Relationships are the lifeblood of our journey through this world. Good relationships not only can help us navigate through the challenges of this life more easily but they can be fulfilling and as well invigorating. Bad relationships on the other hand can put one's life dead in its track. Ask a neglected wife in her own house due to ill-treatment of her husband or ask family members devastated and shattered due to family squabbles or a divorced person who has left a married life or a person who ended up changing his work due to bad relationships. They will all attest to the powerful impact of bad relationships in changing the course of one's life, while leaving them debilitated in the process.
It is an undeniable fact that good relationships provide the energy that blooms our lives. Building and maintaining good relationships is an art as well as a science, the underlying principles of which come together in a mesmerizing way to make it one of the most important subjects for the human species. Whether realized earlier in life or later through heat of experience, one eventually comes to grips with the fact that the principles of relationships must be learned and when mastered effectively, enables one to use good judgment, to become more empathetic, become more sensitive to human emotions, better understand personalities, and so much more. All of a sudden, life changes, feels less complicated, more fulfilling, and more controlled.
But one wonders why we humans have made such a promising pursuit of building and maintaining superb relationships not only very complex, convoluted and confusing but many of us fail miserably even at the very basics. Even more baffling is that many of us Muslims fail to follow the ready-made recipes that Islam provides us along with the living example of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w), who among many other things was a master of human relationships. No wonder that books on relationships sell more than any other specific topic.
At times, relationships can be painful. No one would argue that being in relationships has the potential to cause enormous mental pain and agony. Whether it is a spouse verbally assaulting the spouse, a child defying parents and family values, friends violating a trust, or a supervisor putting an employee down, these relationship potholes can wreck souls, can cause us to get a heavy heart and a burdened mind, makes us cry, leaves us frustrated and indifferent and at times leaves us wondering about the value of such relationships in the first place. What is worse is that when we continue to live in such relationships, we rob our lives of the energy and enthusiasm that could have shaped our lives so much differently than what it ultimately becomes.
The 'pas moi sa, li sa', or 'blame game' rules such relationships. One's ego is the master. People's self worth is trampled. Others are at fault. Justice is not present. Life does not seem 'fair'. One feels victimized. Insensitivity to feelings rules and the emotional roller coaster seems endless. Such relationships are in need of serious repair.
In other times, relationships can be pleasing and fulfilling. On the flip side, healthy relationships can be so much rewarding. Ask a parent about how proud they feel to have raised good and respectful children. Ask a husband or wife about the respect they get from each other. Ask fast friends about the trust they have for each other. Ask strong business partners about the respect they have for each other and so on. Love, trust, and respect uplift our souls, make our lives more fulfilling and meaningful, and make us thankful for our relationships. Such relationships need not just be cherished but more importantly they need to be maintained.
For a relationships to last, it has to be actively managed, built, maintained and if necessary repaired. So, how do we manage the pain and pleasure associated with such relationships? It is actually quite simple – in theory at least. You manage a relationship by actively working on it and by constantly renewing it. If you are even a moderately practicing Muslim, you know how that works. You know that relationship with your Creator is the most important one. Even in those cases, the relationship must be renewed.
Consider the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, who said, "Faith wears out in your heart as clothes wear out, so ask Allah to renew the faith in your hearts." So, again – you manage relationships by actively working on them. And that means that if you are having challenges with your relationships, you should step out of your "default mode" in how you deal with relationships.
You see, most of us manage relationships in a "default mode". That is the mode that we learn and develop subconsciously while growing up. The default mode is the way we are mentally wired to deal with people and relationships in general. The better our relationships were managed at home while growing up, the better our default mode would be and the better we would be to build and maintain good relationships with others, our spouses, and other acquaintances. Growing up while observing families in lousy relationships makes ones default mode develop in the same manner, something that other people can't live with, unless of course one takes concrete steps to change those learned behaviours. For example, did you know that research has established that most criminals come from broken homes, where they were abused as children while growing up? Although this scary fact applies to only a small fraction of people, it serves to illustrate the point that when unchecked, bad relationships can lead to devastating consequences.
Shifting out of your default mode of dealing with relationships is about a change in attitude toward other people. It is about a change that others can notice and about expressing your appreciation, and doing things for others. For some of us it is easy and for some it is not.
Ideally, one should start learning from early childhood the basics of building and maintaining good relationships. No wonder that a number of schools now have adopted curriculum that teaches building good relationship skills right from pre-school years. In parallel, parents should strive to maintain a healthy social environment at home as well. Although no formal research done on this topic, many observations attest to the fact that unfortunately in most Muslim countries, the awareness for such education is far less than what exists in western societies. That is very unfortunate as the life of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) is exemplary in how well he treated people, families, children and encouraged parents to treat children.
Once children are raised in homes where they are taught to respect and manage relationships, it in turn helps them to grow up to be strong individuals as they become adept at building and maintaining very strong relationships with people in all walks of life. Doing so becomes a second nature and helps the person in relationships with family, friends and work. The "default mode" of such people thus turns out to be quite healthy.
Have you ever wondered about what your default mode is in dealing with people? Do your loved ones cherish your behaviour or do they run from your verbal assaults? Reflect on this hadith: 'Abdullah bin 'Amr bin Al As said: A person asked Allah's Messenger who among Muslims was better. Upon this the Holy Prophet remarked: One from whose hand and tongue Muslims are safe.
So, assess your default mode of dealing with people, families and friends. If you don't like it and if you believe that your loved ones do not like it too, may be it is time to consider making some changes. Starting today - starting now!
Once you start making the change, you will notice that it is not rocket science. In fact, most of you exercise those skills in business settings regularly. For example, what will you do to maintain a good business relationship that is very vital for your business and income? More commonly it involves some of the following:
• Being empathetic to your client needs – listening with an open mind and heart
• Being very serious and sincere to eliminate any misunderstandings
• Going of your way to be appreciative of the relationship that you have with them
• Going out of your way to be apologetic
• Always keeping a pleasing and charming attitude
• and so on...