Don’t Be Relationship Lazy!

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Have you ever heard of the regrets most frequently expressed by people who are in the process of dying?

  • Do you think they wish they had worked more?
  • Do you think they wished they had spent less time with the people they love?

One of the biggest regrets shared by people who are dying relates indeed to their relationships. They wish they had obsessed less about their career and spent more time with their partner and children. They wish they had stayed in touch with their friends over the years.

Why do some people let their relationships slip under their radar?

In addition to describing nine basic personality types, the Enneagram system also talks about three instinctual subtypes: the self-preserving instinct, the one-on-one instinct and the social instinct. These three instincts are the three strategies that we human beings use to survive and feel comfortable in the world. We use all of them but strongly favor one over the others:

  • Self-preserving people tend to focus on their own needs, especially the ones related to survival and comfort. They primarily rely on themselves to meet their needs.
  • One-on-one people are drawn to creating and nurturing one-on-one relationships; they like dealing with life’s ups and downs with special allies.
  • People whose social instinct is the strongest favor forming teams with groups of people sharing similar concerns or interests.

As you can imagine, people with a strong one-on-one instinct are the most likely to invest a lot of energy in their relationships throughout their life (that's me!). On the other hand, people favoring their self-preserving or social instinct might be more likely to focus on other aspects of life, that are by the way very important as well.

Usually this is in the area of the weakest instinct that we run into problems, usually because this blind spot leads us to ignoring a vital aspect of life. For example, someone whose least favored instinct is self-preservation might struggle with self-care and might need to learn to manage their own self with more discipline. Someone with a weak social instinct might feel awkward in groups or not even grasp the benefit of being part of a community, and they would benefit from learning to collaborate with groups of like-minded individuals.

And finally, people whose blind spot is their one-on-one instinct are more likely to forget or postpone investing in their intimate relationships, despite probably having plenty of loved ones in their life. For example, it’s the person who forgets or postpones to get back to that friend or family member who wrote an email or left a voicemail a while ago. It's the person who would really like to find a new partner but who feels exhausted at the idea of going on dates and connecting one-on-one with a new person. Basically it's the person who tends to schedule and make time for self-preserving and/or social aspects of life but lets one-on-one relationships fall to the bottom of the priority list.

All of these attitudes and feelings are human and valid - just like the ones of the person having difficulties with self-care or lacking interest or a sense of comfort and ease in social groups - but it’s worthwhile to challenge these automatic patterns of avoidance. The price to pay for living our life on the automatic pilot of our strongest instinctual subtype is not only the risk of a lot of regrets later in life but also more immediately the certainty of missing out on a lot of the juiciness of life in the present moment. And one of the most fulfilling aspects of life is being an active part of happy, healthy and satisfying relationships!

If you do not naturally favor the one-on-one instinct, what can you do to boost that aspect of yourself and of your life?

Here are a few ideas to get started:

1. Accept yourself and validate what you already do well! Chances are that you’re very good with taking care of your own needs or the needs of your family, special groups and communities!

2. Commit to grow your one-on-one instinct by intentionally putting more energy into your special relationships.

3. Make a list of people you cherish or with whom you’d like to feel more connected in general. Start with the most important people, then add other people you care about, both personally and professionally.

4. At the end of your morning practice (even if it’s just breakfast for you!), visualize one by one each person of your list and send them loving energy. If they are a lot of people on your list, split it in smaller groups and create a rotation. If you know what they most wish for in their life, visualize them being already in that situation, happy, healthy and radiant with joy. What a powerful prayer this is!

5. Every weekend, pick one person of your list and either call them on the phone for a spontaneous chat, or schedule an in-person meeting for later. This could be a conversation over a drink/meal or a shared activity based on common interests.

6. Try to figure out the love language of the people closest to you (partner, children, closest friends) and make sure to regularly express your appreciation of them in their preferred love language. Aim for once per day for the people living with you. Yes, you must find time for this.

7. Consider occasionally inviting a person of your list to join you in an activity you already do on your own, or in a group you are already part of, if that's appropriate. Maybe your loved one's self-preserving or social instinct could use a boost!

Don’t wait any longer. Start nurturing your precious relationships now!