Winter’s dank chill has many legacies—collections of mismatched gloves, a tendency to place “mac” and “cheese” on par with “Romeo” and “Juliet”, the resulting extra 10 pounds. But the most time-honoured tradition of all is spring cleaning, when lifting up chairs to sweep underneath them engenders a sense of pride, not grumpy exhaustion.
This year, ELLE has a challenge for you: Take things up a notch by learning how to spring clean your relationships, not just your closet. We spoke with Kimberly Moffit, a Toronto-based life coach, to discover the challenges and rewards of shaking up destructive patterns in romance, friendship, and family. Consider these six steps a path to a healthier, happier life.
Step 1: Check your attitude.
Change is always a delicate process, so begin your approach with confidence, not aggression. (Think Hermione Granger, not Lisbeth Salander.) You’re embarking on this path to detoxify your relationships, not fumigate them. Keep your intentions in mind throughout. Are you hoping to gain clarity? Balance? Resolution? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it? “This is about your emotional well-being and learning to live your life to the fullest,” explains Moffit. “In order for that to work, you need to give yourself permission to put yourself first.”
Step 2: Get out the Moleskine and Montblanc.
Make a list. Moffit suggests cataloguing all the relationships in your life, and how you feel when you think about them. Consider: What are you gaining from this relationship? What is the other person gaining from you? Do you feel happy or exhausted at the thought of them? Pay attention to reactions that make you feel uncomfortable. Do you feel guilty when you think about your mother? Jealous when you think about your BF? (If your BF is Andrew Garfield, that’s a rational reaction.) You might uncover deep-seated issues which are poisoning your relationships—and you’ll figure out which ones need the heavy-duty CLR clean, and which are fine with a bit of spit and polish.
Step 3: Break out of your rut.
Start simple, with the spit and polish relationships. Most long-term connections—whether friendship or romances—suffer from the occasional rut. Shared interests might be what brought you together, but if you’re spending every Friday night choosing between the mango chicken and the pad thai, it’s time to shake things up a bit. “You need to feel excited about something together,” says Moffit. “Plan a trip, adopt a pet, or sit down together and write a list of goals that you want to achieve together, or fun things that you want to do in the next year. It will inject new life into your relationship, and give you something to work towards together.”
Step 4: Learn healthy confrontation skills.
Now for the juicy bits: The relationships that need some serious attention. “In relationships, we’re only treated the way that we allow people to treat us,” counsels Moffit. “Your job is to set new boundaries.” If a friend is chronically late, tell her that you’ll only wait for 15 minutes before leaving. Then do it. Boundaries only work when they’re enforced. If a family member hogs what Moffit calls “the emotional capacity” of a relationship by only talking about herself, call her on it, by telling her how insignificant it makes you feel. Easier said than done, right? “It’s normal to avoid conflict,” says Moffit. “Saying nothing is easier, but it leads to resentment, which can toxify the relationship out of proportion to the original issue.”
Step 5: Give it time, but know when to call it.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one honest conversation led to permanent change? That might be the case with some of your relationships, but likely not all of them. If a relationship is valuable to you, pursue the kind of change that will make it invaluable.
Then take a hard look at the relationships which you originally labeled as toxic. Are they worth saving? “We tend to evaluate our friendships based on duration, rather than actual quality,” explains Moffit. “The idea is ‘I’ve been friends with her for five years, I can’t just walk away.’ We tend not to evaluate how it’s serving us right now.’” But a toxic friendship—even a casual one that doesn’t approach the craziness of the Leighton Meester/Minka Kelly dynamic in The Roommate—can drain energy from the relationships that make you feel supported and loved. If this is the case, gather the strength to put yourself first: End the relationship.
Step 6: Bask in the eternal joy of the spotless relationship.
Congratulations! You’ve nurtured richer, more fulfilling relationships. Another bonus of the spring cleaning session? In the process of creating spic and span relationships, you’ve learned other important skills. “We’re not born being assertive,” Moffit says. “Standing up for ourselves and having the courage to address the things that aren’t working for us are abilities that we have to learn. Once we’ve learned them, they’ll help us in everything else that we do.”
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