Rules of engagement – How to cultivate healthy relationships?

75 year Harvard study

Everyone’s been talking about the 75-year study conducted by Harvard on happiness. Its results say that happy life is equivalent to the healthy relationships you have. But how do we form healthy relationships?

Let’s explore the nature of most relationships today, they are bound by certain rules of engagement. It is noted by most people that friends are easier to interact with and tend to be a little more supportive than family. Why is that?

Situations that affect family and friends differently:

1. If you choose to have a job that pays $1000/month:
For family: It means you might depend on them for the rest of your needs. Even if you don’t, they might feel obligated to do so. Or if your wants are limited to this amount, they still might insist on you changing your preferences because ‘it doesn’t look good on them’, when everyone’s sons and daughters are doing “well”!

For friends: You choosing to live in $1000/month or per week, doesn’t affect them. And even if you choose to live with your friend you will not expect them to provide you with food/help you with anything. When they do it, it is out of their own volition. And hence, what they do, seems god-like and expectation-free.

2. You choose to be a nomad:
For family: They are somehow obligated to “be there” till you are done with your ‘wander-lust’ or they have to tag along with you, sometimes even if they don’t want to. At other times, they just can’t accept this side of you, “Why aren’t you like everyone else?”, “Why can’t you just be in a place?” Too many things are tied with what you do, hence it becomes a tug-of-war.

For friends: Doesn’t matter. You are free to go anywhere, if they are there when you come back, you will see them again. If not, you are on your own.

3. You are waiting for the right moment in your career:
For family: That’s a terrible time, because they cannot depend on you for anything (financial dependability is everything for most people). They will give you timelines, deadlines or try to change your career, because they get affected by your choices.

For friends: Doesn’t matter. If they can help you, they will or they stay away. Sometimes they even motivate you with words, offer financial help if they can and so on. They rarely offer advice, because they never assume that they know more than you do.

4. You eat junk:
For family: It means that you might suffer from health problems and they will have to care for you. You might depend on them in the near future or you might die and they won’t have you around.

For friends: Doesn’t matter. They might express their concern a couple of times, but might join you, because they don’t have to eat ‘unhealthy’ with you daily.

5. You have kids:
For family: Firstly, they want you to, because they don’t understand otherwise. They might have to take care of the kids. Sometimes, they just want YOU to have kids without wanting anything to do with it, because women are supposed to have kids! They want to fit you into stereotypes. And sometimes you want it too, because you also want to fit in.

For friends: Doesn’t matter. They really have nothing to do with your kids, unless they explicitly state it. They have nothing to do with your choice to have them either.

We could make a long list here, but the commonality here is that FAMILY equals Rules of engagement and somehow that term scares me to no end! Family is a ‘little’ society and it makes sure with its rules that everyone fits into the box. Of course, there are exceptions amongst friends and family members.

As of now, everyone maintains good relationships with family by usually ‘killing’ parts of themselves that are not accepted and change so much that they cannot even recognize who they are! No one really, has the time to know who you are, and nor do you have that kind of time. We are constantly figuring out who we are, but this process is thwarted by imposing a rule of engagement, by assuming that the other person doesn’t know. We forget that it is a process.

There is a lot to learn for each one of us, in terms of RESPECTING each other’s points of view, choices, and ways of interacting with the world. The Harvard study in a sense is incomplete, because it tells you that healthy relationships are important, but relationships can seem healthy when you start pleasing people around you. Perhaps, you can form healthy relationships, only when you challenge your boundaries and nudge each other to be better human beings by being more accepting of different ways of living.

We all have certain ways of engaging with the world, can we live and let-live and support when we can, while we figure our own rules for engagement?

This article was written by a deeply mysterious desi who prefers to stay in the shadows.