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Drop the Manual

This week, we all want to improve our RELATIONSHIPS. That seems to be the theme with everyone.

You’re done yelling at your kids all day. Your manager doesn’t appreciate the work you do. You didn’t get invited to your friend’s party. Your spouse doesn’t help enough with chores. You wish your marriage and sex life could be a lot better.

Let’s talk about it.

A person is a circumstance, outside of your control. Your thoughts about that person, determine your relationship with them. That’s all a relationship is. Your thoughts about somebody.

Most of us have “manuals” for the people in our lives. They’re our expectations for how that person should behave. They always seem very reasonable to us. But perceptions of what is “reasonable" behavior are actually very different from person to person. And most people have no idea what your manual for them even says.

Some therapists address this situation by having you communicate your manual to the other person. You write down your needs and talk about them with the other person so they can try to help you meet those. Sounds like a nice idea, right?

But what happens if they don’t change? (Usually they won’t) You’re helpless! If you decide you’ll only feel good if they act the way you want them to, you’ve given your power away. You’ll find yourself trying to control or manipulate them so that YOU can feel better. It’s not fun for you or for them. This is not a healthy relationship.

Here’s my advice. Drop the manual.

What? You mean just drop all expectations? Don’t ask my kids to clean up? Or my husband to take out the trash?

No. That’s not what I’m saying at all. You can still make requests of others! You can still have consequences (this mostly applies for kids or employees, if you’re in a leadership position). You can even still communicate boundaries (how you’ll respond if a person really does try to infringe on your freedom)

What it means is that you drop the part where you tie your emotions to their behavior. It means they get to choose how they act and you get to choose how you feel and what you do, independent of them. You don’t have to do anything or even stay with anyone.

Here is an example:

My kids like to leave their toys all over the living room floor. They don’t want to clean them up, but neither do I, so why should I have to do it?

The truth is, I don’t have to do it. I want to do it because I like the living room to be clean. They could care less if the living room was clean. Because I'm the one who cares, I'm the one who should do it.

If I choose to get frustrated every time they don’t clean up their toys, even though they don’t want to and don’t care, I’m giving them power over my emotions. Maybe I make it mean that they don’t love me, that I’m their servant, or that my life is hard. These are my thoughts.

I’m actually making one problem into two. Not only do I have to pick between having a messy living room and cleaning up, but I’m also angry at my kids. Wouldn’t it be less stressful if I just dropped the part where I get angry at my kids? That's the part that actually is bothering me the most anyway.

Let's review:

-Do I still ask them to help me clean? Yes

-Do I enforce a consequence for them if they choose not to? Yes

-Do I have to clean up the mess myself? No, but I may choose to

-Do I have to keep caring for my children? No, I choose to

-Do I accuse them of “making me mad” when they don't help? No

-Can anybody make me feel an emotion? Not without my permission

-Do I choose to change my thoughts about them (my relationship with them) based on their behavior? Nope, I’ve already decided I just want to feel love for them no matter what. (Not because it changes anything, just because I like that emotion best)

Hope this helps.


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