Most relationships can be fixed. That sounds like a bold statement, right? Well, having worked to strengthen or resurrect well over 5,000 personal and professional relationships during the past 25 years, I promise you it is true.
Every relationship is a co-authored story. That includes marriages, friendships, business partnerships and employer-employee relationships. The tricky part is that the co-authored story is written by writers who each have a “back story,” meaning a life history. The experiences each has had can and will influence the new relationship—sometimes favorably and sometimes not, sometimes rationally and sometimes not.
Think of a Venn diagram—the kind with two circles that intersect and share a shaded area. The shaded area is where there is potential for great things like a meeting of the minds and synchronicity. Each person’s prior experiences and relationships can provide fuel for synergy. But it is also where there is the potential for negative things to happen. Because each person’s prior relationships can also trigger prejudging the other person, feeling rage that was actually kindled long ago by prior conflicts and having outsized expectations that really relate to unfulfilled needs going back, sometimes, all the way to childhood.
Here’s an example: Think about the Vice President of a company. He has not only worked for a company in which the CEO promised him compensation that was never delivered, but he was also the youngest of four children in his family and, due to a reversal in his parents’ business, needed to fund his own education (whereas his siblings did not). There is every possibility that the VP will see his interactions with the CEO through a lens contaminated by his prior feelings of being shortchanged or treated differently than others. And the sources of that perspective won’t be known by the CEO, who may have only the best of intentions and find the VP to be “paranoid.”
Believe it or not, “fixing” this relationship, which has roots that actually reach back decades, is achievable quickly—by helping the VP understand where his exaggerated or misplaced feelings are actually coming from. That will clear the current landscape of “pollution” from the past.
Here’s a mini-course on how to make this happen:
- Assume that very strong, seemingly inexplicable feelings being voiced by someone with whom you seek common ground are not necessarily about the moment at hand, or even the relationship at hand, but may be based in other experiences or relationships.
- Ask the other person, empathetically but directly, whether it is possible that your current relationship with him or her is being negatively impacted by any other disappointing relationship or anyone else’s shortcoming.
- See if the two of you can agree to “reset” and move forward toward a truly positive connection that is “win-win.”
I don’t think it will be seen as self-promoting for me to suggest that a professional coach or counselor can greatly expedite and optimize this process. The same is true when marriages are threatened. Or other family relationships. Or friendships. The point is this: Human understanding, camaraderie and even deep love can be found in that shaded area of a Venn diagram where two lives intersect, once the past is put in its proper place.
Dr. Keith Ablow