In teaching emotional skills, whether it be tactical, emotional, or experiential, I must confess I can be overzealous. I’m so focused on either working someone’s relational muscle or getting excited when I witness progress, that I often forget to mention context. 

Ah, yes. That. Context.

Because relationships are not one-size-fits all. We ain’t in the bathrobe department at Macy’s. Rather, we are in the underwear department where x-small means half your ass and x-large means we got you covered. Size matters as does context, my friends. Self-care means choosing wisely. 

Some relationships are growth-oriented. We are both committed to the development of further closeness, relational transparency, repair, and growth in both our self and in the relationship. Because of this, there is a base of trust and safety that allows to relationship to go deeper and withstand more of the raw and the real. 

Use your well-honed relational skills here, such as putting your emotional truth on the table in a respectful way, making a request, expressing vulnerable feelings, risking that you might be heard and understood if you have something other than a positive feeling toward the other, etc. 

This camp better include your partner (if not, get a new one). And maybe a best friend, adult child, or close family member – if you are that lucky.

And then there are relationships that are limited. You choose to stay in the shallow end of the pool and have accepted that it will never be more or deeper. Because either the other person is too relationally dangerous to hold your full range of feelings, or the nature of the relationship dictates a narrower bandwidth. 

Now, we still want to have our integrity and show up respectfully and relationally. But we remain clear in our choices and expectations because the relationship is best kept within the lanes of its defined limitation. Think superficial and social friends, neighbors, co-workers, most of our family members and certainly, our boss. These relationships serve an important function but at the end of the day, these individuals probably don’t have time or give a shit about your feelings and what you need differently from them. Just show up happy at the cocktail party, let me borrow a cup of sugar, get the report in on time and bring me a good gift at the office Christmas gift exchange. Any more than that in a limited relationship then you are setting yourself up for hurt. You don’t want to do that.

Many of you know that I love group therapy’s effectiveness in teaching humans how to be close to other humans with their verbalized thoughts and feelings. 

And of course, as if on cue, I hear this often – “I tried talking the way we do in group with my co-worker/friend/mother, and it didn’t go so well.”

I’m caught between a laugh and a cry.

Context.  Again, I forgot to mention that essential part.

What we learn in group is the nectar of the gods. Emotional and relational juice at its sweetest. But don’t try it at home with just anybody. It will likely fail.

But when you choose to try it wisely, meaning in the right context with the right person who is also growth-oriented and is invested in learning the art and skill of intimate human relating, then winner-winner-chicken-dinner. Not sure it gets any better for us mere mortals.  

So, remember, size matters when it comes to relationships. Your heart is too important for one-size-fits-all.