You could call it spring fever, or just a perfect season to climb on a horse and head for the Western Wisconsin hills. My friend Nettie and I recently enjoyed a springtime jaunt on our mares CC and Nicky. Between fields of newly planted corn and verdant woodlands, we discovered mayflowers, bloodroot, Dutchman’s britches, and a profusion of blue and yellow violets. Then we climbed to the highest hilltop where we spooked some deer, listened to a pileated woodpecker whack on dead trees, and watched an eagle hunt field mice in a field below. We had a grand day together wasting time wisely – powerful medicine for sustaining good relationships.
How easy it is to expect important relationships to perk along without our paying much attention. We assume that good friends stay good friends forever. Work colleagues keep in touch, even when they take another job, or move to another city. Spouses remain sane and steady through the years. Much of the time these bonds flow along smoothly. Yet my experience suggests that all relationships benefit from thoughtful upkeep, no matter how robust they appear.
Durable connections with friends and helpmates give us a foundation from which we thrive at every age. From high-school chums to intimate partners, those precious relationships need frequent “checkups.” After all, they affect everything from our understanding of truth and belonging, to our sense of worthiness. Keeping the bonds strong can be as simple as making a phone call or as prearranged as a wildflower ride through Buffalo County, Wisconsin. Most importantly, keep on tending to those relationships that you value. Express your sincere appreciation of a good friend or a child. Send a note. Focus on individual strengths and achievements, and offer genuine compliments. Acknowledge her positive contributions to your day and your life. Don’t assume that she can read your mind.
1. Set dates with people whose companionship you enjoy.
If they have moved, offer to come for a visit or meet them halfway. Choose something new to do together. Pack a lunch to share and head for the zoo or museum of natural history. Review your calendar regularly, making certain you keep appointments with individuals who hold a place of prominence in your life. Frequently broken dates imply that you are too busy for friendship and inadvertently cause another to feel like an inconvenience or afterthought.
2. Communicate often, even simply.
Find times to connect, and set those times aside from daily routines. Stop talking about how busy you are. E-mail someone who has been out of touch. Send him a photo of your new cat. Arrange a coffee date, and bring a pleasant gift, a Prince CD or something fresh from your garden. Use your time together to chat about uplifting subjects that matter to both of you. No whining about work or lack of sleep.
3. Build on common interests.
Attend a presentation beyond your faith traditions or political preferences. Register for a medical ethics seminar. Set political news and views aside few hours. Put down your mobile phone. Visit a public garden, a local art fair, or an outdoor concert. Hike with a naturalist. Set aside a day for bird watching or bird counting with the Audubon Society. Rent a canoe or kayak and paddle around a city lake. Tour a local microbrewery, and don’t forget the tasting.
4. Make your relationships a high priority.
Despite busy schedules, taking the time to enrich valuable relationships enhances the quality of our lives. A text message is convenient, but doesn’t replace the intimacy of hanging out face-to- face. Notes and cards might seem passé but from a recipient’s standpoint, they’re priceless. E-mail is fine, snail mail is fabulous for friendships. Stop talking and listen to another’s needs without interruption. Whether he has lost a job or welcomed a new grandchild, pay attention. Assure him that you care and plan to be there during times of difficulty as well as times of joy. Then be there.
5. Reframe conflicts into positive outcomes.
Discord can occur in the best relationships. By accepting this as a natural response to diverse needs and opinions, we invite an opportunity to grow together. When a conflict appears, try to refrain from judgment, even if your friend seems to be heading down an ill advised path. See if you can reach agreement on any aspect of the problem. If not, suggest seeking input from a trusted professional. Get creative. Consider getting together to get in shape for a ten K race or bike ride through a state park. Focusing energy on something besides words can help move a rocky relationship through challenging times.
6. What to do when healing runs amok.
Most relationships respond to loving care, though others present seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The culprit could be an addiction, a long simmering resentment, or a betrayal that continues to stand in the way. These can make healing difficult or even out of reach. In situations that belie resolution try letting go of any “stuck” feelings about past problems between the two of you. Invite this person to join you for a conversation in a neutral location, provided this is a safe and reasonable thing to do. Make amends if necessary, and work at keeping the door to communication open. If you have been hurt, look for a path to forgiveness. And finally, should your honest efforts at reunion fail, remember that you have acted sincerely, and this is no longer a reflection on you or your intentions.
Sometimes the only way to support a significant relationship is to assume a posture of kindness and good will. Other times a good gallop through a spring woods can make miracles happen!