Relationship First

Conversation, Margret Hofheinz-Döring (German, 1910-1994)
"Conversation", Margret Hofheinz-Döring (German, 1910-1994)

These two words are sacred to me.

These two words sum up the wisdom of my entire lifetime.

What I’m talking about is connection – or disconnection.

One of the biggest regrets most people experience at the end of their lives is that they didn’t risk “being themselves” in relationship. They spent their lives trying not to upset other people, earning others’ approval, and trying to control themselves and others with the idea that this would insure their safety.  They played it safe instead of living from their heart.

At this juncture in their lives, they often have an intuitive sense of missing out on something bigger –an alive and authentic life.  They had lived a “black and white” life and yearn to know “color and vibrancy.”

I, myself, woke up to “relationship first” when I was afraid I’d lose my connection with my teenage daughter over her turning in her homework or not.  I had choice.  I could keep pressuring her to do her homework so she’d get good grades and go to college where she’d get a degree which would help her have a good life.  Whooh!  I told myself the story that she’d/we’d be okay if she conformed.  So I tried to control her for our security.

OR I could make our connection the higher priority.  I could listen to her with an open heart.  I could really hear her and honor the connection she had with herself and our connection.  I could trust her and let her spread her wings and encourage her to fly.

Making the choice for “relationship first” means getting connected to me first – my relationship with myself.  I heard the part of me that had the idea that controlling my daughter would insure our safety.   Another part felt our relationship slipping away, and it was afraid to lose it.  Another part wanted to trust her to find her way – to give her space and acceptance, that I “had her back” no matter what and that I believed in her.  Just by naming and acknowledging these parts that were swirling in my head, I found clarity.

After getting connected to myself, I had space to listen to what she wanted.  Being an especially bright girl, she didn’t want to do homework just for the sake of doing homework or submitting to the rules of doing the work when she already understood and got the concepts.  She wanted choice about what she did and didn’t do and to do only what was meaningful to her.  She wanted for that to matter to her teachers and to me.  I heard her beautiful needs and knew that they lived in me as well.

In the end, we connected.  We heard what was important to each other.  I let go of my strategy of forcing her to turn in all of her homework.  I chose trust and acceptance.  I chose the preciousness of our connection.

Anyone curious about how the story ended with my daughter?  Flash forward 11 years.  She chose to go to college and now happily and proudly has her master’s degree.

Putting relationship first is no doubt a more colorful ride.  I am more present to what is alive in me and in others in each moment.  I celebrate the depth of connection I have with my family and friends.

I feel more.  I trust more.  I love more.

And “relationship first” has made all the difference..

I’d love for us all to learn from one another.  Have you reached a similar turning point? Are you looking for an opening like this? Share your story here.

6 thoughts on “Relationship First

  1. Teresa, it’s so wonderful to know that you will be blogging here. I enjoyed this post… It took guts to act as you did. At first, I was thinking that I could file this wisdom away for later, but then it dawned on me that “relationship first” applies even when my kids are small. Right now, my son is feeling very jealous of his little sister and any attention that she receives. So he is sometimes cruel to his sister and he “acts out” in various ways that are very frustrating to me. I am learning that the best way to help him is to try to connect to the pain and worry he is feeling about his status in our family. Wonder if sibling rivalry is a topic that you might cover here someday? : )

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    1. Hi Mary, yes, sibling rivalry is a topic I’d love to cover here.
      I’m celebrating with you to see you applying “relationship first” right away! I’m hearing you see how your son’s “acting out” stems from his worry and pain based in some unmet needs he’s having. You’re connecting with him and helping him connect with his needs for attention and maybe some order or predictability as his status in your family changes with his little sister on the scene. When you do this, he can relax into deeper connection with himself, you, and your family – knowing that his needs matter, that he’s being seen, and that there’s space for him to be heard.
      At the same time, I’m wanting the same tenderness and connection for you, Mary. (Maybe you’ve already connected with your own feelings and needs and just didn’t name them all here. I’ll make some guesses for you to consider.) Are you feeling frustrated with your son, because you’re wanting peace between your son and daughter and the ease that would give you? Is there a part in you that is afraid of his “acting out” toward his sister? Maybe some thoughts come in here like he shouldn’t be so jealous?
      For me, I find that making space for “relationship first” within myself is the foundation of the process. The more I connect with myself first, the more space there is in me to give and connect with others.
      Mary, I appreciate you speaking out here, for your awareness, and for your beautiful contribution of “relationship first” to your family. I look forward to hearing from you again!

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      1. Wow, you hit right on the part I was missing. I hadn’t given attention to my own feelings, so it was startling (in a very good way) that you pointed that out. Yes, I feel frustrated and worried and dismayed when my son says cruel things about his little sister or behaves hostilely toward her (e.g., shutting a door in her face). I also feel angry at him for doing those things. So connecting with myself first would help me more often to respond with compassion. For some reason, tending my own needs as worthy of attention continues to be a challenge. Thanks for reminding me that self-connection is a necessary and essential first step in reaching out to my son.

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      2. Mary, I’m appreciating hearing that my comment helped remind you to connect to your own feelings first. 🙂
        I look forward to hearing from you again!
        Warmly, Teresa

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  2. I just had a rough morning with my son. (Oh, those rush-off-to-school stressors.) So I came back to review this article, which I am appreciating yet again.

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    1. Mary, I’m happy to hear that re-reading my post has been a support for you on your rough morning. 🙂 What was your ah-ha this time? Teresa

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