Most of your experience on earth as a human is defined by your relationships.
By “relationship” I mean any interaction that you have on a regular basis, not just with the person you’re romantically involved with. You have relationships with the people you work with, the people you receive services from or give services to (like doctors or hairstylists), and a myriad of other people you come in contact with every day.
So it’s in everyone’s best interest to learn more about how to have better relationships. It’s a broad topic with many complex facets, but one quality that affects many of those important facets is courage.
In fact, the lack of courage is the reason many people are unfulfilled in their relationships. With courage, relationships can flourish.
Building your courage can improve your relationships in five important ways. The first three ways are based on categories from David D. Burns’s Relationship Satisfaction Scale. The last two are based on personal experience, observations, and readings.
You may have heard every bit of advice under the sun, yet your relationships are still struggling because you lack the courage to implement the advice. So, let’s look more closely at the role that courage plays in relationships.
Communication and Openness
Faking it is not making it. Healthy relationships require authenticity. In this area, courage first allows you to be your true self, which should be the case from the very beginning.
If you’re pretending to be something or someone you’re not when you meet people, the rest of the relationship is founded on a lie.
The doomed liar has been a classic trope in stories for as far back as our collective memory goes: the guy who pretends he’s read thousands of books just so his smart classmate will like them, or the girl who wears high heels and makeup because she thinks it’ll make her popular.
Courage will also allow you to express yourself honestly. You’ll be able to say what’s on your mind, voice your opinions, state your needs and desires, and convey your emotions. That might sound a little scary at first, especially in new relationships, or ones with an imbalance of power, like boss―employee.
However, it’s a fear worth getting over, because lack of communication is one of the biggest problems in relationships, and it causes other problems to snowball.
Imagine going to a restaurant or salon and not telling them exactly what you want …
Conflicts and Arguments
It may seem counterintuitive, but courage is crucial in this area because it takes courage to acknowledge your faults, admit when you’re wrong, and apologize to the other party in the relationship for any wrong actions on your part.
There’s a stigma attached to being wrong or saying or doing the wrong thing. Society has taught us to feel ashamed, to feel less than others who “got it right.” So, the fear of being wrong is common, but you shouldn’t let that erode the quality of your relationships.
It takes courage to humble ourselves because society often labels the humble as weak, and no one wants to be considered weak. But anger, blind stubbornness, and a lack of empathy are not signs of strength. They are signs of someone who hasn’t developed the strength that it takes to be centered in who they are rather than how society views them.
Connection and Affection
Vulnerability. Without it, relationships are shallow and lonely. No one enters a relationship hoping to feel lonely, but when you’re afraid of being vulnerable, you miss out on the greatest gifts of relationships―connection and affection.
In relationships, people sometimes withhold affection to avoid vulnerability because they think it makes them weak. But as Brené Brown has said, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
The paradox is that the fear of showing your weaknesses makes you weak, while the courage to show your weaknesses makes you strong.
Though you don’t necessarily have to show affection to your doctor, lawyer, coworkers, clients, or classmates, connection is something worth striving for with every encounter we make. You’ll connect in varying degrees, of course, but even a knowing smile exchanged with a passing stranger can be meaningful.
If you’ve been feeling a bit lonely lately, do an assessment of how willing you’ve been to make deep connections and show affection.
Novelty and Change
The first reason you need the courage to embrace change is that things can get stale and boring when people aren’t willing to mix it up. You learn more about the other person when you engage them in various activities and in various settings. That cold and distant coworker might suddenly seem warm and friendly when you eat lunch away from the office, or meet for coffee on the weekend.
The second reason fear of change can destroy relationships is that the other person in a relationship is bound to change if you know them long enough. They will either change physically, or they will learn something new that changes their worldview, or they will have an experience that sets them on a new course in life.
You never really know what the change will be, when it’ll happen, where, or why, but we’re all going to change. So if you’re only interested in relationships that will stay exactly the same, you’re setting yourself up for heartache.
In some cases, the most courageous thing to do is terminate the relationship.
Some people simply aren’t fit to be bosses, coworkers, parents, spouses, partners, friends, doctors, hairstylists, or lawyers, at least not yours, and it has nothing to do with you or your actions or your efforts to make the relationship work.
Although I said people will change, I must emphasize that you cannot make them change, and you cannot predict how they will change.
That means you should not stay in an abusive relationship on the hope that the person will stop degrading you, bullying you, intimidating you, stealing from you, hitting you, or manipulating you.
It’s easy to never go back to a restaurant that offers terrible customer service, or a doctor’s office that treats you like just an insignificant number, or a hairstylist that ignores what you say you want. But terminating more intimate relationships is infinitely more frightening. Thus, the well-calculated decision to do so is infinitely more courageous.
If you’re unsatisfied with one or more relationships, evaluate whether you can do something to help the problem. Do you need to communicate better? Should you accept the changes that have occurred in the other person? Is there a need for you to apologize or make some changes? Or should you simply walk away? Only you can decide after a time of courageous self-reflection.