Category Archives: respect

The Role of “Family” in Relationship

Over the years (more often than not), I have heard story after story about how stressful family gatherings are around the holidays. In fact, there is an entire product-based industry capitalizing off this stereotype. (One of my favorites is a funny dishtowel I spied in my aunt’s house):

Now, not every family is dysfunctional, of course, because every experience of family is highly individual. What may appear to be “bad” to someone else, is “normal” or even fun to the person experiencing it. I’ve heard stories of yelling, fights, and behavior that would lead an outsider to believe that everybody hates everybody – when the reverse is actually true. Then I’ve heard stories of happy peaceful dinners, where after the fact everyone goes home and breathes a sigh of relief to no longer be in the company of their relatives. The bottom line is: There is no “right” way to be family (despite what the Hallmark Channel wants us to believe).

How you personally define “family” is what matters. The traditional definition of family (from Dictionary.com) uses the phrase “a social unit,” and I think this most accurately describes what family means: It’s a unit.

In our life, we can have more than one “family” unit. There are work families, friend families, church families, fitness families, etc. In my experience, though, I’ve come to learn that we all have two specific families: family of “blood” and family of the heart.

Every social unit in our life falls into one of these two categories, and for some, the family of blood is also the family of the heart. But whether it’s our fitness family, church family, friend family, work family (etc.), all of these “families of the heart” have one thing in common: relationship.

Relationships are connections that we make based on something shared and require mutual investment, maintenance, and commonality. In our family of blood, we have shared DNA (in the case of adoption, it’s the bond that is shared). And yet, shared DNA (on its own) is not enough to sustain a relationship.

This is why we see so many fights or dysfunction around traditional family gatherings: the assumption that shared DNA, alone, is a relationship. It’s not. That would be like saying a shared cubicle wall is a relationship. It’s circumstantial.

Every healthy relationship requires nurturing, mutual respect and investment, as well as a genuine interest in each other. The circumstances upon which two people are brought together (such as shared DNA or an office wall) are not enough on their own to create a healthy relationship. They’re the cause for coming together, but it’s what happens after that makes the difference.

What transforms shared DNA (family of blood) into relationship (family of the heart) are all the little, consistent, and thoughtful things that we would do in any other social situation in which we want to build connection with another human being… and it requires reciprocity. Without reciprocity, it’s not a relationship, and no shared biology can overcome that.

So, as we spend the next month gathering, sharing stories, and possibly feeling less connected than we think we “should” (darn those Hallmark movies!), perhaps it’s a good time to let yourself off the hook and remember a simple truth: shared genetics is not a reason to expect relationship and connection. Unless both parties are invested, it can become an exercise in frustration (as all the stereotyped products have shown us).

However you define “family” is up to you. For me, I think of it as people who have my back, and know that I have their’s, regardless of whether we share any biology.

How Do I Find Acceptance?

I recently had someone ask me “How do I find acceptance?” about something that was entirely outside their control. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been asked this, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. However, this time, instead of having a longer conversation about it and fine-tuning it for the individual situation, I decided to take a step back and actually write about it from a broader perspective… one that I hope will help more than just the individuals who have asked.

Acceptance can be a tricky presence to master. It conveys an inner peace and a willingness to allow for things to unfold, while not actually relinquishing control over our own person. Acceptance is about discernment. What do I mean by that?

When you can figure out what’s yours and what’s somebody else’s from a neutral place, you are practicing discernment. When you can act from this knowledge you are practicing acceptance. In order to arrive at acceptance through discernment, however, it’s absolutely crucial to take perspective.

Taking perspective is one of those “all-purpose tools” in your toolbox. It can always be brought out in nearly any situation, and usually results in improving it for you.  Let’s use a concrete example though, to really understand how perspective, neutrality, and discernment help us to arrive at acceptance.

Let’s say that someone you love has gotten sick or injured in some way. From where you stand, perhaps the solution is easy. If they do x they should get better. After all, it’s what you would do. But they are not you. From where they stand, the solution is not that clear, because their experiences and knowledge are contributing factors. As a result, you are at an impasse and it can be frustrating, scary, and nearly impossible to navigate your way to compassion, let alone acceptance.

So, the first step is to take perspective. That looks like asking the question: “Is this mine?” And if the answer is “No,” (and it’s almost always no), then you need to take a step back. If you’re not the injured or sick person, it’s not yours. You are on the periphery, but you’re not the one who is at the center. So, we have to take perspective and get discerning in our knowledge. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Can I know what this person is feeling? (no)
  • Can I know everything that’s going on in their head? (no)
  • Have I lived the same life they have? (no)
  • Could I possibly know better than they do about their own situation? (no)
  • Do I have something to add, to help them? (possibly)
  • Should I? (only if they ask)

That last one is the tricky one, because when we love someone we want to help, and we often think that we know better. We don’t. We know different. Until we’re in the exact same situation (which is never possible, because we’re not the exact same person), there’s no way we could know how we’d act or what we’d choose. So, we take perspective and gain some distance. Which actually leads to respect. Respect for the other person, their path, their wishes, and their decisions. We respect their autonomy, just as we would wish someone to respect ours. Only when we arrive at respect can we appropriately show up for someone with compassion, which is honestly what most people need above all else.

Very few people want someone else to “fix” their problems, often they want someone to sit next to them and hold their hand while they work on finding a solution. Sometimes they ask for help, but even then they usually don’t want to have someone impose upon them.

To tell someone what you think they should do is to impose. (It’s really that simple.)

To ask someone how you can help is to be compassionately supportive. 

To discern the difference between these two things is to understand respect and to find acceptance.

Acceptance is not about condoning or even agreeing, it’s about respecting. The respect is a result of taking perspective, which helps us arrive at compassion… and compassion is healing.

xoxo,
Martina