Making Relationships Work Part 2: New Skills Make Relationships Bloom
By Rebecca Ruggles Radcliffe
Reprinted from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Summer 2003 Volume 1, Number 5
©2003 Gürze Books
This feeling of starving for attention in relationships is often one of the underlying reasons for unhealthy eating patterns. We know we are not getting nourishment, so we try to feed ourselves. The thing is, food feeds only our bodies—not our hearts.
Since we may have been feeling a lack of attention since we were very little, it may be a very little child inside of us that keeps making the decision to eat. She just isn't grown up enough to know that food will not fix what is making her hurt.
We have to work very hard as adults to recognize these patterns, accept the feelings we have of being lost and unloved, and then begin to figure out how to do it differently. This is really the work of therapy or honest inner personal dialogue.
We also need to make sure the people with whom we have key relationships are skilled or not. If the person wants to be a companion but is scattered, he or she may forget to check in with us. If they check but don't know how to tell what we are feeling, then our needs will not be met.
Our friends, families or partners need to take time to be with us and listen. Even if they do, if they simply cannot hear us or understand our communication, we may end up frustrated anyway.
There is no sense in blaming other people for not knowing something—they simply do not know. Then we must identify whether or not they are willing to learn. We can talk things through with them, or make suggestions in a way that inspires them to try instead of dampening their spirit with criticism.
We have to tell them how much we appreciate them and how valuable the relationship is. Then we must let them know how much we want the relationship to grow. We can say that we have not had much practice at asking for things we need, but we would like to learn together. Then we must see what their reaction is.
Connecting and communicating
This conversation will only be the very first of many, many more. Once we begin the process of communicating our needs, we will find things changing only if we commit to having them change. This means we have to put energy into having it grow. We get our needs met by nurturing the relationship, too.
Admittedly we might prefer not having to all of this. It would be much easier if others were psychic enough to know all of our needs! But most people aren't. Besides, as we change, our needs change. If the relationship stayed the same, we would outgrow it or be bored. It actually is more satisfying in the long run to be in a relationship where people are openly communicating even if it takes more work.
Alert at the wheel
We tend to think that once we asked for something, that should be enough. But that is like thinking that if we turn on the car it should be enough to get us where we want to go. Rather, we need to very carefully give it gas, steer it in the direction we want, manage to turn at the right point, and slow down when there are things in the way.
We have had to learn all of these steps of driving and monitoring road conditions and traffic while continually checking to see that we are on the right route. We have practiced these skills again and again each time we drive. Somehow we think that we do not need to do all of this with our relationships-that they should come naturally and easily to us.
Once we start a relationship growing or change we need to "stay alert at the wheel." We need to check what is happening in the surroundings, because life stresses will cause "accidents," which might keep us from getting where we are going. We need to keep checking whether or not we are on the right "road." Are we going in a direction that is making us happy or that is getting us where we want to go?
Without a doubt, relationships take a lot of work—perhaps more than anything else in our lives. That is because they are always changing. Since both people grow and change, the relationship inevitably will change. There is nothing to do about it except learn to enjoy its evolution and participate in the process. If indeed relationships are like gardening, we can take heart. Throughout the year, gardens grow and become beautiful. They weather the changing seasons and continue to bloom year after year as a result of kind and patient attention.
As we learn to listen kindly to the needs of others, we learn to also listen to our own needs. As we get stronger and able to ask for what we need, we are often able to bloom from both inside and out, getting the nourishment we need from ourselves and others. Relationships are a two-way partnership. We need to make sure we are playing our part.
From: Enlightened Eating: Understanding and Changing Your Relationship with Food (EASE Publications and Resources, 1996; 800/470-4769)