In the first part of this essay, I mention that we need to assess our default mode of dealing with people, families and friends. If we don't like it and if we believe that our loved ones do not like it too, may be it is time to consider making some changes.
Many of us in our business and professional dealings do the above constantly. The sense of purpose in the need to keep our business going and flourishing, makes us not only do the above but makes many of us come up with the most creative and innovative ways to keep our business partners happy. It's a no-brainer. It's common sense.
But not very surprisingly, the same "brain" and "sense" starts to malfunction when it comes to personal relationships within our families. That is where something gets lost in the process. So, it is not that we do not know how to manage relationships, we just prioritize things differently and we do not make the right connections in our minds.
We just do not prioritize our relationships perfectly. Do you know anyone who spends more time strengthening relationships with their friends and business partners than their own families? Does that make sense? Let's face it. Certain relationships are more important than others and therefore deserve more time and effort than others. For example, it just would not make sense for you to hold your friends in high respect while you mistreat your parents. You cannot abandon your own children and be helping other children. Charity always begins at home.
Even in Islam that teaches respect, love, patience and understanding as the cornerstone of all relationships, certain relationships are given more priority over others. There are numerous accounts in the Quran and Hadith about the importance given to certain relations. For example, in a well-known hadith, Abu Hurairah said: "A man came to the Messenger of Allah and said: 'O Messenger of Allah, who among the people is most deserving of my good companionship?' He said, 'Your mother.' The man asked, 'Then who?' He said, 'Your mother.' He asked, then who?' He said, 'Your mother.' He asked, 'Then who?' He said, 'Your father.'"
Just because you are "around" your family members more, doesn't mean that you spend the least amount of time nurturing those relationships. Allah says in the Quran: "Would you then, if you were given the authority, do mischief in the land, and sever your ties of kinship? Such are they whom Allah has cursed, so that He has made them deaf and blinded their sight." The Prophet said: "No one who severs the ties of kinship will enter Paradise."
In the two previous parts of this essay, I mention about how we learn and develop subconsciously while growing up and about how to prioritize our relationships.
Now, if we look around us and we won't have to look far to see a broken home, or a community at odds with itself. Everyone probably knows someone (if not within our own circles) who walks angry at someone, hurt by someone, frustrated with someone, irritated by others, and sick of life in general.
Such relationships that involve people holding grudges against others, accompanied by emotional roller coasters, verbal assaults and emotional outbursts obviously involve a lot of pain and thus need an active reparation process.
More often than not, spousal relationship topics top all other form of relationships that need repair. So, it needs specific mention. How would you classify your relationship with your spouse? Is it bad or routine at best? Once relationships become routine, spouses in a troubled relationship are less forgiving, amplify mistakes, and throw verbal assaults more than they are cheerful to each other. What one spouse does for the other as part of a routine activity of running household errands, working to make a living, raising children, etc. is taken for granted. For example, "appreciation" does not cross the wife's mind for her husband working hard to make a living and the husband does not see anything extraordinary in the mother keeping the house on track and raising children.
As the focus in such "boring-to-get-worse-soon" relationships shifts from the good to the bad and even more to the ugly, there is a need to break that thinking pattern and to start focusing on the "good". With time, the tendency is to start ignoring the qualities and instead to focus on the negatives.
The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) said: "No believing man should hate a believing woman: if he dislikes one of her characteristics, he will like another." He also said: "He, who does not thank people, does not thank Allah".
So, sprinkle a few words of understanding and appreciation in the routine or not so routine relationships and you will see your relationships improve, hearts clamed and souls less jittery. You just cannot repair a relationship without these basics. Else, you either get a boring relationship or could be headed for more trouble.
A person's strength in many ways is a reflection of the strength of his or her relationships. A person who is weak succumbs to unbridled emotions, uncontrolled anger and erratic thought processes. These in turn are a perfect recipe for poisoning relationships. Contrary to some misunderstood cultural beliefs, uncontrolled anger and emotional outbursts show a person's weakness rather than his "manly" attributes. Such a character stems from a person's upbringing that lacked focus on Islamic values. The truth as Islam teaches us is that a strong person manages his emotions and directs them appropriately to build and manage relationships rather than using them to damage relationships.
To get a glimpse of how anger should be handled, we need to study the life of the Prophet. Then, we will l understand that verbal assaults are not the way to manage anger. But obviously, when we are weak, we succumb to the whims and desires of the untrained mind and in the process unleash such behaviour. Prophet Muhammad said: "The strong man is not the one who is strong in wrestling, but the one who controls himself in anger."
Finally, let us not forget that the ultimate relationship that anyone can have is that with our Creator. Establishing such relationship is the cornerstone of an Islamic faith. Such a relationship also helps fills the gap left out by the anxieties, loneliness, depressions and other emotional roller coasters that one goes through in life.
Building and managing healthy relationships and avoiding the potholes of bad relationships involve the use of basic common sense. Stepping away from the heat of the moment, correcting others respectfully without destroying their self worth, disassociating oneself from negative emotions, reflecting on the cause and effect behaviour that shapes good and bad relationships, and other such basics can bring about clarity and a change in our attitudes. It can help us break the pattern that we can get repeatedly pulled into.
Remember, what Einstein said: "The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". If your relationships are bad then change how you are contributing to that relationship.
If we think and reflect, we will begin to get the answers to the common day to day problems that many of us face in our daily lives. We will learn that in close relationships, sometimes love and respect need to supersede the desire to prove oneself right and the other wrong. Some more thinking and reflection will lead us to the fact that a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law relationship can rarely be strong if the man in the middle does not have a good relationship with both. We will learn that children ought to be taught the essentials of relationships early on in their life. Islamic education will teach more than their secular education at school or elsewhere. Thinking and reflection will make it dawn on us that love and respect in most cases needs to be earned by one's own behaviour and not demanded and forced.
And the list goes on...