Getting that job, buying that house, moving in with that person, promising to repay a debt… all commitments that that most of us go into with good intentions, but is it required to keep them no matter what?
Some commitments that started off as a good idea may need to be re-evaluated if what you thought was going to be great isn’t.
(The following podcast transcript has been modified for easier readability and to benefit the Deaf and hard of hearing)
I received an email a couple of years back from a person that told me his relationship was on the rocks and he wasn’t sure what to do. He wanted some advice and I ended up writing him back several months later, maybe a year later, and I asked him “What’s going on? Are you still in the same boat with your relationship? What’s happening?
He wrote back and said there were a lot of good things happening. The relationship he was in, they broke up and it was difficult. He said “I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be with the one I was with, but went along with it because I had such low self-esteem, and basically settled for what I had and went along with it to please the other person.”
He said at that time, I made the unfortunate decision to buy a house with her. And I was glad to be out of the toxic apartment setting that we were in, but it was more of the same thing as far as the relationship went.
He was saying that maybe a move could help with a relationship, or maybe being out of the toxic apartment environment, whatever that means, that he was in would have helped the relationship, but it didn’t.
This can happen, where you are with someone that you’re not compatible with, or the relationship itself isn’t working out for some reason and it doesn’t matter too much about the environment, because the two people in the environment are the common denominators for the issues. Or one of those people is the common denominator.
Not that a change in the environment couldn’t help. I believe it can. I’m one of those people that doesn’t necessarily believe wherever you go, there you are. I agree with that. At the same time, sometimes wherever you go, there’s a new you. Sometimes it’s a chance for a new beginning. Sometimes you have an opportunity to discover things about yourself, and, if you’re in a relationship, you have an opportunity to discover things about the relationship that are better than they were.
For example, if you live in a place that you don’t feel safe, that unsafe feeling can seep into your relationship. But if you move to a place where you do feel safe, then you don’t have that to worry about.
It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s the bottom-line, basic survival versus the comfort and convenience and feeling like you don’t have to always try to survive, versus being in a better situation where that’s not your focus.
That’s what he’s kind of referring to. I’m not sure if he was intimating all of that but I see it that way is that sometimes you can move into a new environment, and your relationships improve because you feel better in the new environment. And you’re not so focused on the lowest primal level of survival and safety and taking care of yourself.
There are multiple levels to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The bottom of the pyramid is where you might feel sometimes in certain situations (they show a pyramid with all these different levels and the bottom is your basics: You want to breathe, you want to eat, you want to survive, you need shelter).
All these basics, when they’re taking care of, their no longer your focus. If your basics are taken care of, they are no longer your focus. You don’t have to think about them, you don’t have to worry about them, it’s just done.
When that happens, you can focus on other things. You don’t have to worry about all that stuff because now that you have them, they become a given. They become part of your life.
If you are in the worst of environments, and then you improve your environment, you don’t have to worry about your environment anymore. Because of that, your life can improve because you’re focused on other things. And relationships often benefit because of that.
I don’t think I have to explain that to you, you probably already understand that perfectly, but I do see this in relationships – just at the relationship level. You can be in a relationship where you’re always walking on eggshells and all you’re doing is thinking about not ticking the other person off or not upsetting
If that is the bottom of the pyramid for you, (yes, your basic your shelter and your food and your clothing, all that stuff’s taken care of). So the new bottom is what you’re worried about most. And if you’re constantly worried about taking someone else off, then that becomes the focus of your life – everything that you do surrounds that or has has something to do with that bottom line, with that foundation. That becomes your day to day status quo. That is your normal.
It’s like with COVID, this is our normal now. Everything we do has to do with COVID, or at least it’s related to COVID in some way. At least in most of the world.
With that bottom line, we build on top of that and do what we need to do based on that bottom-line foundation. As you’ve probably seen, some people don’t like that. Some people don’t want that bottom line. I don’t think any of us want that bottom line of COVID.
Some of us want back to our original state, without COVID: Pre COVID, that’s what I believe most of us want. We want to take this new normal and throw it out.
Let’s put it this way, if we didn’t have COVID, what would be different? And you might think everything would be different, all kinds of things would be different.
I read a headline, I haven’t substantiated this but I read that domestic violence has increased because we’re now home with each other more often. I totally believe that. That’s sad. But I totally will believe that can happen is that when you are stuffed in the same house for a long time together, without any outlet, without any freedom to go out and let off some steam, you’re probably going to experience more aggression.
My point is we have this new foundation and we build off that foundation, and whatever is built off that foundation is based on that foundation. For example, if COVID never went away and babies born around this time experienced a world with COVID, that would be their baseline. They would be used to all the rules that are in place and all the medical facilities being full and everything else. They would have a different perception of the world than most of us do.
Because of that, their perceptions will go into the rest of their lives and maybe some will become germaphobic, and maybe some will become more isolated and more introverted, and who knows? That would be a great study
But coming back to this person who wrote to me, he said that, we moved out of this toxic environment, and I wanted the relationship to get better, but it didn’t. So now here we are. We bought a house together, and now I feel stuck.
However, he went on to say that “Even though we bought a house together, I decided that we needed to break up. I needed to get out of the relationship. It wasn’t healthy for me.”
So he decided Instead of sticking with this foundation of being in a house with somebody he didn’t necessarily get along with, he didn’t want to be committed to this for a long time even though he just bought this house, maybe several months previous, he decided to break it off.
He stayed with family and I think she stayed in the house. And then he decided to sell the house. But this is what he did. He had this foundation that seemed like you couldn’t break out of it. It seemed like he couldn’t be free of it. Yet, he did it anyway.
This is something that I believe anyone should do, even after you’ve committed to something. If you realize you made a mistake, almost no commitment, except maybe having kids and few other things is unbreakable. What I mean by that is you could buy a house today and then put it on the market tomorrow.
There’s nothing that says that you can’t. But you might think “But I’ll lose so much money!”
Yeah, but if you’re in a bad place with that house, or you don’t like the city, or you moved in with somebody and now you realize you made a mistake, you might not want to do that but you might have to accept that that’s what you have to do and just be okay with it.
You may not want to be okay with it, and that’s fine. But you have to be okay to the level where you decide that you’re going to take a loss, you might take a financial hit, so that you can move on with your life. Because we can rebuild finances.
It’s a lot easier to replace money than it is our sanity sometimes because you could have several years of a toxic place, a toxic person, then have residual of that place or person for many, many years after because of the harmful emotional damage that took place. Which is why you might see a broke person who’s sad and upset that he or she is broke, then they get a job or they find a way to make money (hopefully a legitimate way), and they start to rebuild themselves, and they get back on track.
You see this kind of story a lot. I wish you saw it more often. And nowadays, it’s hard because a lot of people are unemployed. But we see this over and over again, where somebody is down on their luck and now they have to work to earn an income to get back.
This is harder to do when you’re in emotional debt. When you are in deficit emotionally, and especially if you were in a toxic or damaging environment, that can carry with you for many, many years, sometimes all your life.
I’ve talked to people that have held on to old emotional wounds their entire life. And healing from that may not be as easy as going out and getting a job and making money. And I’m not saying that’s easy right now. And I’m not saying it’s ever easy. Sometimes it’s hard for people.
But healing from old emotional wounds seems to be a lot harder for a lot of people. So that’s why I think it’s important to emphasize that if you’re in an emotionally damaging or emotionally harmful situation to remember how much it could linger after you get out of it, and how dependent it is on how long you stay in that emotionally harmful situation.
This is why I look at the workplace is bringing you down, your relationship with somebody is bringing you down, the environment is bringing you down… If you’re not out of those places, it could have long-term, harmful effects.
This is why a change of scenery or changing the people that you’re around if they’re toxic can be very helpful, very healing. Because when you’re In that new place or with that new person, suddenly you feel better.
You may still have lingering effects if those places were harmful, but the healing begins as soon as you’re away from the toxicity. That’s not necessarily what I’m talking about today but I wanted to mention that because of his comment, and the email.
He did end up saying that “I found someone new and we’re so in love and I’m so grateful for the experience I had…” And here’s what I want to talk about today, “…but I still feel remorse for the significant others who had their hearts broken. Is that normal? Is it normal to feel remorseful?”
He says, “I know this was the right move, but it was at the expense of somebody else’s broken heart.”
What he’s saying is that “I had to break up with this girl and she didn’t want to break up. Yet the relationship was harmful to me.” He didn’t use these words, I am, but he did not want to stay in the relationship , it was bringing him down. So he may have a little guilt or a little remorse, thinking that he had to break her heart to now be happy in the situation he’s in.
He’s living in a new place. He has a new girlfriend. And he said he couldn’t be happier. “I can’t be happier Paul, this is the best I’ve ever felt.”
I’m so happy that he found someone that makes him feel good and makes him happy and he’s in love. He’s talking about family and kids. His letter goes on. It’s so nice to see the results of something that when you decide to take that step out of a situation that’s not healthy for you, or is making you unhappy, that yes, the healing starts, and you make room for something better, hopefully.
Hopefully you meet someone better, or are in a better place, or find a better place to live or a better place to work. Whatever situation is going on in your life, when you take those steps to get out of a bad situation, it opens up the door for a good situation.
The way I relate to this is that when I was broke, when I was married, it took me months to find a job. And when I finally found a job, it was great. It was a very low paying job, but it was money. We were getting some money. We didn’t have to necessarily go to the soup kitchen anymore. It was great.
But about two or three months into the job, I realized how stifling it was to my creativity. I realized how much I couldn’t give them my input. And they wanted me to just stare at my screen and do my job. I was trying to, improve systems there (I didn’t walk in and say “This is what you need to do” I was just asking questions like, Isn’t there a better way to do this?”) And they basically said in the nicest way possible:
“Shut up, sit down. Do your job, and everyone will be happy.”
I felt so stifled. I felt so powerless. And I sat at my desk and I hated my job. That’s what came over. I just suddenly hated my job. Something I was starting to enjoy, I suddenly hated.
I don’t know if it was that day or the next day, but I called my wife on the phone and I said, I really hate this job and I don’t know what to do because we’re broke and we need the money. So we’re stuck. I don’t know what to do.
In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “I want to quit.” But in the forefront of my mind, I knew I couldn’t quit. Completely stuck -no options. And “This is it. This is the rest of my life. I’m just gonna have to deal with it because we have no money.”
And I’ll never forget, my wife said, “I support whatever you want to do. I support you. I want you to be happy. “
I thought “What?” I said, “If I really made the decision that I want to make right now, that means no money.”
We talked about it for a little bit and we both decided we were surviving before so we can do it again. So we’re coming back down the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and we’re coming back to those basics. But we were happy when we were broke. We were fine.
Not that we want to stay there, but I certainly didn’t want to stay here. I didn’t want to stay in this toxic environment anymore. And that’s what I did. I went up to my boss that day, and I said, “I’m quitting because the job isn’t what I thought it was, and I need to move on.”
They were surprised but we shook hands and parted. The next day, we went to the soup kitchen. I’ve told that story before, which is why I’m skipping over a lot of parts but that day made me realize that:
You do not have to commit to something, even when you feel like you have to commit to something.
You don’t have to! Like I said, there are exceptions. If you have kids, you are kind of stuck with them for many, many years, whether you’re together with the person that you made them with or you share custody, or you have to pay child support, whatever it is, you pretty much commit to that. And if you don’t, you’re probably breaking some law somewhere.
So there are kids and other things that may require a full commitment. But I think some of us tend to believe that, “Oh, now that I bought a house, I have to stay here and pay for the house. I can’t move now.” Or “Oops, now that I got into this relationship… Now that I got married… Now this… Now that… I’ve made the commitment and I can’t change it now.”
We can feel like we’re stuck and there’s nothing we can do about our unhappiness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to promote divorce. I’m not trying to promote getting out of your commitments. I’m not trying to promote not paying your bills and just filing bankruptcy.
Sometimes we find out that what we’ve just committed to isn’t going to work. Like I saw in The Overwhelmed Brain Empowerment Group on Facebook, somebody wrote and said, “My husband and I just moved and we realized, Oh, it was a mistake! We shouldn’t be here. We don’t like this place. It’s even worse than where we lived. What do we do? Is there a way to look at the situation differently?”
My first thought was, “Well, move again!” Which is easy for me to say of course (I didn’t write that as a comment), but it was my first thought because it feels like something I would do.
That’s the first thing I would think of, “I don’t like this place. I want to move again.”
Somebody would say to me, “What? You can’t do that!. You’ll lose all kinds of money. You just invested in this place and now have a mortgage – or you signed a one year lease – whatever your arrangement is. You can’t do that.”
And my answer is, “Yes, I can. I absolutely can. I’ve done it before (not intentionally. I was forced to before because of the mortgage crisis, and a bankruptcy, and other stuff, but I realized I could survive. I realized I could do it.)”
Again, I’m not trying to say that when you make a commitment you should break it. Absolutely not. I think you should be a person of honor and integrity and do the absolute best you can until your integrity or your emotional integrity is compromised.
Once your emotional integrity is compromised, the foundation of who you are starts to break apart. You start to weaken. You start to lose your mental strength. Without your mental strength, it’s very difficult to find happiness, or comfort, or safety. Your way at the bottom of the pyramid again, and you’re walking on eggshells just to make sure that nothing goes wrong. And you’re always in survival mode
That’s just no place to be. So in this segment, I’m sort of telling you to be very aware of what breaks your emotional integrity and be very aware of what you’re doing to keep it that way. I’m not saying that you always have a choice. I know there are some people that feel like they have no choice or they really do have no choice. But I am asking you to think outside the box, the box that we’re all given which is “Always follow the rules”.
The rules you’ve heard might say:
- If you commit, you have to stay committed forever
- If you marry this person, even if they’re abusive, you must stay married to that person because “that’s what the Bible says”
- If you take a job, you have to commit to that job
- If you buy a house, you have to stay there X number of years
Be very careful about what rules or doctrine that you follow, that don’t address the integrity of your emotions. Your emotional integrity is foundational. It is absolutely necessary so that you can have some semblance of a normal or even happy life. Of course, there’ll be ups and downs but I want you to have a happier, than a not-as-happy-as-you-could-be life.
In order to do that, you have to be aware of the foundation of your life. What is Your Foundation?
What are you walking around with?
What feelings are you having?
What thoughts are you having?
If you are living in a home and all you can think about is making the mortgage next month. And that’s all you think about and you argue with your family or your significant other because you can’t pay the bills and you can’t even enjoy a television show without thinking that the bill is coming, then you have a foundation that is very unhealthy for your emotions.
I’m not saying I have the answer to this. I’m not saying go get a job because right now during this recording, COVID’s happening and a lot of people are out of work. A lot of people are absolutely fearing about what they’re going to do next, how they’re going to pay for what they have, and on and on.
But some things, yes, we may have no choice about. And some things we do have a choice about. Some things may require that scary sacrifice, that loss, like I was talking about in the last episode, where sometimes you have to do things that might require risk. They also might require loss.
That’s scary because you may not know what happens when you lose what you’re risking. That’s probably the scariest part. If you don’t know what’s going to happen after the loss, then you probably don’t want to take the chance.
My mom lived that way for many, many years. 40 years actually. She didn’t know what it was going to be like without her abusive now ex-husband. She didn’t know what life was going to be like. So she decided not to take the risk and face any loss like losing a place to live, losing a source of income, losing someone else to take care of things when she couldn’t (not that he did anything. She did almost everything. But he was working for a while making the income so that really helped her). She didn’t want to face that loss, it was too scary. So she never did. And she waited 40 years until she started being happy again.
When he finally left, she finally discovered what she was losing. What she discovered was she was losing her unhappiness. She was losing that eggshell Foundation. She was losing her daily fear.
If you’re going to take anything away from this show today, just remember that your fear keeps you from making decisions that might be right for you. Your fear of the unknown might be exactly what keeps you from making decisions that might be better for you.
If you’re in a bad situation, or an unhealthy situation, remember that sometimes we have these decisions that come up that we don’t want to make because we don’t know what’s on the other side of them. And I’ll tell you what, the fastest way to find out what happens is to make the decision.
That could mean jumping into the great chasm of the unknown. Because if you don’t know what’s going to happen, then you’re more likely to be afraid of making the decision because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
It’s saying, “Better the Devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
I don’t like that saying either. I just like testing things, experimenting, trying things out: “Hey, what would happen if I said No instead of Yes? What would happen if I told my boss that I didn’t like the way he talked to me?”
I just try all this stuff that comes to me to find out that it wasn’t the loss that I thought I was going to have. And often, in fact, every time I’ve tested a theory, it usually worked to my advantage.
I know that’s not the same for everyone. But sometimes if you’re willing to take the big steps with the risk of loss, it might just help you get out of an emotionally unstable environment. And it might just change your life.
Just things to think about.
The last thing I want to talk about regarding this email is his question about whether it’s normal to feel remorse. He said, “I know this is the right move for me, but it was at the expense of another person’s broken heart.”
My answer to that is 100% yes. I don’t know if “remorse” would be the word that I would use, but I certainly feel bad for what I put all my ex-partners through. And they all broke up with me! So hopefully, they’re not feeling too remorseful for me or what they did in leaving the relationship, but I do, I feel remorseful because I put them in a position where they felt like they had to break up with me.
Yes, it sounds like I’m taking all the responsibility for every single relationship issue that I’ve ever had in my life. And you’d be right. You’re right, I am taking responsibility for every single relationship issue that I’ve had in my life. Not because I think I’m 100% to blame, but because by taking responsibility, I learn.
I take those lessons into my next relationship. I stay humble. It’s a reminder that I’m not perfect. And it gives me a sense of being able to actually control things in my life. I take responsibility for the mistakes that I made in all the relationships in my life in general.
I say Yes, I had 100% responsibility for how I showed up in the relationship and for everything that happened to me. Because of my reactions, because of my responses, because I existed, I have a responsibility
Because of the very fact that I exist, I have to take responsibility for my life.
I know there are times when you can look in your past and say, “I didn’t do that, he or she did that. That person did that to me.”
I agree! There are times where I can look back at my life and say, “Look, this person did that to me.” And that one act is their responsibility. Everything else regarding how I behaved before that act, what we talked about how we communicated, how I showed up, and everything after that point, is my responsibility.
All the ways I showed up are my responsibility. And that’s what I take responsibility for: My behavior, my responses, my reactions, my actions, everything that wasn’t the actual event that maybe upset me.
The first girl I was with for about 13 years, she decided that she was no longer in love with me and she left. Well, we had a talk about it one night and then she left the next day. But she was gone.
It was my responsibility, that whole 13 years, to figure out how to show up as a good guy, how to show up as supportive and loving and caring, and I made a lot of mistakes in that area. I made a lot of mistakes. I did a lot of things right and I do a whole lot wrong.
So her leaving, I can’t look at that say, “It’s her fault. She left me” because she took 13 years of my behavior. When there’s a relationship that fails for some reason, or ends (may not always be a failure, but it just ends), both people have the responsibility of how they showed up and how they behaved and what they talked about.
They have to take responsibility for how honest they showed up, were they expressing themselves? I wasn’t expressing myself in a healthy way. I was doing it wrong. So I take responsibility for that. And I take responsibility for that, because I never want to do it wrong again.
I did. Meaning I did do it wrong several more times. But that’s when I wasn’t taking responsibility for my life and for my behaviors. Back then, I wasn’t taking responsibility when somebody did something bad to me. I just pointed at them and said, “They did that to me. Look at them, they’re a jerk.”
Now I can look back and remember who I was, how I showed, up what I did that might have facilitated that person leaving, and what I didn’t do that might have facilitated that person leaving. Even if they didn’t leave, what facilitated the unhappiness the last two years where I started falling into a depression because I kept to myself, I never shared what was on my mind, I never expressed myself, I just became more and more disconnected from my emotions over the last two years of the relationship because she was also distancing herself from me and I didn’t know how to handle it.
I didn’t know what to say about it. I didn’t know how to express myself. When I think back on that, if I knew then what I know now, I would have said, “Hey, look, you seem really distant. Can we talk about that?” Now, I would say that. Back then I didn’t. So I take responsibility for not speaking up.
And I don’t blame her for leaving because I was acting badly. We find these things out sometimes years later because we learn something. But we do have to take responsibility. So addressing this person who says, “Is it normal to feel remorseful?”
Absolutely. I don’t think I’m experiencing remorse, but I think it’s absolutely normal to feel remorse. If not remorse, feel bad. if you had to leave someone, if you broke somebody’s heart, you might feel bad about it because you care.
People who care feel bad.
Doesn’t mean everyone feels bad, it just that when you care about someone, you hate to see them in pain. You hate to see them suffer. So I’m sure that the people in my life probably felt bad to see me hurt. I think that’s why that first girl that I was with for 13 years didn’t want to break up with me. She didn’t want to see me suffer.
I totally understand that. And now, if I were to go back in time and tell this girl, “Hey, look, you need to do what you need to do for you and just allow me to deal with the suffering because that’s just how I’m going to have to move on.”
That’s probably what I would say. I would probably be a little bit more succinct, probably to help her let me down. But there was nothing really she could have done that wouldn’t have made me suffer any worse or any less. Nothing.
This is what happens is that we’re going to break people’s hearts because we have needs. We have wants. We have to take care of ourselves. It’s not just about following your needs and wants, sometimes you’re just unhappy. Sometimes you just need to take care of yourself and somebody is going to suffer because somebody is going to lose out.
That’s either going to be you that continues to suffer in an unhappy situation, an unhappy relationship, an unhappy environment, or you give yourself a gift, and anyone else involved a gift, when you decide to pursue a path that makes you happiest.
Again, I’m not promoting divorce, or leaving, or moving, or quitting. I’m not promoting any of that stuff because I believe a good conversation has to ensue before you take any drastic measures. I do believe that you should try to work things out. You should try to make things better.
But there’s a point where you’ve tried and you can’t. And when you get to that point where you’ve tried, and you’ve exhausted all your resources, and there’s nothing else you can do, it might be time to move on. And somebody is going to be hurt.
Typically, that’s what happens, somebody gets hurt. Because until somebody takes a step, nothing changes. And if you’re unhappy, and another person’s happy, and you leaving them makes them unhappy, it is their opportunity to take responsibility for how they showed up in the relationship or the world for them to have a better life as well.
This is the one thing that maybe some people don’t get is that when you decide to make a change in your life that takes you away from a job, a place, or a relationship, it is one of the greatest gifts you can do for you and all involved.
It really is because let’s just say that somebody loves you, and you’re not in love with them, and you decide that you need to get out of the relationship so you end up telling them “Look, it’s not working out. I’ve tried. We’ve gone to couples counseling, we’ve done a lot, and it’s not working out so I have to go.”
I’m really, really simplifying it, but let’s just say you say something like that to someone. “I’ve really tried. We’ve tried this and it’s not working. So I have to go” and the other person’s like, “What? I love you! Don’t leave!”
That was me: “Don’t leave, let’s work this out.”
“We’ve tried to work it out, it’s not working.”
“Please, please, I’ll do anything. I’ll change.” If you get this, that’s normal sometimes, and you decide, No, I’m going to leave. I need to take care of me.
The person who loves you that doesn’t want you to go should love you enough to realize that you’re unhappy. And also realize that in order to find happiness, you have to follow your own path to discover what happiness is to you.
This is very hard to accept. This took me a long time, 40 plus years, to figure this out, is that when you love someone, you want them to be happy.
Let’s just say that you decided that you need to break up with them or not be around them, it’s going to make them unhappy. You love them, you want them to be happy, you don’t want to make them unhappy, but if they love you, they want you to be happy too. And because of that, you being unhappy around them or with them doesn’t fulfill their wish for you to be happy.
In other words, if they really love you and they really want you to be happy, then you making the decision to do what you need to do for you to find happiness, actually fulfills that.
I know that it’s a very complex thing to talk about. But it took me a long time to figure out that supporting my partner’s happiness was the one ingredient that I kept out of every relationship (except the one I’m in now. I make supporting her happiness a high priority now).
I did not support my partners in all my previous relationships when that’s what I should have been doing all along. When you truly support someone’s happiness, they’re going to feel supported, they’re going to feel loved, they’re going to feel like you’re the most amazing person in the world because you’re not being judgmental and you’re not holding them back from what they want to do in life. You’re giving them all the freedoms that we all want.
When you come home from a long day, or when you’re having a bad day and you just want to unwind and your significant other or loved one or family member says, “Hey, take all the time you need to unwind. Whatever you need to do have at it. If you need me, I’ll be in the other room.”
Again, that’s simplifying it. But to not feel any pressure from someone else to perform a certain way or show up a certain way creates one of those no-resistance relationships, and no-bad-feelings-relationships.
I’m not saying it’s foolproof. And I’m also not saying that some people don’t take advantage of this. Somebody might come home and drink until they pass out every night… Let’s just say that somebody comes home and they drink alcohol until they pass out every night, and the other person’s like, “Well, I’m letting him or her do whatever they want to do when they come home. So why is this making me so unhappy? I’m letting them drink and get drunk and not take care of the kids. And they wake up at 3 AM and eat the dinner that I made them seven hours ago. So why am I so unhappy Paul? I thought you said that if we let our partner do anything they want and support their path to happiness, even if we don’t agree with it, then why am I so unhappy?”
Because it’s reciprocal. It works both ways. If your significant other was doing this and you shared with them that it made you unhappy when they did it, they’re going to want to see you happy and they’re going to take steps to work on that.
Either by working on their own behavior, or you go to counseling, or you talk about it and you reach an agreement, or whatever it is. But the bottom line is when you support someone else’s happiness and they support yours too, the relationship works out better.
Whatever it is, family, friends, even in a work environment. If you want to make your boss happy and your boss wants to make you happy, ie. you spend more time on that report and your boss gives you a bonus… What! That’s like the perfect relationship. If everything else is working out fine. It is the win-win situation that I like to see.
This person’s question regarding feeling remorse, you have to remember that if there’s not a win-win already going on, and you’ve talked about it, and you’ve worked on it, and you’ve expressed yourself, and you’ve had the hard conversations, and there’s no change, then you may have no choice but to get away from that person or leave the toxic environment or unhealthy environment so that not only can you be happy, but they can also be happy as well.
And yes, it may not be happy for them at first, but just like what happened to me (and maybe almost everyone listening to this show as well), when someone broke up with me, I took responsibility.
That’s the key: I took responsibility for how I showed up and what I did in the relationship, and how I could have done better. Because I wanted to take the lessons with me into the next relationship.
But I still messed up all my relationships because I only took the lessons I believed that I should take, but never was humble enough to see that I was the problem. I just took certain lessons like “Well, I don’t want that type of person anymore, or I don’t want this kind of situation again. So I’ll make sure to avoid those things.”
What I was doing was just avoiding the things that I believed were causing the problems when I was really a cause of a lot of the problems because I didn’t take responsibility for all the behaviors that I did before thinking that I was so righteous or perfect or whatever. Thinking that I was right.
In reality when I finally took responsibility after my divorce and said, “You know what? I’m causing this. I’m doing something that’s causing this so I need to be humble and I need to put myself in their shoes and think about how I showed up and how it would feel if I were being treated the way I treated them.
That switch really shed some light on what I was doing and how they felt. That’s when I really felt bad. You want to feel remorse? Put yourself in their shoes (if you were the one that was being disrespectful or mistreating or being judgmental or emotionally abusive) then you’ll discover how bad it feels because now the roles are reversed because you’re visualizing what it would be like.
If it’s the other way around, like they’re the jerk or the bad behavior person, then of course it’s not reciprocal because they’re not thinking about your happiness.
To make this long, long story short, and to answer this person’s question, “Is it normal to feel remorse?” Absolutely. And I’m going to add to that “Should you continue feeling remorse?” No. You shouldn’t. Because there’s a point where you have to move on and realize that you gave them a gift. You gave them an opportunity to learn, to take these lessons into their next relationship.
You gave them maybe the only opportunity that some people get. A breakup or leaving someone’s life, exiting their life in some way, is sometimes the only opportunity that some people get to look in the past and reflect. Because if their relationship never ends or you never get out of their life, then they may think that they’re doing nothing wrong.
I talk about that in my other podcast, Love and Abuse. The emotionally abusive person hardly ever changes until the accountability is so great that they realize that they were actually doing something wrong. So the victim of emotional abuse can try to show them that they’re hurting, and they can cry, and they can be very depressed, and the abuser doesn’t think it’s their (the abuser’s) fault.
They don’t take responsibility for the behavior that they’re doing because obviously, they’re still together. So the abuser thinks they must be doing nothing wrong because the other person hasn’t left the relationship.
This is how I was all my life. As long as we were together, my belief was that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. If you have somebody like that in your life or your like that: “As long as we’re together, there’s nothing wrong,” then you seriously have to consider what might be wrong if the relationship or situation isn’t working out as you believe it should.
This is one of the most important concepts to understand if you want a successful relationship of any kind.
Some people don’t learn until the accountability is so great that they have no choice but to reflect on their own behavior.
And the accountability may be you not being there. And every time that happened in my life, it was one of the greatest moments of suffering and the greatest gifts I could ever take with me.
So yes, there is a giant hump of suffering that can happen when you do something that you know will hurt someone, but it is an opportunity for them to learn and grow and heal and get into a better space in themselves, and reflect on how they showed up in life so that they don’t make the same mistakes they did before.
And if they’re the type of person I was where somebody broke up with me, I blame them for who knows how many years, and then I look back and remember, “If that never happened, I never would have learned this. And I would never be in the great relationship I’m in now.”
Or even when I was single. I was single for a point in time, where I can look back and say, “Gee, if my wife never left me, I would never have learned how judgmental I was.”
And even if you’ve done nothing wrong, if somebody leaves your life and you know you’ve done nothing wrong, it’s still an opportunity to connect with yourself and reflect on how you can improve. Because we can all improve somewhere, even if that means seeing signs that we didn’t address that we should have addressed.
How many times has that happened? “I saw the signs! I saw the flags, but I chose not to say anything just hoping it would go away.”
We have to take these lessons with us. We have to learn from them. And hopefully we catch them before they become lessons.
To end the show, I’m going to read a couple things from an email I received. The woman who wrote said she was married for 20 years and they have a couple of kids. And for the last five years, they’ve been having problems with his mood and his anger.
She’s been walking on eggshells (like that eggshell foundation I talked about earlier). And the email goes on to say a bunch of stuff. I don’t want to put all the details in here, but it comes down to he is now out of the house, and she is taking care of everything. Throughout the years, she really has taken care of everything. She’s done a lot.
The gist of her email is “I’ve tried to do this. I’ve tried to work on things. He says, I don’t do enough, and I try to do more” and on and on.
She’s making it seem that he is just a victim and she is the perpetrator. I got to share this… When I get emails like this, where somebody says, “I’m trying to do this, this is what I’m doing, and he or she still doesn’t think I’m doing enough. He or she still thinks that I need more work, he or she thinks that I need mental help. And this and this and this…” When I get emails from somebody who says they’re trying and doing everything they can, being nicer, offering more intimacy, etc. And it’s still not enough no matter what they do they can’t please the other person, 99.99999% of the time it’s not the person who wrote the email that’s the problem.
99.99999% of the time, it’s not the person who wrote the email that’s the problem.
The person who’s writing the email, emails like this, they come in, they say, “I’m trying this, I’m trying that, and I’m working on this. And I’m trying to improve myself here, and other things like, I’m losing weight, and I’m trying to give this person more sex and be nicer and not be angry around this person.”
They’re doing everything they can and it’s never enough, 99.9999% of the time, it’s not the person who wrote the email’s issue, it’s the other person. The other person cannot be satisfied. They are the victim. There’s nothing that you can do to make their life better. And in fact, when you try, it only makes it worse because they want more, because they feel like there’s nothing that you can do. They will never be satisfied.
She did say something that really highlighted something here, where she said, “His mom calls me and says, ‘Why weren’t you more attentive to him? Why were you so bad to him? Why this? Why that?’
This gives me a taste of what he had to deal with, with his mom. Because she sees him as perfect. She sees him as someone who can’t do any wrong. Of course, you’re not going to get support from his mom anyway because that’s her son.
But when this happens when I get emails like this, all I want to say is, “Oh, that poor victim. He’s such a martyr! That poor guy…” And of course, I’m being sarcastic because nothing is your fault.
There’s nothing you can do to please someone like this.
People like this think that they’re at a different level. They think that the world is happening to them. They think that they are the victim to all these circumstances. They don’t take any responsibility.
In fact, there are a couple things in her email that showed that he is the kind of person that really doesn’t take charge, really doesn’t take action, really doesn’t commit, really doesn’t do much of anything. He seems to have that drive and that spirit, but he just doesn’t follow through.
So there’s something underlying in him that is probably causing these issues. And so this is why she’s dealing with this is that she has someone that just plays the victim, wants to be the martyr. There are probably narcissistic traits in there like ‘it’s all about me, poor me, poor me.’ And no matter what you do, it’s never enough.
There’s just nothing you can do to satisfy people like that. To this person who wrote, one of her comments in the email was “I still feel guilty. He’s now seeing the kids every now, and it looks like he’s trying harder there. But I feel hurt that I did these things to him like I’m not including him in certain things.”
This is another sign that it’s not her, it’s him. What I mean by that is the person that continues to get the brunt of this punishment from this other guy, the person that continues to try to do better and improve themselves to satisfy their partner who’s never satisfied, and also feels guilt is, usually the one that’s the true victim.
This is just a pattern I see. I’m not saying it’s 100%… it’s certainly 99.99% that the person who tries the hardest to work on the relationship often feels guilty because their compassion kicks in, their empathy kicks in. They actually believe all the victim stories that their partner is telling them, and they believe that their partner is suffering.
Yes, there is suffering in their own way. They are suffering. It hurts. I’ve been there. I’ve been on both sides of this. It feels like somebody is doing these things to you because that person not taking any responsibility.
In fact, the guy she’s talking about, her ex-husband or her future ex-husband, if he really wanted to make things right, he would look in his past and say, “I take responsibility for how I showed up in this relationship. And I should have tried harder.”
If he really saw what was happening, if he really saw that he is putting everything on her for her to do everything for him, and for her to do all the work so that he doesn’t have to do any of it, because that’s what it sounds like (I didn’t read the whole thing but it sounds like he doesn’t have to do any of the work to make their relationship better or to get along better or whatever it is), if he realized he was doing that and he could be humble about it, he would be a different person. He would have better relationships. He might have the greatest relationship when he was humble enough to admit that he was playing the victim all the time because he’s not taking responsibility.
There’s more to it and we could dive into it. But I really want to tell this person that yes, you feel guilty because he plays such a good victim. And my advice to you, if you can look at this as advice, is don’t see him as a victim. He is making adult choices. He is taking responsibility for some of the things in his life by making choices, by taking steps.
If he really wanted to work things out or make things better, he would be humble. He would tell you “Look, I have things to work on and I know it. And I’m sorry for how this ended up. And maybe I don’t believe that I was wrong about everything, but I know I’m wrong about somethings so I need to work on that stuff…” Even if it was that level of humbleness, which may not be enough, but if it was that, at least you would see a different side to him.
But if all you’re seeing is the victim side, and he keeps saying “You did this to me” and his mom keeps telling you, “You did this to him” then of course you’re going to feel guilty because you’re a compassionate person.
But I’m here to let you off the hook: You don’t have to feel guilty
When Somebody plays the victim to you all the time and they make no real effort to take responsibility for how they show up and for how they’ve shown up for years, then you need to let yourself off the hook and realize that’s the tactic. That’s the game.
He may do this unconsciously because it was probably done to him or he was taught to do that all his life from what you said about his mom. So I’m letting you off the hook. You don’t have to feel guilty for someone who’s playing on your emotions and using your compassion against you.
You do not have to do that. I am allowing you to be free of that. You are free of that because he knows how to pull your strings and there’s no need for you to feel guilty anymore because he is a fully grown adult, capable of making decisions, capable of taking responsibility, and capable of having an adult conversation without trying to make you feel guilty (which is emotional abuse).
Don’t let him do it. He can try, but don’t fall for it. I know it’s hard because you’re compassionate and you’re kind and you’re caring, but don’t fall for it. Someone who plays the victim expects people to feel sorry for them. If he really wants to connect with you, even if he doesn’t want to reconnect with you in a marriage, but he just wants to be friendly because you have kids together and all that, try not to fall for the victim excuses anymore. Because it’s gonna drain you. It’s too exhausting.
When you start to feel guilty, I want you to remember the behavior that made you feel guilty and realize it’s a tactic. It’s a ploy. It’s there to make you feel bad enough so that you’ll try harder to feed his victim supply that he’s looking for.
I might call it narcissistic supply, but I don’t know enough about him, so I can’t call him a narcissist. And I’m not even licensed to call him a narcissist so I’m just saying that he feeds off of your adoration or continually trying harder to make him feel better.
There’s something he’s feeding off of and you might have to wean him off of that. And it may not be pleasant, because once you take away his supply, he may not like that. Just be aware that there’s a transition here but stop feeding any victim mentality that he is creating because he’s overused it.
A victim mentality may come in handy every now and then for some of us, but when it’s overused like this, when it’s used constantly and you consistently feel bad or walking on eggshells or feel guilty, it’s time to get out of that state of mind.
That’s where you go is that you feel guilty. He knows it, and he takes advantage of it, because he knows that you probably, I don’t know, treat him nicer, try harder, do different things for him when you’re in that guilty state. So I’m letting you off the hook. Whether you choose to be off the hook or not. is totally up to you but guilt is no place to stay.
And if you can’t get out of guilt, listen to my episodes on guilt. I have plenty of episodes where I talk about guilt. There are ways to get through it.
Take my advice here and expect adult behavior from him. You probably won’t get it, but at least expect it because he is an adult. This is not a child. This is not a whiny, spoiled brat, although he sounds like he might be acting like one.