It’s been almost a year since I launched my 'Thrive in Shanghai' platform and had the pleasure to connect with you all. As 2017 approaches its end, it can only mean one thing, a time for reflection…
This has been a year full of pleasures, rediscovering, giving and growing for me, and since this is my last blog post of 2017 I want it to be special. Today, I want to share with you one of my most important insights from 2017, namely, the need for cultivating meaningful relationships.
You might ask, “What’s so great about social connections?” Well…this goes back to our evolution. Without fostering reciprocative relationships human beings would not have been able to reproduce and survive. We’ve evolved to be socially conscious creatures and our brains are wired to experience rewards during positive social interactions.
However, meaningful friendships don’t just happen. They’re cultivated through conscious actions that require time and energy. When I say friends, I’m talking about your 'real friends', people who if you call them at 2 am will pick up your call and help with whatever you need. I’m talking about people who accept you fully with all of your quirks. If you can’t think of at least one person who would stop everything at the drop of a hat just to help you out, then perhaps it is time to rethink your behaviour. You might ask, “Why?” Well, our wellbeing depends on meaningful social connections and even scientists have recognised the importance of it. (Diener et al., 2002; Finchan & Beach, 2010; Cameron et al., 2003)
So, where does one start?
I used to be a pretty selfish friend and expected my friends to give without offering much in return, hence my friendships weren’t very soul nourishing. Now, my attitude has changed and I invest a lot of time, energy and love into cultivating relationships with people I care about. I’ve realised connecting with others brings me so much joy and meaning.
Over the last year, I have learnt that to make real friends, I needed to show up i.e. be the friend I desire. I understood that to have friends who are authentic, supportive and loving, I needed to be all these things.
How do I show my love to my friends, well…I don’t take them for granted - I frequently check-in with them, by sending them messages and voice notes to remind them how grateful I am to have them in my life. I give without hesitations and I’m not afraid to ask for help. I talk to them openly and accept them fully with all their quirks! When my friends succeed in something, I am their biggest cheerleader.
What do I get in return?
Well… when I’m with my friends I smile and laugh a lot! They bring so much joy and happiness into my life and they continue to surprise me with their genuine curiosity and accepting nature. Of course, it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns and we have our disagreements, but by giving each other space, talking things through and listening without becoming defensive or blaming one another, we manage to resolve our differences and strengthen the friendship as a result.
I’ve recently asked some of my friends to tell me why they are friends with me? Why are they willing to be there for me no matter what. These are some of the responses:
“You’re a very loyal friend… in the sense, you have my back!”
“You’ve a spirit of adventure and a curiosity about things”
“You take pleasure in little things”
“I love how you talk to people, no matter their status in life”
“You’re authentic to the point of extreme honesty - ha! And I always know where I stand with you”
“You’re truly committed to me and my life - through the good and bad times”
“You’re one of the most real people I know”
“You’re hilarious and make me laugh”
“You’re very encouraging to those around you”
“I love how you handle confrontations and aren’t scared to be straight with people”
My desire and efforts to create loving and authentic friendships have definitely paid off and I am very grateful for my current circle of friends.
Now, let’s move on to a soulmate, aka a relationship with the ONE.
Some people stay madly, head-over-heels in love with each other while others let their relationships descend to mediocracy. LOVE in order to thrive, just like friendship, requires actions. People I see in happy relationships invest a lot of positive energy into each other. They have date-nights, without their phones on! They have beautiful routines such as cooking together, going for walks, leaving love notes, having very regular sexual intimacy, and more! They recognise that being in a loving relationship is a daily commitment. I know what you’re thinking… how can I make the time for all this? Let’s not use time as an excuse as we all have things we want to achieve or need to do. The truth is that if you don’t create space for your relationship to flourish, it won’t do it by itself.
Why is investing in your loving relationship so important?
Even when you meet your soulmate, a person you connect with on every level, there will be times when you are both in the flow and feel inspired and happy, but there will also be times when you feel down and stressed. The key is to support each other and hold space for the other person. If a person you love is going through a difficult period in his or her life, be their rock and ask yourself, “How can I support my partner?”, “How can I make his or her day brighter, happier?” When you’re feeling fed up go back to the time when you first met and remind yourself what it was that attracted you to them in the first place.
The grass is always greener on the other side.
We often think that other people have happier relationships, that his or her husband/wife is so much better, kinder and so on. But the truth is that the grass isn’t greener on the other side, the grass is greener where you watered it. The issues we usually experience in our current relationships are mostly resolvable. If you call it quits at the first sight of a difficulty and are jumping from one relationship to another, then the same problems are likely to follow you into your next relationships. So stop! Evaluate not the person you’re with but evaluate the relationship itself. There is always going to be someone you find cuter, smarter, richer, more handsome… but this does not mean you will have a better relationship with that person. Sometimes we run away from great relationships for the wrong reasons.
However, if there are many more downs than ups and you have no more energy to give, then perhaps it’s better to let it go.
Sometimes, we’re bound to outgrow our partner, and the love we once shared is no longer nourishing us. Also, if there are problems in our relationship, both people need to be willing to make an effort and come together with open hearts. If your partner's heart is closed, then you can’t fight for something that isn’t on offer. Once we become aware that we’re compromising our happiness by staying in an unhappy relationship, then it might be better to go our separate ways. Even though breakups can be very painful, if we act with respect for one another, we might emerge feeling better in the end. Ultimately letting go doesn’t mean we don’t care for the other person, but it means we love and respect ourselves more. By staying in a relationship that brings you down, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and the other person.
Now, let’s talk about the biggest barrier to any relationships, aka EXPECTATIONS
If you want to cultivate happy relationships, drop your expectations with the SHOULDS and SHOULDN’TS we place on other people. There is no such thing as,“You should do this for me… because you are my friend/husband/wife/sister etc.” or “shouldn’t do…” Who makes up all these rigid rules about the way we are expected to behave towards each other? In fact, let’s face it these rules are made up in our heads then nobody can be realistically expected to live up to all of our expectations. Embrace and accept your partner for who they are. Let go of your expectations, especially those that you have not articulated properly, if these expectations haven’t been talked about then their are just fantasy. Fantasy and reality rarely match. If there are things you want your partner to do for you be honest about it but don’t “should” them. Perhaps replace it with “I would rather…” or “I would prefer… “
What about dating?
2017 was the first year in the last 13 years that I was truly single. I chose to be single as I needed the time to heal before I could see myself in a romantic relationship again. During this time I learnt to be happy with myself and explore my deepest desires by being committed to nourishing myself and cultivating friendships.
In 2018 I’m ready for dating, are you? These are some of the strategies/questions I've asked myself recently before I fully engage with the Shanghai dating scene.
1. What is it that you’re looking for in your soulmate? Be as specific as possible, perhaps even write it down. Don’t compromise on your core values but at the same time remain open.
2. Men and Women both love sex but… are you interested in casual sex? If not, then don’t get emotionally engaged with people who are. If you engage in casual sex, then all you’ll end up with is a sex buddy, not a partner!
3. What are your healthy emotional and physical boundaries? Be specific and make sure they match. Never put up with any kind of disrespectful behaviour from a man.
4. What’s your love language i.e. your relationship style? Do you need to send love notes daily? Do you need to be covered in hugs and kisses? Do you need to be given flowers from time to time? If so, and his style differs a lot from you, perhaps you aren’t a good match.
The key when you meet somebody it to remain open but at the same time to stay emotionally and physically safe before letting men into your heart... and pants. And remember always be your genuine, feminine self, be comfortable in “your own skin” and never pretend to be someone you’re not!
Have fun dating!
Ultimately, there are three core ingredients for happy relationships:
LOVE & RESPECT & GRATITUDE
I hope 2017 was the year you lived and loved well. Instead of looking back at this year and thinking about all that you have not yet achieved, reflect on how much you have grown. I hope you will finish this year with a sense of pride. Remember you’re sooooo worthy of everything you desire. If you do feel stagnant or blocked in any way then take care of your energy by figuring out how to love yourself and other people fully. I wish you a LOVE ABLE 2018!
P.S. If you liked today’s article, please share this blog post with anyone you think might benefit from reading it or working with me. I'll see that you get bonus karma points for taking the few seconds to do so. Thank you x
Izabela Your Certified Primal Health Coach