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5 Things People Do That Make Their Relationships Difficult

5 Things People Do That Make Their Relationships Difficult

We grow through our relationship with the world and others. In short, relationships shape us big time. They are a central aspect of our life whether we admit it or not. Relationships are also an enormous source of strength, as they support us emotionally and give us a sense of belonging, love and appreciation.

It is equally true, however, that relationships can be hard to balance and maintain in healthy shape. This is mostly because they can be complex, largely depending on the emotions, needs, intentions, likes and dislikes of the other person we hold a relationship with. Some relationships can grow fragile and difficult over time. Not surprisingly many people give up on their relationship when the road becomes too difficult to thread.  What these people fail to recognise however, is that there are some fundamental things they are doing that have made that relationship difficult in the first place.

These are crucial mistakes we are all subject to overlook even though they are quite basic. Here I have listed the five most common things people do that make their relationship difficult:

They have expectations:

This is what keeps most relationships from growing harmoniously and in balance. People have a long list of expectations of how the other person should behave or respond to their actions, demands and ideas in a given situation. They create a mental model in their head of an ideal their partner needs to follow in order to be in line with their own beliefs and inner desires. When these expectations are not met, conflict arises based on disappointment, grief or frustration. The more expectations one has about the other person, the more chances there are of having those expectations unmet. Dissatisfaction builds up the more they see that the other person deviates away from their own expectations. Sometimes unmet expectations can be shocking or result in anger and resentment. “I thought you would do this for me or for us!! How could you?”  meaning I’m so shocked that your actions did not fit in my expectations of your response.

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People who are in some of the longest, happiest and healthiest relationships will all admit this little secret: They have very little expectations of the other.

They trust, forgive and appreciate the fact that the other person has his or her own individuality, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. They expect less, meaning they are more open to the other person and the relationship as a whole. Also, and equally important, they have less expectations of the relationship itself. They do not have fixed ideas of how the relationship should be or where it should take them. The live it on a day to day basis.

They blame the other:

When people are frustrated because their expectations of the other fail to be matched, they externalise that frustration out to the other. They falsely identify that the cause of their resentment, grief or frustration is the action or behaviour of the other. This is in simple words blaming the other and finding fault outside of their selves. Blaming makes relationships difficult in two major ways.

First and most obviously, it hurts the other person’s feelings. It also sends out a clear message of lack of trust in the person and the relationship itself. It creates tension and friction which might turn that relationship in a downward path.

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The second reason is that it blinds them from tracing part of the fault back to themselves as we shall see in the last point. They fail to see that their own action is always part of the equation. This is one of the hardest things to see in any relationship.

They rationalise too much:

Some people live their relationship in their head instead of their heart. They overanalyse and think too much about how things are going or what they should be doing next. Sometimes they mentally ‘grade’ the health or success of their relationship. They break down their relationship into parts and try to see those parts separately – communication, caring, sex, appearance, parenthood, number of common goals, etc. Their relationship with the other person is constantly assessed and evaluated just like a student’s progress throughout a scholastic year.

The danger with rationalising too much is that it forms expectations and as we saw, expectations create difficulty. More importantly overanalysing pushes people away from allowing the relationship to flow naturally and spontaneously – an important ingredient for growing healthy relationships. It blocks them from responding to the other from their heart because they are filtering their interactions with the other person through the rationalisation of their mind.

They judge too quickly:

Some people tend to judge too quickly even when it is uncalled for. Even with the best of intentions, judging someone is the fastest and most effective way of creating difficulty in any relationship. On many levels, judging is  always erroneous. First of all, you can never make a correct judgment about somebody no matter on the circumstances, the information you think you have at hand and how far off the mark you believe the other person is. The truth is that the feelings and thoughts you might have about someone are always partial at best. Once again feelings and thoughts about somebody are filtered through your own emotions – which are subjective by nature – and through your perspective of the whole picture which is never complete because it wouldn’t be called perspective otherwise :)

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Through judging, people send out a clear message of distrust to the other person. It is like voting down the value they give to the other in a very formal and concrete way. Judgement is also labelling and constricting the freedom of emotional response of the other person because in judging, one is saying “You are this or your are not this”. This shapes or distorts how both parties will view each other and themselves through that relationship in future interactions.

They fail to understand that relationships are  in a constant feedback loop:

All the other things mentioned above that make relationships difficult are born out from one fundamental lack of understanding. The basic principle behind relationships is that  thoughts, actions and words are reflected back through the other person’s response. In very simple words, it takes two to tango!

So what people commonly fail to understand is that the other person’s words and actions come very often as a reaction or response to their own. People’s actions are partial mirrors of ourselves.

Seeing it in another way, when we interact with others, there is always a bit of our actions in theirs because we reflect and respond back to each other’s actions like mirrors.

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Relationships are in a constant feedback loop. Failing to understand this can create all sorts of trouble. Sometimes arguments escalate to dramatic heights because one person’s reaction is reflected back by the other with greater frustration and in turn this creates an even greater reaction and so on until it spirals out of control.

Keeping always in mind that relationships are in a feedback loop can help us open our eyes to avoid all the other things that make a relationship difficult. First it makes us recognise that before blaming or passing judgement, we can always find a part of our own actions reflected in the other’s, no matter how small. This creates more objectivity and balance which in turn helps in avoiding passing judgment or blame too quickly. Secondly and more importantly, with this knowledge of feedback loops in mind we can use it positively to our advantage. People in healthy relationship understand these dynamics very well.

For example, in the argument scenario, when the other person is mad at you because of something, you can hold back from reacting even if you feel you are wrongly accused. This will close the feedback loop in a positive way and soften things up. Soon the other person will find no solid grip for his or her negative emotions  and your calmness and openness to the situation will be reflected back by the other and so on until eventually things equilibrate back into perfect balance.

Featured photo credit: Ryan McGuire via pixabay.com

More by this author

Gilbert Ross

Gilber is an expert in personal development and the creator of the online course 'Simple Living Hacks'

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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