Can Relationships Get Better With Age?
Have you ever tried to express how you feel about something, only to be completely misunderstood or left feeling frustrated by the response?
Ever had a conversation with someone only to have it completely break down or descend into an argument?
Today, it seems as though arguing and divisiveness are rampant in our society. It feels like you’re more likely to encounter resistance or rejection than understanding and acceptance. Social media has given everyone the opportunity to share their views and opinions with the world. Everyone can have a soapbox or share their thoughts at any given moment. “I’m right, you’re wrong!” Is the knee-jerk response when two people disagree. It definitely appears that way…
Has it ever been worse? Will it ever get better? Will we ever be able to relate with each other when we don’t agree?
Think about your own experiences. Have you ever been able to have relationships with those who don’t see things the same way as you?
For most of us, we immediately start thinking of our families and other relatives. We may look back at the friends we had growing up or our neighbors. Take some time and really explore your past. Have you ever had a relationship where you disagreed with someone about something, or even multiple things, and still stayed close with them?
If not, why?
If you did, why?
Think back to your childhood, when you would talk to your friends about your favorite movies, music, fashion styles or even sport teams. These may sound like trivial topics to have disagreements about but, they also represent things that were personally meaningful for each of us, at the time. Many people still debate and argue about them as adults. Despite these types of disagreements, we still remained friends. We may have even gotten into heated arguments or even fights as kids, only to make up and move on within a few days.
The relationships we had as kids may have seemed, somehow, easier to maintain or more simple than those we have as adults. It’s true. Our relationships can become more complex, just like our world views, as we get older. Our challenges and problems definitely become larger, more serious, with higher stakes. But, do they need to be more difficult to maintain?
The basic rules of a relationship are the same in childhood as they are in adulthood: Be kind, respect each other, support one another, help each other, have each other’s backs, and forgive.
So why do we, as adults, struggle so much more than most kids at making friends or relating with each other?
First of all, kids tend to be more open and friendly. They will just start talking with each other, even if they don’t know each other. If they are playing in the same area, they will often just start talking or playing a game. Secondly, they don’t overcomplicate things. It’s, “I see you, you see me, let’s play!” Next, they tend to live in the moment. Kids just want to have fun, be silly, and spontaneous. Additionally, they tend to be more accepting of each other and inclusive, especially if they’re bored and need someone to play with. Last, but definitely not least, they aren’t hung up on the flow or content of a conversation, even if it is controversial or they may disagree. They share their thoughts, disagree, share their opinions again, laugh about it, and move on to doing something else together.
This may sound like an oversimplification of how kids relate to each other, but is it really?
Could it be that, as adults, we make things more extreme or emotional than they need to be?
Today, there’s a tendency for many adults to think that those who disagree with them are somehow bad or threatening people. They don’t often try to look at the other person’s life experiences or take the time to understand how they formed the views or beliefs they currently have. Another thing to consider is that adults also tend to hold grudges longer than children. Why is this?
Remember: We can understand someone without agreeing with them.
Another thing to remember is that we can hold multiple views, which also vary and may appear to contradict with each other. For example, is it possible for someone who is conservative to also be pro-choice and support LGBTQ+ community? Yes, it definitely is! We are complex creatures. None of us are completely the same. Our thoughts, views, and beliefs are not final or set in stone. It’s possible for us to change our minds. It’s also possible for us to learn, listen better and really try to understand each other.
In any relationship, communication is essential. One of the most important elements of communication is active listening. This means we are fully engaged and attentive while another person is speaking. This is also one of the most difficult things for us to do, especially in today’s fast-paced and technologically infused world. Good listening skills feel like a rare commodity.
In order to really be effective at relationships, we must be present. This means we are focused, free from distractions or habitual thinking, and we are actively working to improve how we communicate. This includes mastering the elusive ability to listen effectively.
Eckhart Tolle talks about the art of listening in his book, The Power of Now:
When listening to another person, don’t just listen with your mind, listen with your whole body. Feel the energy field of your inner body as you listen. That takes attention away from thinking and creates a still space that enables you to truly listen without the mind interfering. You are giving the other person space – space to be. It is the most precious gift you can give.
He goes on to say:
Most human relationships consist mainly of minds interacting with each other, not of human beings communicating, being in communion. No relationship can thrive in that way, and that is why there is so much conflict in relationships. When the mind is running your life, conflict, strife and problems are inevitable. Being in touch with your inner body creates a clear space of no-mind within which the relationship can flower.
Our minds continue to be the biggest obstacles the vast majority of us face throughout our existence. We allow habitual patterns of thinking to negatively affect our relationships. We can easily shut down and close ourselves off from new information or considering an oppositional point of view.
The way forward doesn’t involve staying stuck in the past or worrying about the future. We won’t make progress by being close-minded or fearful of change. In fact, it’s the opposite behaviors that will guide us towards making progress with how we relate to each other.
Becoming more present, mindful, and connected to this moment is the fertile ground necessary for growing stronger relationships. The curiosity we had as children allowed us to question and explore more about the people and world around us. As adults, curiosity allows us to also be more open to new information and ideas.
Take action to help you broaden your mind. Volunteer. Travel. Get out of your comfort zone and do new things. All of this will help you develop more empathy and open mindedness.
We must strive to understand and really see each other, working to create more empathy and compassion. It’s a constant process and practice. We can do it. There have been many examples in each of our lives where we have done difficult, seemingly impossible things. We can do this too!
Although we’re adults now, we can still connect with that inner child who will always exist in each of us. Let’s have complex, even difficult, conversations with each other. Let’s really talk and strive to see and understand each other. Let’s respectfully disagree and share our views. We may even find many things we do agree upon or learn from each other. And then…Let’s go play!