Life is too short. Suffering is optional: How to Make Every Relationship Peaceful
You have probably heard the first part of the Serenity Prayer:
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference."
This is a well-known mantra meant to offer people peace in times of struggle. At our company, we take a similar approach when we are feeling unpeaceful about a relationship or engagement that is not set up for success.
When in any relationship that isn't working, personal or professional, we have three paths forward:
- Courage to change
- Humility to accept
- Wisdom to walk away
Sometimes referred to as "toxic" relationships, these are the partnerships, significant others, friends, or family members that are not producing the desired results and causing tension and suffering for all involved. In every relationship, you are surviving or you are thriving; if you are just surviving, you are not peaceful.
It is one thing to know why it is important to choose one of the three paths, but it is life-changing to live that way and take action.
Reflect on relationship
If you are not having meaningful conversations in every relationship, it can leave you feeling unpeaceful and unhappy. You might feel like you are wasting your time and your life. So the first step toward a successful relationship is to decide if you are committed to it. If yes, it is time for introspection. If no, then why are you wasting your peace? Suffering is always optional.
Additionally, determine if the other person is open to transforming the relationship. Are they willing to accept feedback, engage in meaningful conversations, and put in the work?
Without openness, there can be no change and the suffering will continue.
Once you have decided you are committed to the relationship and you have evaluated the other person's openness, it's time to reflect and choose.
Now that you are present to the fact that the relationship isn't working, it is time to get brutally honest with yourself and your responsibility in the matter.
- Are you making the other person wrong?
- Is it about you or about others?
- Can you love more, listen more, help more, provide more?
Sometimes you can't answer these questions yourself. In those cases, it is helpful to find an unbiased mentor or coach to help you explore what you are missing in your evaluation of the situation.
When you do this kind of reflection, there might be some concern that the other person will take advantage of you if you give more but let's be very clear;
Taking responsibility for your role in transforming the relationship is powerful.
It changes the dynamic from one of tension to one of love. It doesn't mean there isn't accountability on the other person; it means that you are going to start first and decide on a plan of action.
Courage to Change
Why does it take courage to support another person in their transformation? Because there will be challenges along the way and our natural tendency is to protect ourselves while also avoiding hurting other people. In order to make meaningful progress toward a powerful relationship, you must have the courage to say what needs to be said in a loving way without worrying about what the other person thinks. You must have the courage to willingly show up for that person and be vulnerable. But courage belongs to both parties. Ask yourself, "Can I change myself and help the other person identify areas they need to change?"
Courage in action:
- Lovingly inquire if others know who they are for themselves
- Make sure they also see if there is a need to change in a relationship
- Agree on and create a common vision for the relationship
- Help them to overcome habits, moods, and feelings without making anyone wrong
- Know when you need to adjust yourself and work through differences together
A relationship where change was critical for me personally and for our business was with my business partner. When I first met him, I could see he wanted to make a difference in the world but he was caught up in his own narrative of why life was so constrained. There was willingness but no action. People around him were unhappy and he was unpeaceful. This showed up in his day-to-day life as anger and frustration so one day I asked him, "Why are you so abrupt and short? Why are you making others feel bad or small?"
He responded, "That's who I am."
"Do you like being that way?" I asked.
I continued by asking him, "If you don't like it, why are you not changing?"
The world opened up for him in that conversation. He got present to the impact it was having on our relationship and business and then the common vision became clear. From then on, conversations changed and he realized he didn't need to be this way, that he had a say in who he was.
Since that conversation, it has been years of breakdowns and breakthroughs. He has done tough work to overcome his habits, moods, and feelings. In all that time, I have shown up as a vulnerable and courageous friend who holds him accountable and encourages him to continue his journey. He has always been a powerful human being who wanted to make a difference; now he has the courage to make it happen.
Humility to Accept
Sometimes there are relationships you can't walk away from -- mainly family. In these relationships, you can either suffer or accept it as it is. Accepting does not mean that you accept forever. It means you accept for now with the commitment to the possibility for transformation later. And the reason it takes humility is because you care for them and your own desires or goals take a back seat. You have identified there is a possibility for growth but you also recognize it won't happen on your timeline or the way you want it to.
Humility in action
- Spend time with them in a way that is meaningful for them
- Listen to their moods, feeling, and concerns without judgment and evaluation
- Be there for them when they need you the most
- Let them experience your presence as love
My father passed away when I was two years old. My mother raised me and my four sisters on her own in India. My father's death, and the following hardships, caused her to be very untrusting, which made her angry and bitter towards other human beings. She became righteous to protect herself and her kids. As I grew older and worked on being peaceful in life, that mentality was difficult for me to be around. So I worked toward change. Despite all my effort, I was unable to help her see the possibilities in life. I tried one-on-one accountability conversations, reduced our communication, and gave ultimatums, but nothing produced the desired results. I realized I was going to lose my mom if I did not have humility to accept her and our relationship as it was. So I chose acceptance. Since then, she has experienced my love more authentically than when I was trying to change things. My acceptance made her feel safe and loved, which opened up a possibility for listening. Now she is more calm, more thoughtful, and more loving towards the world.
Wisdom to Walk Away
There are times when the other person is closed off and the relationship is not working at a level you want. If you have tried to talk through and explore the possibilities of the relationship but haven't seen progress toward a common vision, then you have a choice: continue to push and be frustrated, annoyed, and angry or you can walk away. Having that kind of wisdom allows you and the other person to find peace; chances are the other person is also feeling stuck and you walking away will also free them up.
Wisdom in action:
- Have a conversation with the other person about what's not working and explore the options
- Create rules of the game; define what is and isn't acceptable in the relationship
- Communicate and document it to make sure everyone is clear and agrees on a win/win outcome
- Give time for other person to choose and implement. If the other person starts following the new rules, you're all set. Otherwise, plan a timeline to walk away.
- Make sure you're clear. Try everything and more before walking away. This is truly your last resort.
One of our first clients was also our biggest. We had 80 percent of our revenue coming from that client but our working relationship had become stuck. The client was making requests that were not reasonable for us to fulfill and setting the project up for failure. They wanted to define the scope, the schedule, and the resources and we did not have any say in the conversation. Additionally, the team was suffering because they could not find a balance, and the client was suffering because they were not getting what they wanted. We worked with the client to see if there was openness to reach to a common vision. After multiple tries, there was none. At that point, we used our wisdom to walk away. We simply gave them a choice -- we told them what we could commit to that would provide a win/win or we could offload the knowledge and experience to whatever new company the client chose to do business with. The client chose the latter and we upheld our end of the deal before walking away. This choice allowed both companies to thrive since our parting (both In Time Tec and the client have at least doubled, if not tripled, in revenue) because we both were suffering when we were together. Walking away set both the companies on a path of peace and growth.
Suffering is always optional
Humans cannot live without other humans on the planet; without humans there is no life. But life is too short to continue relationships that are not working. Every relationship is work. It requires both parties involved to be committed to a common vision and work toward that vision. At times, it feels like a lot of work and situations might become messy. But if you're committed to live a life where every relationship works to the fullest, the outcome is always peace, happiness, and joy in life.