"Gold number 10 ten"Ten Ways to Weed Out Relationships That Don’t Work—and Strengthen Those That Do

Our economic upheaval has accomplished one good thing: it’s reminded many of us that the people we love matter more than anything money can buy. Susan Apollon explains how to make more room in your life for deeper, more meaningful relationships.

It’s been a rough few years. As a nation we’ve lost many things. Jobs. Companies. Homes. Retirement funds. A sense of security. Here in the post-Madoff, post-Great Recession era, many of us have even lost our faith in the bedrock American certainty that old-fashioned hard work leads to a comfortable and happy life. These are surely losses worth grieving. And yet, as we pick through the rubble of our old lives, many of us are discovering some pretty remarkable gifts, says psychologist and author Susan Apollon.

Most notably, we’ve come to realize that our relationships with loved ones mean far more than driving the right car and living in the right house ever could.

“When the trappings of materialism fall away, we can see that true joy and satisfaction are found in meaningful time spent with our partner, our children, our friends, and even our pets,” says Apollon, author of Touched by the Extraordinary, Book Two: Healing Stories of Love, Loss & Hope. “Most of us know that intellectually, but it can take a little nudge to realize it on a heart and soul level.”

Our attachment to material things—and our dogged pursuit of them—has a way of distracting us from the people we are supposedly working so hard for, she points out. But when circumstances change, we come to see that what we thought was so important really isn’t. This can be a shocking, and deeply gratifying, wake-up call.

“Since they’re not working 60-hour weeks anymore, husbands and wives are rediscovering the pleasures of shared time together,” Apollon points out. “Children love the fact that their parents are now able to attend their school and sports events. Friends are enjoying weekend visits. And while, yes, people may need to look for a new job, they realize they’re no longer willing to sacrifice these deeper relationships in the process.

“What’s fascinating is that these are lessons similar to those people learn when they’re facing their own death or the death of a loved one,” she adds.

That said, these challenging times are a blessing and an opportunity. Even if your economic reality hasn’t changed—and very few people have been totally unaffected by the events of the past several years—now is the perfect time to take stock of your relationships.

First, get clear on what your values are. Really spend some time thinking about how you want to live your life and what you look for in others. Trustworthiness? Honesty? Mutual respect? Forgiveness? It might help to write out a list. When you have consciously identified what is important to you, what feels right, and what makes you feel comfortable and safe, you’ll be able to determine whether those things are present in your relationships. If you’ve never really given much thought to your own values, your intuition won’t be developed enough to zero in on the red flags.

Start paying attention to how people make you feel. Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve met another person who just didn’t feel “right,” even though you might not have been able to put your finger on why. Maybe you called it a gut feeling, a premonition, or intuition, but you simply knew deep down that this relationship wouldn’t go anywhere good. According to Apollon, trusting such feelings is usually a smart idea even if there is no “rational” reason to do so.

Listen with your heart, not your ears. Whether you’ve just met someone or are spending time with a friend, coworker, or acquaintance you’ve known for years, really listen during your conversation. According to Apollon, that doesn’t just mean using your ears—it also means using your heart. In other words, look for a lack of congruity between the words being said and the way those words make you feel.

Ignore popular opinion and trust your higher self. You might think, Everyone else just loves the new guy at work, but he rubs me the wrong way. What am I not seeing? Or perhaps, On paper this high-profile client seems perfect for our company…so why does signing this contract make me feel so nervous? Instead of wondering what you’re misinterpreting, trust yourself. Whether it’s a person, idea, or choice at stake, when you trust what you know intuitively, things will work out for the best—even if you can’t see how at the moment.

Don’t feel bad about letting relationships that don’t work fall away. As you begin to get more comfortable with trusting what your intuition tells you, you’ll inevitably identify relationships that are unhealthy. (Again, another person or group can be bad for you without being inherently bad itself!) Your first instinct might be to try to “make it work”—after all, no one wants to hurt another’s feelings unnecessarily. Realize, though, that it’s okay to extract yourself from a negative relationship, or at least to back off and relate to the person on a more superficial level.

Practice the fine art of forgiveness. If you’ve ever realized that a relationship was bad for you—especially if the other party treated you with malice, disrespect, or spite—you might have walked away with hard feelings. First, acknowledge your anger or resentment. Then, get rid of it through forgiveness. Refusing to forgive other people for their wrongs (or for what you perceive as their wrongs) is one of the most toxic acts a person can commit against herself, while forgiveness is a function of love, says Apollon.

Pamper yourself regularly (wine, chocolate, and massages encouraged!). Think about it this way, says Apollon: if you are frazzled, tired, and overextended, how are you really going to be able to show other people genuine concern, compassion, and love? In order to be a fair partner in a relationship, you need to have a good stock of energy and positive emotions. And that means taking good care of yourself.

Visualize and expect better relationships. You’ve heard of the Law of Attraction: like energy attracts like energy. If you spend time obsessing over the relationships in your life that aren’t going so well, you’ll end up attracting even more negative people and situations. On the flip side, if you think positive thoughts, you will attract positive things, people, and events into your life. That’s why it’s so important to be clear about your intentions. You need to decide what a healthy, comfortable relationship looks like for you and keep that picture in your mind.

Practice positivity. The Law of Attraction isn’t just limited to what you visualize for the future; it also applies to how you’re behaving right now. Specifically, frequent complaints and negativity breed more of the same. Remember that every morning when you wake up, the ball is in your court in regards to how you want to spend your day. If you exude bitterness, anger, or self-pity, you may be bringing those around you down, too. Indeed, it’s possible that some of the people in your life are right and healthy for you, but that you are poisoning the relationship with constant negativity.

Take time to nurture the good relationships. Yes, it’s certainly worth your time, energy, and intentions to improve less-than-healthy relationships and to attract wonderful new people into your life. But don’t forget about the family members and friends who have been sources of joy and inspiration for you all along! Be sure to give these relationships regular “maintenance.” Make a point to spend meaningful time with those you love. Don’t just go through the motions or put in face time—really connect on a heart-to-heart level!

About the Author: As a psychologist and an author, Susan Apollon empowers and heals the body, mind, and soul; as an educator, she informs; as a speaker, she inspires and touches the heart. She integrates the gifts and challenges of having lived more than sixty-five years with the joy and satisfaction of being married for more than forty-four years to her husband, Warren, a practicing orthodontist, along with the role of being mom to her two adult children, Rebecca, an Emergency Medicine physician, and her son, David, a Management Consultant.