3 Roadblocks to Deeper Relationships
Do you sometimes wonder why relationships are such hard work? Relationships are arguably the most central aspect of human life – why should they be so difficult? The answer may lie in some interesting cultural tides that have served as roadblocks to our natural ability to form relationships with others.
Here’s a quick look at the top 3 roadblocks to deeper relationships:
1. Social Media.
This may be the most talked-about barrier to forming deep friendships. The consensus seems to be that social media provides the illusion of social support while distracting us from being present to those in our immediate surroundings. Interestingly enough, neuropsychological studies show the use of social media and online technology contributes to higher levels of cortisol – a hormone highly associated with stress. So not only does social media keep us from building life-giving relationships, it may also contribute to higher levels of anxiety and depression.
To work around this cultural road block, it’s important to set up structures in your life that help prioritize relationships over social media. Try calling 5 friends and setting up a weekly time to meet together. This may “feed” that part of you that desires more relational connection to others, without the added cortisol.
Productivity increasingly drives our behavior. As a result, “free-time” can be seen as “wasted time” – time that is unproductive. This cultural tide may help us feel better about “productive” hobbies and extra hours at work, and more guilty about “less productive” activities, such as talking, reflecting, hanging out, and listening. The result is we spend less time being present with each other.
The truth is, however, that being productive – doing a task – is unsustainable without times of reflection and enjoyment. Neurological studies have found two basic modes of operation in the brain: active processing and passive processing. Active processing happens when the mind is engaged in a task, such as sending an email. However, when the mind is not attending to a task, it switches over to passive processing, which means it filters through and consolidates past experience. Catching up with a friend, telling your spouse about your day, or talking with your therapist are ways the mind can switch modes in order to process past experience. This natural tendency actually helps us be more productive in the long run. Despite our cultural trend toward “productivity”, our brains are built to ebb and flow from active to passive processing throughout the day. So take time to take a break with a friend.
3. Few Social Spaces.
This road block takes a keen eye to spot. Social space is required for relationships. Think about a couple who gets married. Often they leave their parent’s house and move into their own space in order to make room for their new relationship. Community centers, churches, coffee shops, and parks are social spaces that allow room for us to value and invest in relationships. Some of our city planning (literally) road-blocks deeper relationships. Freeways, strip-malls, and track housing weren’t build with relationships in mind. As a result we end up thinking about shopping, commutes, billboards, work, and errands, rather than connecting with each other.
Overcoming this road block might start with looking for spaces in your neighborhood that foster social relationships. Consider setting time aside each week to visit your local coffee shop or meet a friend in your neighborhood park. Spending time in these places may help you notice and value your relationships in new ways.
I see psychotherapy as another kind of social space. It’s a chance to reprioritize, to process, and to consolidate, helping you to find greater presence, connection, and wholeness in your life.