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A Guide for Healthy Working Relationships

An image of the sun, representing a strong and healthy relationship.

Relationships are fundamental to human health and happiness - more so than money or fame. And relationships can feel hard, like constantly swimming upstream.

Below is a guide for finding freedom and strength in your relationships. These 8 principles will allow you and others to do the best work of your lives.

The 8 Principles:
  1. I don’t know what I don’t know.

  2. I cultivate respect and shared purpose.

  3. I see nothing wrong with anyone.

  4. I have no right to demand that anyone else change.

  5. I am the caretaker of my own life.

  6. I make requests not demands.

  7. I keep my own worth, so I do not live by compliments or die by rejection.

  8. I act out of inspiration, not out of obligation.

(1) I don’t know what I don’t know.

Odd place to start, huh? Accepting the limits of your knowledge will open a world of possibility. Into that possibility flows understanding, improvisation and growth. Relationships get stuck when you dig your heels in, so practice shifting to a mode of curiosity.

Approaching the world in this way is also more honest, as it takes “you” out of the center. When you acknowledge your limitations, you can see the whole system of the relationship from other peoples’ perspectives, which increases your self-awareness.

Learn to grow confident in your own ignorance; it is the foundation of all new discoveries.

(2) I cultivate respect and shared purpose.

Relationships thrive on two ingredients: respect and shared purpose. When a relationship gets off-track, we look for self-justification instead of our original deeper purpose. When conflict arises, as much as we may say we're focused on achieving a goal, what we really want is to be proven "right".

It's impossible to look for shared purpose without respect. In strong relationships, respect is not earned, it's given. Basic human respect is the foundation upon which a healthy relationship rests. Once respect for another person is truly felt, then a productive conversation can commence. Not vice-versa. The only way you can influence others to respect you is to cultivate respect for them.

(3) I see nothing wrong with anyone.

We're great at finding what we're looking for. If you look for what others are doing wrong, you’ll find it! When you think something or someone is wrong, you carry judgment with you to try to fix it. Relationships are not improved in that way.

To see clearly, see this: there’s nothing wrong with anyone. Your negativity towards others serves two functions: it blinds you and it holds you back. It does nothing to improve the world or your position in it. And it is not mandatory, so practice letting it go. Let go of your judgment, frustration, and contempt so that you can see others more clearly.

In order to let go, understand that carrying negativity towards others is really a symptom of your own insecurity. You lack feelings of safety and “rightness”, and labeling others as “wrong” is a means of justifying yourself.

Apply the mantra “I am safe” to yourself. Acknowledge any insecurity; feel it. And reassure: everything is okay. I have enough. I am enough. Develop an inner foundation of confidence and equanimity.

With this strong base, rather than needing right and wrong, you can choose to cultivate an understanding of all people. You can see them as they are: different.

And when someone is different from you, that is good. That is not a problem or a threat. It is an opportunity, as differences - unlike “rights” and “wrongs” - can be resolved. 

(4) I have no right to demand that anyone else change.

[Credit: Anthony De Mello]

Realizing nothing is wrong with anyone, you then see: I have no right to demand that anyone else change. Notice how badly you want to change everyone to suit your exact needs in each moment.

Why should anyone else listen to your demands? Do you want to run around contorting yourself to the demands of every other person in this world? Then why expect others to do the same?

When you relinquish this expectation - that anyone else should behave as you see fit - you open yourself to a world of freedom. A burden is lifted, and you can focus your energy into places that you control.

Another way of framing this principle, one that acknowledges the long-term nature of all important relationships: I cannot command you to change, but I can invite you to grow.

(5) I am the confident caretaker of myself.

You released your demands for anyone else to change. However, you do have standards for how you would like to be treated.

You, and you alone, are responsible for meeting those standards. This is a principle of ownership. You take full accountability for meeting your own needs. Others are justified in acting however they would like, and you are justified in responding in a way that suits your desires and preferences. Your time and energy are focused on the latter. Isn’t that straightforward?

You can establish consequences, set boundaries, distance yourself, whatever you want! Whatever is in your heart to do. That is your duty.

When you take ownership of your own actions, you no longer demand that others be responsible for meeting your expectations. Thus, they no longer appear threatening when they do not comply. You realize that very few people, if any, are threats to your getting what you want.

(6) I make requests, not demands.

You are fundamentally connected to and reliant on others throughout our life. So if you cannot make demands of these others, what do you do? You make requests instead.

What is the difference between a demand and a request?

A demand relies on control, obligation, and a threat of punishment. A request relies on joint commitment, motivation, and clarity of consequences.

If someone denies a demand, you feel angry and indignant; you hold it against them and punish them. If someone denies a request, you appreciate them and move on with your life.

When you approach life in this way, you end up naturally attracting people who have the same vision of success that you do; you form genuine relationships, where there is very little effort to stay aligned because there are no threats or judgments.

(7) I keep my own worth, so I do not live by compliments or die by rejection.

You have freed others from your demands, you have taken control of your life. Now, you stay in control. A long time ago, when you were very young, you exported your sense of self-worth to others. This was useful at the time, because you were very young and incapable of caring for yourself. Now that you are in control of your life, you can re-take your worth. You can validate yourself internally.

You don’t need a compliment to feel good. You don’t let an insult bring you down. Goodness is your natural state (“there’s nothing wrong with anyone”). Your tranquility is a reflection of your self-awareness.

This work takes steady practice and awareness. Notice when you rely on others for your sense of worth, and return to your natural self. You have everything you need to be happy.

(8) I act out of inspiration, not out of obligation.

If you bring awareness to a tangled, messy relationship, you will notice the large role that obligation is playing. "I can't...", “I have to…”, “I should…”. All the actions you take to fulfill your sense of belonging, all of the roles you feel obligated to play, imposed on top of your being yourself.

It is this mountain of obligation that drives your frustration in many relationships. Every action done out of obligation puts a coin into a piggy bank of frustration, which one day may erupt. 

Your obligations exist where there was once pure freedom, and you can return to freedom if you wish. To shift out of obligation, realize: you create your obligations. You alone carry them. You may think that you are exhausted by meeting others’ needs, but you are in fact exhausted by meeting your own need for acceptance or belonging. You may think you are frustrated with others, but you are frustrated with yourself.

(Bonus 9 for coming this far!) Compassion, compassion, everywhere.

Compassion is empathy in action. Grant it to yourself; grant it to others. It is the oil that keeps the complex engine or relationships running smoothly.


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