My friend called me with tears in his eyes and a heavy and confused heart. He almost could not utter the words but he needed to say it to someone and for some reason I was the person that came to his mind. We went through the formalities and then he blurted, “I don’t like my child, he doesn’t seem to be the person I thought he would grow up to be, he is aloof, doesn’t show any care or concern for me and just seems to take and take in our relationship without giving much back and the little he gives back is often at my request. I feel used as a parent and we don’t have much to talk about. I don’t know him and I have tried to reach out to him but he is so distant and it hurts.”
I listened patiently, making soothing sounds as he poured out his heart and as he talked, I remembered another friend who had confided in me about her husband; how she didn’t like him anymore. She said they no longer had the same or shared interests, she didn’t like how he looked as he had grown a potbelly and it was a turn off for her. She didn’t like his new circle of friends and found that they both had different opinions about a lot of things. She felt she didn’t really know him anymore and many a time, she found herself wondering who he really was and why they were still together.
Both friends admitted upon my prodding, that if the person they complained about were in any danger, trouble or difficulty of any kind, they would be there to support them in a blink of an eye, without second thoughts and they also admitted that if they had to choose between the relationship they had now and no relationship at all with the person they would choose the former.
From our conversation, they realized that they still had strong feelings for their loved ones which transcended the present state of their relationship but they could not help acknowledging that they did not like them or better still they wished they had a better relationship with them.
They wondered at the possibility of loving someone and not liking them and thought that there was something wrong with them and that they were betraying their loved ones by even entertaining these thoughts. I managed to persuade them that it was quite a common yet rarely acknowledged feeling. A lot of us find ourselves in relationships that are either blood or love-based ( parental/ filial/ spousal) where we love the person and will do our utmost to help and support them but dislike their behaviour, character, choices and personality.
I told them I had walked in their shoes and that at a time in my marriage I had to admit after telling myself a lie for so long that I still loved Mr Aisi even though I didn’t like him. My main feelings towards him then were that of dissatisfaction and irritation and I showed it on every occasion whether it was warranted or not because that was what I was fixated upon. After a while, it dawned on me, that the main culprits were not necessarily the person but a break in communication, the loss of friendship and unmet expectations.
I am no psychiatrist, but I do know that we humans tend to cast our loved ones in a certain mould and when they don’t behave as expected we find it difficult to like them. In overcoming these feelings I have found the following to be helpful:
a. A coming to terms with and an understanding that we are all different and that no one including me is perfect. This realization made it easy for me to accept the things I didn’t like in my loved ones and acknowledge that I had certain behaviours that they didn’t like but had come to accept.
b. I sought out and acknowledged their good parts, behavior and actions. There is good in every one and in most close relationships we tend to overlook the admirable and beautiful parts of our loved ones majoring and focusing only on the parts we don’t like. I did this especially with my children. I wrote down 10 things I liked about each of them and when I had reason to compare them or be upset about their behavior, I resorted to my list to remind myself about the qualities they had that I admired.
c. I looked for things we had in common. Common interests, likes, desires anything that made us connect better with one another and I made sure also I learnt a bit more about whatever interest they had. For Mr Aisi, it was his work and football. I learnt to follow ( I didn’t watch ) the game, supported Arsenal his club, checked Twitter for news about their games their wins and losses and made conversations around them.
d. Respect each other’s person and boundaries. Respect is critical in every relationship as people gravitate towards the people that value them and I found out that respecting other’s opinions, perspective and values changed our relationship from one bound by blood and filial ties to one where we really liked one another.
e. Lower expectations, I realized that in so many ways I felt entitled to expect feedback in the way I wanted it but in lowering my expectations I gave allowance for disappointment and also to be pleasantly surprised and more appreciative of every good gesture.
f. Sharing my life with them. I tell them how I am feeling, what my thoughts are on issues whether they show an initial interest or not and because I have not closed up in frustration and annoyance, they have also found it easier to be open with me about their lives.
g. Give them space. Absence they say makes the heart grow fonder. When we give people space to be themselves and let them dictate the pace of our relationship especially when we have been in their business we tend to ( if we are honest with ourselves) appreciate their input in our lives more. The truth is that we will always have issues with our loved ones and it behoves those who notice the distance, acknowledge that something is missing to reach out and try to mend the relationship. We should aim to be friends with our loved ones whether they are our siblings, spouses, parents, children or extended family members. That’s the only way we get to really like the people we love.