The quality of your family life and your relationships will determine most of your happiness or unhappiness. Your goals in this vital area of your personal life cannot be left to chance. Men and woman are often different when it comes to their attitudes toward their relationships. Going back thousands of years, men were hunters while woman tended to the hearth and took care of the children. Men derived their feelings of self-esteem and self-worth from demonstrating their proficiency as hunters, having the ability to bring back game and provide for their families.
A man’s status in the tribe was determined by how good a hunter he was in comparison with the other men. Jump ahead to the twenty-first century and very little has changed. Men still achieve their primary source of value and self-esteem by demonstrating their ability to hunt, to earn a good living, and to provide for their families. Men still compare themselves with other men in terms of their hunting ability. They seek out and admire symbols of success that tell others that they are good hunters and providers, such as cars, clothes, expensive watches, homes, and other material objects.
Women are different. They largely base their success and happiness on the quality of their relationships, especially with their husbands and children. They continually seek to do everything possible to improve and enhance the quality of their relationships and their home life. For most women, relationships are central. For both men and woman, family and children are the most important factors in their lives. Men, however, sometimes become so busy working to provide for their families that they lose sight of this fact. Women seldom do. Because family and relationships are so important to the mental, emotional, and physical health of everyone involved, setting clear goals and making specific plans to ensure a high quality of family life is absolutely essential to long-term happiness, fulfilment, and satisfaction.
Your beliefs about yourself and your relationships become your realities. These beliefs about the roles and responsibilities of each person in a relationship go back to early childhood. They are shaped by your experiences throughout your life. They may or may not be based on fact. Sometimes your beliefs about what should happen or should not happen in a relationship are not true at all. They are merely “facts” that you have picked up in some way that are not consistent with the reality of the other person. To be happy in a relationship, especially a marriage, your beliefs must be reasonable, achievable, and life enhancing, leading to greater and greater happiness and well-being for each person, and congruent with your highest values and principles.
The foundation of a quality relationship is the unconditional positive acceptance of, and regard for the other person. This means that you accept the other person exactly the way he or she is, with no attempt or desire to change that person’s basic character or personality. Unconditional acceptance is the greatest gift that one person can give to another. In a loving relationship, you care more for the happiness and well-being of the other person than you do for your own. Spouses who love each other and who love their children are willing to make any sacrifice to preserve and protect the others’ health and well-being.
The true measure of the health of a relationship is how much and how often the people involved laugh together and how often. Since laughter is the outer expression of an inner feeling of true happiness, it is the one measure that cannot be faked. The starting point of solving problems and difficulties in relationships is often the questioning of your beliefs, especially your self-limiting beliefs. Good beliefs are life enhancing; bad beliefs are happiness destroying. If you do not experience happiness and joy in your relationships, it could be that your ideas and beliefs about what is acceptable or unacceptable, right or wrong, and proper or improper about the relationship need to be examined and questioned. Always be willing to consider the possibility that you could be wrong. If you have children, you must look far into the future and make long-term goals. Whatever you want to do with or for your family, don’t put it off. Set a schedule and a deadline and begin making provisions for it as soon as possible. This can relieve an enormous amount of stress and tension later on and could become one of the smartest things you ever did.
What is the biggest single problem or difficulty that stops you from creating your ideal family life? What could you do immediately to begin removing that difficulty or obstacle or alleviating that constraint? Perhaps the most important question you can ask, to ensure peace and happiness in your family and relationships is, “What’s really important here?” Many of the problems in marriages and child rearing come from losing perspective on what is really more important than anything else. Because of the intensity of the emotions that arise in family relationships and the role of the individual ego in wanting to be right and to prevail in a family situation, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that your most important overall goal is the happiness and well-being of the people close to you. Whenever you get into an argument or disagreement of any kind, or whenever an important decision has to be made, remember to ask yourself, “What’s important here?”
You must develop qualities, traits, and abilities that you may have never had before. At each stage of family formation, you must be open to learning new subjects and accepting new ideas. As your marriage develops, you must develop and grow as well. As your children grow and mature, you must sometimes adopt new ideas and attitudes to keep in step with them—while holding onto your core values and sharing them with your kids. When members of your family become involved in certain activities that are important to them, you owe it to them to learn as much as you can about the new subjects so that you can keep up with them as they grow, mature, and develop in different areas and in different directions.
The only way to increase the value and deepen the quality of your relationships is to invest more time in them. The more time you spend with a person, especially when that person is engaged in activities that are important to him or her, the deeper and richer the relationship becomes. And there is no other way.
Determine what additional interpersonal qualities and skills you need to develop to realize your full potential as a spouse, partner, or parent. If you could wave a magic wand and become the perfect person in your relationships with the most important people in your family, how would you be described? Would people say that you had the qualities of kindness? Patience? Tolerance? Empathy? Compassion? Friendliness? Would people say you were supportive? Inspiring? Motivating? Which of these qualities would you like to be known for? Aristotle said that the way to develop a quality is to behave as if you already had that quality in every situation where that quality is required. In other words, “Fake it until you make it.” By practicing qualities such as attentiveness, caring, patience, warmth, and kindness, whenever those qualities are required, you eventually program them into your personality until they become automatic ways of responding whenever they are needed.
Involve everyone in your family and relationships in your goal setting; find out what the people close to you want, need, and are willing to work toward. Keep the lines of communication open. Ask them for their input and ideas, and listen intently to them when they want to talk. Identify the people outside your immediate family circle whose help and cooperation you will require for you to be able to create your ideal family lifestyle. Often your immediate relatives, parents, brothers, sisters, and others can have a tremendous influence on what you can accomplish with your family. To create a road map to relationship success, make a list of every single thing that you can think of doing to achieve an ideal family or relationship lifestyle. List the things that you would like to acquire for your family, the places you would like to go, the subjects that you would like to learn, and the vacations that you would like to take. Organize your list by sequence, by what you need to do before you do something else. Organize your list by priority, by what is more important and what is less important.
Imagine your family life was perfect in every respect. Create a clear mental image of your ideal home and lifestyle. See yourself living and enjoying a wonderful life with the people who are most important to you. Play this happy picture over and over on the screen of your mind, and imagine how you would feel if you were living the life of your dreams. Once you have a goal and a plan, have visualized your goal clearly, and have discussed it with the members of your family, take action immediately. Do something; do anything. Demonstrate your commitment to creating a wonderful life for yourself and the people around you by doing something that makes it clear that this goal is going to be a part of your future together.
The key to success in building a wonderful family lifestyle is simple—get going and keep going make a decision, in advance, that you will persist through the inevitable ups and downs you will face until you have created an ideal lifestyle for yourself and for the people around you.
As in every area of life, the building and maintaining of long-term relationships requires patience, persistence, and foresight. The process is fraught with difficulties, setbacks, challenges, and adversity. At the same time, the building and maintaining of wonderful, high-quality relationships offers the greatest and most meaningful happiness and joy that are possible in life.
Shabir Ahmad is a UPSC aspirant.