Like many Baby Boomers or GenXers, you are probably in the midst of major transitions. If you have retired (or are about to) you may have lost the identity and structure with which to organize your life and relationships that your job once provided. This can be an unsettling time (only magnified by the pandemic).
This disruption can exist as much for you if you have been a primary caretaker for children, a home and perhaps aging parents. Children may have left but now there is a spouse at home that wants attention. You might find yourself asking “now what?” When both of you find yourselves at home 24/7, annoying behavior that was once tolerated is exacerbated.
Turbulent times which upset the status quo, although often challenging, also offer an opportunity for growth and building even more meaningful relationships with people in your life. Whether with your spouse, family members and friends, a deeper level of closeness and intimacy is now more possible. You have matured, you know yourself better and you have come to terms with the extent to which you have met your goals for achievement.
Let’s start with your relationship with your significant other. All couples develop routines for division of labor, for ways to spend leisure time and for how to make decisions about those. Some decision-making processes might have been functional in the past as you struggled to balance work and family demands but others may have led to a routine relationship that lacks real closeness. Annoyances that you tolerated may now hinder the intimacy you both want. We suggest this is a great time to talk about all this.
While the discussion might feel scary, raising the specter of opening old wounds and unresolved issues, it need not be that way. In our new book, we describe competencies that allow us to be direct about our needs and feelings without resorting to attacks and recriminations. In these conversations we acknowledge the past without getting bogged down in it and, instead, focus on the future we each want. They result in a whole new form of intimacy that helps you build a deeper and more meaningful relationship.
Similarly, consider redefining the relationship with your parents and your children. Parents have a tendency to protect children when the latter are young. As children grow up, they return the compliment! They protect their parents by not sharing the issues they are struggling with as young adults. Each may be doing this not to worry or disappoint the other, but the unfortunate consequence is a dramatic narrowing of what is shared, which prevents each from being fully known – the unintended result is feeling distanced.
To know our parents -- and our adult children -- better requires redefining the basis of those relationships. We have to move from parent-child dynamics to relating as adults. The former not only inhibits what we disclose, but it leads to advice-giving which diminishes closeness. We are adults and no longer need our parents’ advice – and our children are adults and would benefit more from sharing our self than our suggestions of how they should lead their life.
Finally, this process of building closer personal relations applies to friends. Too many interactions remain at a surface level when we have so much more we could be exploring. We face similar issues like aging parents, redefining our relationships with adult children and our own mortality. Might that be a more meaningful way of relating than just sharing where you went on vacation or why you enjoyed that latest series on TV?
These conversations aren’t always easy. They demand that you be willing to let yourself be more fully known and invite other people in your life to do the same. But, by sharing our hopes and disappointments – and being genuinely curious about what is going on with the other, we can build richer and more fulfilling relationships. As our book notes, that requires vulnerability and moderate risk taking. However, it also results in relationships that are far more rewarding and can become a source of support affirmation, and empowerment.
Click here to learn more about David Bradford, Ph.D. and Carole Robin, Ph.D. and their book CONNECT: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends and Colleagues based on the legendary course they both taught for decades at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.