How To Strengthen, Loosen, And Let Go Of Your Relationships & Connections

Photo: getty
How To Strengthen, Loosen, And Let Go Of Your Relationships & Connections
Self

No doubt you’ve experienced how connections with other people can range from marvelous to messy, from promising to prosaic. Each tendency naturally varies over time, just as the individuals themselves often do.

Healthy communication is key to strengthen current worthwhile relationships. You’ll also find choices for loosening and letting go of the connections that don’t contribute so clearly to your well-being and even to other individuals.

RELATED: The Couples’ Guide To Difficult Conversations: Effective Communication & Conflict Resolution Tips

They include any that detract from, limit, or hinder your quality of life and possibilities.

Depending on habits, personalities, and motivations, connections ebb and flow. They can deepen as well as bring meaning and delight, especially when values are in sync.

Connections can also get stuck in routines of automatic reactions and activities. Sometimes, they wither from lack of awareness and attention until they lose energy, go poof, or snap angrily.

A “poof” happened to me when my brother-by-choice of over 20 years just stopped communicating. Despite our regular connection, mutual assistance, and caring, he did not respond to several calls and emails over a few months.

I felt hurt and shocked, as did many of our friends in common. Ultimately, I had to let go of appreciating him as a significant, valuable person in my life whom my mother and I had loved ─ and thinking I could solve the mystery of his silence without communication.

The power and value of communication.

As you’ve probably experienced, styles of communication in themselves influence relationships. For example, do you tend to be direct or indirect, hoping others are good guessers and avoiding the perceived risk of being clear about what you really prefer or want?

How patient a listener are you? Do you stay alert to your own and others’ nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and facial expressions? Do you check out your assumptions about others’ needs and concerns?

To appreciate your connections and build a better future, now may be the time to get a deeper and wider sense of your choices.

The content of your decisions about them are clues to what you truly want, consciously and unconsciously ─ and implicitly what you are willing to do to get it! In turn, they reflect the important question of, “How do you want to live?”

In fact, it’s your answer and further communication with yourself that influences the outcomes your choices lead to.

So, this process provides several layers for considering the relationships you want to claim, loosen, and let go.

The most important is to start with yourself for an inside-out perspective that contributes to invoking your agency. Such influence can also relate to your work where you often communicate with people who engage and sometimes frustrate you.

Following are suggested strategies to support how you want to live in relationship with others. That’s a tall order which will benefit from your critical, creative thinking about actions you’re willing to take. It will be enriched by conversations about choices with people you like and trust.

Relationships to claim and deepen...

Here are some guiding questions for developing and doing whatever contributes to improving worthwhile connections that you have now and want to cultivate.

Adapt them to your situation and add your own to express your own voice and values. Some can cross-fertilize and contribute to other kinds of relationships, as well.

1. How complementary or reinforcing are your interests and values?

If they’re similar, still explore what you can learn and identify for stretching and strengthening.

When your backgrounds, interests, and curiosities differ, imagine the possible adventures, opportunities for mutual learning, and variety available.

Here’s a lauded children’s book for inspiring passages: "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" by Kate DiCamillo

2. Do you look forward to meeting with, conversing, and sharing experiences with this person?

3. How comfortable do you feel being honest and open?

Do you work out any differences eventually and benefit from learning from one another, versus falling into automatic, reactive routines or what’s merely comfortable?

4. Do you respect the choices and perspectives of the person, whether or not you agree with them?

5. Do you enjoy being together much of the time while appreciating one another’s needs and concerns ─ even quirks?

RELATED: 6 Ways To Deal With People Who Have Serious Anger Issues (Without Losing Your Cool)

Relationships to loosen...

As a prelude to loosening connections, notice the time, energy, and assistance you devote to a particular person.

Loosening could involve pulling back on aspects that don’t serve your interests and values, unless you want to define what loosening means to you differently.

Whatever your definition, though, set some better boundaries for yourself. By expressing them gently, diplomatically, and clearly, new vistas for you and possibly the other person could open.

This approach helps when the individual is overly dependent on you, demanding, or a taker.

With these aspects in mind, consider what skills and habits of the person may be susceptible to improvement. Could you encourage that, providing you don’t reinforce the taking tendency by being a giver only?

At the same time, be alert to their deeper personal issues behind the behaviors that are beyond your influence and expertise for which they need other help.

You could be postponing their healing and growth ─ and your own ─ by remaining the go-to person.

1. How would you describe the give and take of the relationship over time?

If it’s a one-way street, ask yourself why you continue engaging with a person whose focus is primarily on their own needs and preferences?

Would you benefit from becoming more comfortable with negotiation and conflict management by learning and practicing such generally useful skills?

2. What do you enjoy about the connection that you can encourage?

Or does it tend to be habitual, reactive, or just easily accessible to you? Perhaps the connection helps you to avoid seemingly onerous things to do that would serve your own important priorities.

Depending on your insights, experiences, and emotions, how will you specifically influence the relationship so that it could be more interesting and less limiting? The person’s receptivity to a shift or change in your behavior could indicate the potential ─ or lack of it ─ for improvement.

3. What time and resources do you give to the relationship relative to other interests and commitments?

For a while, can you keep a log of actions and time with the person as a reality test and motivator for moderating your support?

That could expose the tangible and intangible value of what you get from your involvement relative to other connections and activities with greater meaning and value in your life.

For additional inspiration, explore Viktor Frankl’s book, "Say Yes to Life."

Connections to let go, kindly and incrementally or right away, when they are disruptive, draining, or destructive.

First, ask yourself whether or not you feel safe with the person. If not, I suggest you consult with a professional about how to extricate yourself effectively.

When the connection is unpleasant, has little meaning, or uses too much of your nonrenewable time, here are some options you could adapt or apply as soon as possible.

Develop strategies for avoiding the person, such as not responding to their outreach, having a few explicit reasons for why you are not available, or briefly suggesting alternative assistance and actions.

But at some point, you may just have to tell the person that you regret that you have other commitments that preclude assisting or being available to them. (Keep in mind that the more you give to the person, the more likely they will keep asking, sustaining the “expectations cycle.”)

Perhaps the person just tires you out. Then decide how open you want to be about your concerns or indicate you don’t have the energy or life situation that allows the same or further contact with them.

Avoid getting into an argument over it by repeating your point of view. If the person pushes you further, perhaps say something such as, “I hope you heard what I said twice; please understand I don’t think there’s anything to discuss further with you." 

Then, go silent or physically move away. If you’re on the phone or the internet, you can just click off. Though that may feel rude, allowing the conversation to continue will keep open the door you want to close.

Alternatives if you feel stuck...

I realize these suggestions are not always easy to adapt and implement, given family commitments especially. Nor are many of them quick fixes. There may be some associations, beliefs, even dependencies that keep you static.

Perhaps you need the person’s emotional or financial support and don’t want to risk losing it. If so, name one idea for action to temporarily distract yourself from such assumptions and to free yourself for some pleasures you explore.

Another inhibition is that the connection is intrinsic to your sense of identity. Or reluctance to let go might be a misplaced or an unexamined sense of loyalty.

Maybe it’s not possible to marshal additional assistance for the person given your resources or others’ resistance and indifference.

Could what you feel be your sense of sunk costs over the years trapping you into wanting to try “just one more thing” or hanging in. Then what will you do?

This situation would probably benefit from professional assistance or collaboration to develop and act on manageable plans within a timeframe that’s viable.

To start, map out who will guide you, how you will take specific steps forward, and the resources you’ll want and need. That includes some practical experience with saying "no" to your own automatic responses, as well as to the other person.

In any event, this could be the hardest part because it involves your continuing commitment, patience, and strengthening confidence as well as some risks.

As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are.”

You have experience, common sense, and abilities already that will lead you to improve self-care. Start with small, manageable, consistent steps that move you toward the life you want.

Keep adjusting your plan and strategies as need be and as you get new or deeper insights, hope, and motivation from continuing progress.

Eventually, your choices and actions will take you to enduring better relationships that you enjoy and value, to loosening those that distract you from being true to your own needs and authentic preferences, and to freeing or loosening yourself from unhealthy connections and situations.

RELATED: 3 Ways To Deal With People You Hate (Because Sorry, You Have To)

Sign Up for the YourTango Newsletter

Let's make this a regular thing!

Ruth Schimel, Ph.D., is a career and life management consultant and author of the Choose Courage series on Amazon. Obtain the bonus first chapter of the upcoming, Happiness and Joy in Work: Preparing for Your Future on her website, where you’ll also find your invitation for a free consultation.

Author
Expert