Intentional relationships 3: deepening more distant relationships

If you did the first exercise in this series, you probably noticed that there were some relationships that you wanted to be closer than they currently are. Perhaps you would like more time with the other person, maybe you want to do more things with them. Some people might be work colleagues that you would like to transition to full on friends, others might be activity partners that you would like to do more 121 stuff with. It is wonderful to notice when a relationship feels great and makes you want more from it.

I would invite you to look at the relationships in your pod and to identify the ones that you would like to be closer and the ones that you would like to be further away.  Most people have both.

Write about your themes

When you are looking at the people that you would like to be closer, think about whether there are themes. For example, are you looking to be closer to people from work to make your workplace more friendly? Do you want to have more friendships that involve cuddles or vulnerability or activities together? Are you looking for support around a particular issue from a range of people? Do you want to get closer connections with people in a particular geographical area? Whatever your themes are, make a note of them so that you can think about how to get those needs and desires met both inside and outside your pod.

Get specific

Think about the people that you want to get closer to in your pod and then make a list of the kinds of closeness you are looking for with that particular individual. Consider the following questions:

  1. Do you want more time?
  2. Do you want to do different things with the time that you have?
  3. Do you want more of something already in the relationship?
  4. Do you want to expand the things that you do together?
  5. What new things are you interested in?
  6. Can you think of small specific requests that you could make for time, attention or activities that would build towards your larger desire?
  7. How would it feel to have them say no to those requests?
  8. How can you look after yourself if no would be hard to hear? Work out at least two things that you could do to soothe yourself or cope with the emotions.

Example:

I have a good friend that I have drifted away from for a while now, I’ll call her M. We have a relationship where we pick up really effectively even if we haven’t talked for a while. She is smart and funny and sarcastic and anxious and fun. I would like more time with her, but I would like it to involve doing the same kinds of things that we have done before. I love the reciprocal relationship that we have where we talk about all kinds of things: work, relationships, life and politics. However, it can be hard for both of us to make time for our relationship because life happens. My small (actually not so small) request could be to schedule a little time together a couple of times a week. If I felt nervous about this, I might just ask her to talk at a specific time on a specific day. I’d feel OK if she said ‘no’ to that request because it wouldn’t feel like she was rejecting me, but rather that she was just very busy. If I felt sad about it, I think I’d reach out to someone that I know has more free time. I’d probably also write about it in my journal which would help me to process.

What next?

Having done the activity, you probably have a sense of which of the requests are more or less likely to be positively received, and which ones would send you into the pits of depression if your requests were declined. I invite you to experiment with actually making some of the requests and doing it mindfully. If asking for more in your relationships is hard for you, then try starting out with the most manageable risk. If you are one of the few people for whom it is easy, then go for the request that is going to feel most awesome if the other person says ‘yes’!

Whatever you are asking for, take the time to really think about what it is that you want, and what your request is going to be. Make it as specific as possible; e.g., “Would you like to come over and watch Professor Marston and the Wonder Women next Tuesday evening?” rather than, “Would you like to see a film with me sometime?”

Once you have worked out what you are going to ask of this person, I’d suggest spending some time thinking about how ‘yes’ and ‘no’ might feel.  Most people find ‘yes’ very easy to deal with, but ‘no’ is harder. You might get an unqualified ‘no’, or the specificity may mean that you get a ‘no, but I’d love to see it another time’, or a ‘I don’t want to watch that movie, but how about Cloudburst?’ or ‘I’m not into movies, sorry’ (find more on saying no and hearing no ). Either way, you would have more information than you did before. Write about what that information might be and how you might feel about it. For example, is it about you or is it about life circumstances and pressures? What makes ‘no’ feel OK to you?

Then you feel the fear and do it anyway. Ask for what you want. Make it specific and timed. Be open to ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Reflect on being brave enough to ask and to take in their response. There are probably a mix of emotions regardless of how the person responded: excitement, anxiety, sadness, relief, isolation, joy, nervousness. If you make plans with the person, make a note of how you feel after you spend the designated time with them. Either way, reflect on whether the risk you took in asking for something you wanted in that relationship was worthwhile.

Then rinse and repeat. If someone says an unqualified ‘no’ to doing something with you, then suggesting a very different activity might be OK, but repeating the same request really isn’t. In any case,  I’d suggest making no more than three requests to the same person if they have consistently said ‘no’, even if that no includes ‘I’m busy then’ or ‘I don’t like x activity’. Once you’ve received three no’s from a person, it is time to put the ball in their court by telling them what you want and asking them to let you know if they have the time and interest to do whatever it is; e.g., ‘I’d really love to spend time with you outside the knitting group. I know you’re really busy, but if that is something you’re interested in too then let me know when you’d like to do something with me and what that might be.’

This post has mostly focused on making changes to deepen relationships that are fairly distant. Soon, I will write on changing closer connections.

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