about you.

These are some of the signs I look for in people to demonstrate emotional maturity. We don't have to be perfect, but striving continually to operate from a mature position is a wonderful place to come from. Emotional maturity is a beautiful thing at any age, and it grows only more valuable over time.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Most Important Ingredient

There is one essential ingredient to all relationships. This includes love relationships and marriages, as well as relationships between parent and child, between siblings, in friendships, as well as in the workplace. It serves as a starting place and foundation upon which all other actions and behaviors follow. Can you guess what it is?

It's mutual respect.

Seeing the humanity and dignity in each other is a key part of having successful relationships. It means that you don't feel you are a better person than the other person. It recognizes that they are allowed to have separate and different feelings or opinions than you do. In fact, it's the differences which keep things interesting in relationships.

Mutual respect means you talk to the other person using a kind, polite, and respectful tone. You abandon sarcasm. You are honest and direct. You don't play games. You are skilled enough to let the other person know directly if you are upset with something that they have done. You don't yell, scream, belittle, or ignore the other person.

Withholding and shutting out a loved one or friend is actually one of the most destructive and hostile actions you can take. That behavior pattern, of ignoring and freezing someone out, is passive-aggressive, and extremely hurtful and unskilled.

Mutual respect in families means children are respectful of parents but also that parents role-model this mutual respect in the way they speak to their children. Teaching our children by example about how to create and maintain mutually supportive and respectful relationships is about the best training for life we can give them. They will needs these relational skills all of their lives. We hand them the blueprints for their future relationships.

Couples need to examine the blueprints they got from their parents. Were your parents mutually supportive and respectful? Or did Dad criticize Mom to the kids? Did Mom belittle Dad to her friends? How did their patterns unconsciously infiltrate your own behaviors and attitudes towards your partner? You can choose to rewrite the script in your generation, and not continue the multigenerational transmission of disrespectful behaviors flow through you to your own children.

Mutual respect in friendships means your friends don't have to be exactly like you. Neither one of you is always right. Your true friend can be different from you in many ways, but there is that sacred trust, understanding, and acceptance.

If a child you are in a relationship with is disrespectful, you can be an influence for good by teaching them how to do better. Make sure you are not role modeling or enabling the same primitive behavior.
Emotionally mature adults don't participate in disrespectful behavior as payback.

With an adult child who is being disrespectful towards you, it's important to discuss how and why you feel disrespected, and communicate effectively and calmly what you need them to do in the future to make you feel more respected. You also need to make sure your own expectations of a self-supporting adult child are reasonable, and that you also treat them with the respect they are due. (Hint: you don't get to pick who they date, for example.) Respect should operate both directions.

If you are in a relationship with an adult who is disrespectful towards you, it will not magically get better. You must shift internally and renegotiate the relationship terms, knowing that disrespect is unacceptable to you. Perhaps the other person respond to the truth of your observations, and be willing to change, and give up their disrespectful behaviors and tone with you. If not, you may need to require them to go with you to remedy the situation by going to counseling to break the old relational patterns and get support and skills for doing better.

If the other person is not willing or interested in changing their disrespect, you may need to alter or sever the relationship for your own well-being. It is not healthy to stay in relationship with someone who disrespects, belittles, and dishonors you. Every human being has a right to expect better.

In Gestalt terms, relationships  between adults that have this disrespect have to be shifted from relating from a critical parent stance towards a partner as an errant child, to a more adult to adult way of relating.

Mutual respect means you don't just expect to be listened to, you also stop to listen from your heart to understand the other person. You don't play "victim" as if you are without any part in misunderstandings or upsets. You own your own part. You apologize when you are wrong and try to do better.

When you are cooking and leave out a key ingredient, like eggs in a cake, everything falls apart. It won't rise the way it should. The same is true in your close relationships. Don't forget the mutual respect, or you won't be creating anything of value. Anyone who isn't able or willing to learn how to respect you, just as you respect them, might be worth unloading or restricting their access to you. Mutually respectful relationships are your birthright.                                

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What If Your Partner Doesn't Meet All Your Needs?

Contrary to  the movies, popular culture and the Bachelor/Bachelorette TV franchise, having a happy life requires more than a loving relationship with a partner. Putting all your relationship eggs in one basket may put too many expectations and too much pressure on your love relationship.

I like the Buddhist saying, "before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." The same is true about life before and after finding a life partner. Both before and after, we need friends, hobbies and passions, interests of our own, work that is meaningful, an exercise and self-care plan, a spiritual life, and the ability to spend some time alone.

When people are dating, they often are looking for someone who will make them happy and fulfilled. When people fall in love, their world often revolves around the beloved for some time. At some point, a few months or a year or two into the relationship, most people realize that they will suffocate each other if they don't also balance the couples time with time with other friends and activities. The truth is that even happy couples don't stay perpetually "in love." Over the course of a long-term relationship, couples often go through phases of feeling "in love" and not. That's normal.

Happy people realize that being in love or happily partnered doesn't mean to demand or extract your happiness from that other person. You are still responsible for your own happiness, sense of purpose,  developing yourself, and keeping connected to healthy friends. As it turns out, some separate activities and interests can keep things interesting. (Think Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who were happily married despite his passion for car racing, and her love for ballet. They were happily married over 50 years before Newman's death.)

Maybe happily ever after looks more multi-faceted than we were led to believe. Readjusting expectations of marriage and couples' relationships is healthy. Developing a healthy, sustainable love relationship is just a part of the bigger picture of building a happier life.