“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” ~Mary Engelbreit
We all know at least one person who we think needs a self-help course or book more than we do. They’re the “wrong” ones, at least in our minds.
I once was in a relationship with a man who seemed to have placed me at the bottom of his priority list. He would always be too busy playing sports or going out with his coworkers to spend time with me.
I found myself modifying my weekend schedule to match his and becoming anxious when I wasn’t successful. Finding time to be with him had become a source of stress. I used to think that if he changed, our relationship would be perfect and my worry would disappear.
So I did what many of us do: I suggested he read books about how to be a good partner.
I expressed that I was feeling neglected in the relationship and assumed he would do something to make me feel better.
I tried to find solutions so he would be able to continue doing the activities he seemed to love so much and still have time to be with me.
In short, I placed all my attention on changing what he was or wasn’t doing. I blamed him for my dissatisfaction with the relationship.
Those were my big mistakes, because I’ve learned that the key isn’t to attempt to control other people’s attitudes or behaviors. The key isn’t to believe that they’re at fault for our negative emotions.
The key is to assume responsibility for our life circumstances.
I’ve developed a four-step approach that has helped me let go of the need to change other people:
Step 1. Awareness.
In a universe in which all of us are connected, your conscious and subconscious actions contributed the current state of your relationship.
You might have acted in ways that conveyed to the other person that he or she could treat you in disrespectful ways, or that you weren’t worthy of love and caring.
Becoming consciously aware of your thoughts and actions will allow you to ensure that everything you say and do (and let others do) is aligned with your values.
In my case, if I had become aware that being the last priority in a relationship was unacceptable, I would have exited the relationship before it negatively affected my emotional state.
Step 2. Growth.
Even if you think your contribution to the dire state of the relationship is only 10 percent, there is room for learning and growth.
What have you learned about your way of communicating with others? Are you assertive, or do you usually choose the easiest path of passive aggression, or even blatant aggression?
What have you learned about your way to react to unacceptable behavior? Do you express your boundaries, or do you seethe in silence hoping that the other person finally “gets it”?
What have you learned about authenticity and vulnerability? Do you honestly express your feelings, or instead complain about your situation to other people, but pretend everything is great when you are with the person who is the source of your complaints?
I learned that for me to be satisfied in a romantic relationship, honesty, commitment, and respect are paramount.
Step 3. Control.
After you’ve learned from a relationship, you must take ownership for your feelings about the other person’s behavior. It’s your choice whether to let the other person’s actions dictate whether you’re happy or not.
External occurrences are random and difficult or impossible to control, but your thoughts about your situation are your personal choice.
Now I know that when someone behaves in unpleasant ways, I have the power to continue enjoying every second of my life.
Step 4. Trust.
All human beings have access to the same fountain of wisdom, or human consciousness. This means that you need to trust that those around you will learn their life lessons at their own pace, whenever they are ready.
You need to remind yourself that it’s not your responsibility to show anyone what he or she needs to learn or to understand. As an innate teacher, this step was one of the hardest for me to take, but once I took it, I gained an amazing sense of peace that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Being conscious of our own magnificence includes being conscious of the magnificence of those around you.
When people in our life don’t want to change, we change ourselves.
Photo by Michael Coghlan