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On the last day of the year, I’ve found myself reflecting on the past twelve months and, in particular, the ebb and flow my relationships. While reflecting, I realized I was trying to fit my relationships (and people!) into neat little boxes, labeled “GOOD” or “BAD,” and it just wasn’t working out. Because, as I’m sure you know, relationships are complex. They don’t always fit clearly into boxes. They can’t always be labeled clearly.
My feelings about most people, even those I love dearly, are mixed. For someone like me, who really likes to identify and label things in order to better analyze and understand them, this can be tricky. So, I decided to do what I always do when confronted with trickiness: write about it! I sat down this morning to write about the idea of mixed feelings and realized, ultimately, that it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Sure, it would be great if we could identify every person in our lives as “good” or “bad” so that we’d know who to surround ourselves with, but life — and people! — don’t work like that.
Like it or not, mixed feelings are a part of relationships, so we might as well learn to deal with them the best we can! I came up with a little method I like to call F.A.C.E. that can help you (and me!) cope with the complicated mess of mixed feelings. This is especially useful for people you love and interact with often (as those are the people we often have the most complex relationships with!), but I bet it can work pretty well for new relationships as well as a way to figure out how you really feel about a person you’re just getting to know!
FIGURE OUT THE FEELINGS
First and foremost, you have to figure out what you’re feeling! This may sound obvious, but when you spend a lot of time with someone or have known them for a long time, sometimes we don’t even pay attention to how we feel about them. Figuring out precisely what you feel is essential for coping with the mixed emotions. There are many different ways to feel about others, but here’s a list of some emotions you might consider while figuring out your feelings (note: lots of these words aren’t technically considered emotions in the psychological sense, but I find these words helpful when trying to figure out feelings):
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EMOTIONS
Next, it’s important to pay attention to what’s happening when you’re actually interacting with that person. It’s one thing to sit down alone and consider how a person makes you feel, but it’s quite another to tune into it in the moment. Here are three questions to consider when contemplating mixed emotions:
- How do I feel when I think about spending time with them?
- How do I feel while I’m spending time with them?
- How do I feel after I’ve just spend time with them?
There is likely more than one answer to these questions depending on the day and circumstances, but paying attention to these three questions frequently will give you a better sense of how this person makes you feel overall and can clue you into nuances about the relationship that you might not have otherwise realized.
CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS
After you’ve given consideration to how you feel about the person generally and how you feel in specific situations, before, after, and during interactions with this person, now it’s time to go a little further and consider the big question: So what? You’ve now got a pretty good idea of what you feel about this person, but now you have to consider what this means. Understanding the mixed feelings you have usually will lead to one of three conclusions:
- This person is no good for me and I should spend less time with them.
- This person is good for me and I should spend more time with them.
- This person is both good and bad for me and I should be mindful of the time spent with them.
Those are pretty much the options you have when dealing with a relationship, which leads us to the last step…
EMBRACE CHANGE OR ACCEPTANCE
Recognizing your options (see 1-3 above) doesn’t mean that you’re actually going to take action, which is where this next step comes in. You have two choices: embrace change (if necessary) or accept things as they are, for better or worse. Sometimes, after going through these steps, you might come to the conclusion that someone is no good for you but you still might want to spend lots of time with them. That’s up to you, but if you choose that path, you must accept the consequences of it. On the flip side, if you find that change (spending more or less time with someone) is necessary, it’s up to you to embrace — and perhaps initiate — that change. Whatever the situation, it generally comes down to one of two options: change or accept.
Most of us probably run through the F.A.C.E. method in our subconscious without even realizing it, but taking the time to really deal with mixed emotions and actively choose an outcome is empowering, even if we don’t always choose the thing that’s best for us. There’s something powerful about making a choice — even the wrong one — rather than just floating along and waiting for something to happen. Yes, there are two people in every relationship, but the only one you can control is yourself, so you might as well take charge of your feelings and actively make some choices, especially as we’re heading into a new year!