Are you judgmental toward those you love? In this episode, I talk about how your judgments can dissolve the love in your relationship. What can you do to heal from being judgmental?
The road to healing from judging others can be challenging, but the emotional and relationship rewards are too rich to pass up.
(The following podcast transcript has been modified for easier readability and to benefit the Deaf and hard of hearing)
I wrote an article about judgment in relationships a while back but received an email on the subject recently so I’d like to address that today. It tackles a perspective of how to heal from being judgmental. It’s a great topic so let me start off by reading the email.
This person wrote, “I recently came upon your website when googling about judgment. I loved your article on the topic of judgment because I struggle with this in my current relationship with my fiance. He’s an amazing human being on many levels, yet I judge him because he doesn’t have great language skills: spelling, awkward misuse of spoken words, etc.
“I get the gist of your article, which is that you must radically just accept or not accept the person just as they are. Stay and accept, or don’t accept and leave. I would love to hear more about how this approach is going for you now, now that you lost your marriage over her sugar addiction and your judgments about it. Did you master this approach of acceptance? Are you successfully navigating your post-marriage relationships using this technique?
I’d love to hear more about your experiences because your article prompted me to consider this approach as an option.”
Okay, this is an amazing letter. Thank you for reading that article. I hope you did get something from it. Thank you for asking me this question, and I do want your relationship to get better. Absolutely.
Let me go over the first part, or at least the first part that I should share, which is if somebody doesn’t know the story, I used to be a very judgmental person. I brought that into all my relationships. It is a form of emotional abuse. I’ve been transparent about it on this show and my other show Love and Abuse, and I’m not proud of it at all. It has ruined all of my relationships, so I’ll say this to the person who wrote: My judgmental behavior, my sky-high standards, have ruined all of my relationships.
They all left me because I made them feel bad. I made them think that they could never be good enough. So anyone listening now, if you are a highly judgmental person, and you are this way with someone you love, they are going to be heavily affected, and it could destroy your relationship.
In fact, that’s what that article is titled. I call it Judgment: The Ultimate Relationship Destroyer. It’s on this website and you can probably even look for the term “judgment in relationships’ in a search engine and you’ll likely see my article is number one or two. It’s well worth the read if you have judgment in your relationships.
Coming back to this question and my marriage, yes, my wife got pretty sick of being judged all the time for her challenges. One of the major things I used to do was make someone else’s personal challenge (usually my romantic partner), my problem.
To the person who wrote, I want you to soak that in:
Their personal challenge… their inability to spell in this case, or their inability to form complete sentences coherently, is not your problem. It’s their problem.
You may not like it. You may not want to be around them because it’s embarrassing to you, I don’t know. But this is what I went through is that I made their problem my problem. When I was married, my wife was already trying to deal with her challenge in the best way she could before we met. And I gave her a hard time in very subtle, passive-aggressive ways because I didn’t like her eating junk food. I didn’t like her reaching for sweets, because I knew she was addicted to them.
At the beginning of our relationship, she told me she had a sugar addiction. At that moment, it formed an emotional trigger in me. Meaning, every time she reached for sweets or talked about eating something sweet or a dessert or anything like that, that emotional trigger kicked up in me, and I didn’t want to happen, so I would turn into a controller. A very silent controller, a very passive controller, but a manipulative controller nonetheless, because I did not want her to do that behavior.
Why? Because I made her problem, her challenge, my problem. There was also the idea that I would be stuck with someone who may become unattractive to me.
Before you say anything, please know this is my previous way of thinking. This is my former shallow thinking. But as time went on, I felt like I would become more and more unattracted to her. And because I feared what I would end up, with my judgments kicked in, and I tried to make her, again in subtle ways, feel guilty and feel bad about her own behaviors. It is something that I wish I had never done because she didn’t deserve it. She deserved love. She deserved support. And she did not deserve to be treated as if she were broken.
She did not deserve to be treated as if she were someone less than me, as if she were not an equal. She didn’t deserve to be guided or controlled because she was an equal adult.
I wasn’t treating her as an equal adult. I was treating her as someone that was doing behavior that was unacceptable. She wasn’t hurting animals. She wasn’t clearing the rain forest. She wasn’t killing whales. She had an emotional eating problem.
I don’t even know if it’s fair for me to call it a “problem”, it was just a challenge she was dealing with but it was her challenge. It was her issue. And I made it mine. As soon as I made it mine, her life became miserable.
My life became miserable, too because now I had this emotional trigger. Every time she reached her junk food, I would be triggered. And I would carry it around, it would be so much pressure. I felt like I had to watch her all the time.
I put that on myself, of course. But I held on to the belief that if I didn’t watch her and I didn’t make her feel bad about herself for doing that behavior, then I believed maybe she would get worse.
One of the big problems with that is when you focus on what they do that’s wrong in your eyes instead of supporting them in the place they’re in, they feel like they’re alone. They feel totally alone. And the one person who is supposed to love them and support them and treat them as if they are their king or queen is making them feel isolated and having to face their own challenges alone.
This is the stuff I learned near the end of my marriage. As my marriage ended, I realized, Oh, I’m the problem! I realized that I was causing her to want to leave me instead of all the thinking that I had for years before that, which was why doesn’t she just do what I want her to do so that we could both be happy?
That’s just a very unfair thing to do to your partner, to make them feel bad for not doing something that you want them to do. Because that’s like saying, “Why don’t you let me control you? Why? Why won’t you let me control you? Just let me control you we’ll both be happy.”
Try that on for a minute: “Hey honey, let me control you. I don’t care if you like it. I don’t care if it’s hard for you. But let me control you, so we’ll both be happy.”
There’s no happiness in control. You don’t want to control someone else. You don’t want to make them feel like they need to be controlled. Because they’re not children. They’re not a child. They don’t need to be disciplined. They don’t need to be talked down to. They don’t need to be made to feel bad about their behavior, because they’re doing behavior nowadays that may or may not be healthy for them, but it’s still for them.
It’s either going to be healthy for them or not, but it doesn’t matter because it’s still their life. It’s still everything that they’re doing in their life. And everyone outside their life can either choose to accept who they are, as they are, or not. Then when they get into a romantic relationship, that person is supposed to be the most accepting, loving, and hopefully as close to unconditional loving as you can possibly get to someone that they can always come to no matter what problem is going on in their life.
In this case, coming back to this email, it may not be as awful as maybe I went through. Misspelling and an awkward use of words might not be as big a challenge as someone who has an addiction issue. That doesn’t even sound like a challenge at all. It just sounds like okay, this person didn’t necessarily learn the proper use of grammar or didn’t spend a lot of time trying to spell a lot of words when they were younger, so now they’re not very good at it when they’re older. So that person may already know they’re not that good at spelling.
A lot of us don’t have the perfect lexicon, if I can use that word because of our upbringing or because we hated English when we were younger or whatever language that we were learning. I excelled in English when I was younger, but I’m still not very good at it. You probably heard several years of this show if you’re a longtime listener and think he’s pretty good at language but there are times when I’ve said things wrong. I used to say naivete as N-eye-eh-vi-tee instead of Nah-ee-vah-tay, I used to say plethora as pleth-aura instead of pleth-er-a. And I did this on the air!
You can go back to old shows and find this. Somebody had to point it out. When they pointed it out, I felt embarrassed. I thought oh great, everyone’s going to think I’m an idiot. But then I thought what’s the big deal? I’ll just come up with another episode and say, “Hey, I’ve been saying this wrong this whole time. Here’s the right way to say it. Now I know.”
I did some extra research with naivete because somebody really held my feet to the fire on that one. They said, “You’re getting that wrong completely.” And I was! I was getting that wrong.
But that’s how I was brought up. I never heard anyone say it that way, the correct way, and I never heard anyone say it differently. Or if they did, I might have written it off as them speaking incorrectly. Especially interesting words like plethora. I’m sure I mixed it up with something else along the way. I used to say decorative as d-eh-kor-a-tive instead of dek-ra-tive. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a colloquialism from the area where I was brought up. I don’t even know if I’m using the word “colloquialism” right! My girlfriend says I’m not.Who knows!?
We all have our weak areas, but like I was saying, I excelled more in English, and writing, and all those classes that I had when I was younger. However, I was terrible at math. I’m still terrible at math. I can’t stand math. I know some math and I know some things you need to do to survive in the world, but I probably wouldn’t be able to create a three-dimensional circle. I probably couldn’t tell you any algebra. Well, probably a little bit, but nothing advanced. Because that’s not my thing.
Some people have their thing. In fact, I guarantee the person who wrote this message, the person that she’s going to marry probably knows some things very well but just isn’t an expert speller. Maybe he doesn’t know how to use certain words and phrases correctly. He probably says things that embarrass her because maybe she’s more of a stickler on that. Maybe she has excelled in that area. Or maybe she has excelled in everything throughout her life.
I don’t know but I guarantee you everyone has a specialty or strength. The person who wrote this message must see the strengths as well in order for her to stay in the relationship. Otherwise, you would probably be unhappy about a lot more. You’d notice many more things he does that bother you.
I’m sure he has strengths. But since this particular area bothers you, let’s talk about it. You asked me, “Did you master this approach of acceptance? Are you successfully navigating your post-marriage relationships using this technique?”
The simple answer that I would scream from a mountain top is “Absolutely yes!” Yes, I have mastered this approach of acceptance. I have mastered successfully navigating my post-marriage relationships with this technique.
That doesn’t mean I am a master. It just means I do have a certain process that I go through in my mind whenever I feel judgment come up. It’s a simple question that I ask myself whenever a judgment comes up.
Let’s just say some emotional trigger is inside me, and I watch my girlfriend, eat a third bowl of ice cream. Let’s just say that popped up. The inclination might be for me to say, “Look, three bowls. Really? How much ice cream do you need?”
I’m not saying I would ever say that to her, but you know how we have these thoughts that come up? And you think, geez maybe you should back off a little bit because you’ll probably go into a sugar coma. Or, you should watch your weight. Maybe you should exercise.
I think a lot of us have these judgments that come up. And I think it’s natural. I think it’s a self-preservation thing that happens when judgment pops up. Like, oh, if she does this, then I will be harmed in some way so I need to protect myself, so this is what I need to do. I need to control her. I need to say something so that she knows that she’s on a path that would affect me.
This is, I think, a normal thought. Or at least some variation of a normal thought that I would say most of us have.
“Oh, he’s doing that again. Ugh.”
“I can’t believe she’s doing that. She knows I don’t like it.”
There’s that thought! There’s that judgment!
To answer the question, yes, I have mastered the approach of acceptance. What does that mean? I probably wouldn’t word it that way. I probably wouldn’t say “mastered” because the thoughts still may come up and they sometimes do when I’m more tired or when I’m not thinking straight, or when I’m a little cloudy or foggy. They come up when my defenses are down, or my unconditional loving isn’t “up”. Then that’s hard to do. It’s hard to be unconditionally loving all the time. But I try to stay aware of it. I actually have my own watchdog that kicks in.
This is part of my process. This is what I’m going to share with you. The “watchdog” in my head, which is just me in another voice, or a different voice, notices when I’m forming a judgment and controls my next step. What I mean by that is my watchdog says, “Are you about to do or say something to control her?”
That’s it. That’s the only question I ask myself. I may have the judgment and I might feel righteous in that moment, I might feel like what I’m about to say needs to be said because my brain goes, “She shouldn’t be doing that.” So this intention inside my brain forms to begin the process of me saying or doing something judgmental, but the watchdog speaks up and says, “Are you about to say or do something with the intention of controlling her?”
If the answer is yes, then I don’t say or do it. I don’t give her the look. I don’t do any of that.
The second part of my process, again if the answer is yes that I want to say or do something, the next step I take, which is a big one, is to turn it back on me and reflect on what I want in my life.
This is where boundaries come in. This is where you ask yourself Is this something I’m willing to accept that, if it never changed, I would be okay with it? I give myself an ultimatum.
This is where I put myself every time a judgment comes up. If I feel like I have to say or do something to make her feel bad or control her behavior, or anyone’s behavior really (but I usually did this in romantic relationships where we tend to judge more harshly than in other relationships), I point back at myself and reflect on what I want in my life.
So this question comes in: Are you about to say or do something with the intention of controlling her? If the answer is yes, then I will turn it around, point back at myself, and ask myself a boundaries question like, “Is this something that if it never changed, ever, that you could accept and let her be?” (I forget how I worded the first time but that’s pretty much the process that goes through my mind).
“Is this a behavior that if it never changes the entire time you know her, if it never changed, even if she were capable of changing it but she chose not to, are you willing to accept it as a part of your life?”
Here’s the third part of this. If the answer is “No, I’m not willing to accept it” then I’ll ask myself, “Then are you willing to give up the relationship?”
That’s my whole process. I’ve laid it out below so you can follow the steps too. This process assumes you feel like judging someone and want to say or do something to let them know your thoughts.
- When a judgment starts to form inside you, and you want to do or say something to the person you are feeling judgmental toward, ask yourself, “Am I about to do or say something to control them?”
- Assuming your answer is Yes, don’t say or do anything. Hold back!
- Focus your attention back to yourself and take a moment to reflect on what you want in your life.
- Ask yourself, “Is this behavior something that if it never, ever changed the entire time I know this person, even if they were fully capable of changing but they chose not to, am I willing to accept it as a permanent part of my life?”
- If you answer No, ask yourself, “Then am I willing to give up the relationship?”
The final question is the most important one: Are you willing to give up the relationship? Because if you answer, “No, I’m not willing to give up the relationship” then you have to circle back to the second question. The second question is, “Are you willing to accept this if it never changes?”
If you can’t answer that second question with a solid yes or no, then it’s still your issue, not theirs. You have to circle back and answer that question. That’s what I did near the end of my marriage. I went through this exact process and felt a shift as I came to full acceptance of her behavior.
My marriage ended anyway, but that was because of all the judgments I had made over the years. Because of my judgmental behavior, the love eroded. It dissolved. And she did not feel safe with me anymore.
This is what happens with people that we judge is that we make them feel unsafe around us. They will feel so unsafe, that they eventually stop sharing anything with us, or at least some stuff that they don’t want us to judge them about.
When I started doing this near the end of my relationship, she was shocked. In areas I used to judge her, I stopped judging her. I stopped saying things. I even encouraged her. If she wanted chocolate, I would get her chocolate. I would hand it to her and say, “Here you go honey.”
I would go out to a bakery and buy her chocolate. This was part of my healing process, to put myself in front of the emotional trigger all the time to make sure that I was really healing from this. It took a while but I assigned myself this challenge that if I was going to heal from this, then I was not only going to not put her down for it, or make her feel bad for it, but I was also going to encourage it and show her that I was going to support her no matter what choice she made.
If she wanted to eat chocolate or sweets, then, “By all means, let’s make a cake! Let’s do this. Let’s go to the store or the bakery. Hey, if that’s what you want, then I want that for you.”
Why did I do this? Because I developed an overall philosophy (I think this is something my wife really taught me) that love is wanting the other person to be happy.
Love is wanting your significant other or someone in your life, to be happy. If they’re happy, that should make you happy! Because you love them. And love is wanting the other person to be happy. Love is supporting their happiness. Love is supporting all the steps they take to be happy.
If eating a cake made her happy, then I had to firmly adopt that philosophy about love. I had to firmly adopt it. I look at someone who really is capable of unconditional love, or at least the closest thing we can get to unconditional love, for example the Dalai Lama, and think about how he’d love someone.
I read where the Dalai Lama walked down the hall before one of his presentations, and this woman came up to him. I don’t know if she was a drug user or a prostitute but I believe it was someone who probably didn’t get a lot of unconditional love. She came up to him and whatever he said or did made her feel worthy, important, loved, and supported like no one else ever had. It made her cry.
I forget where I read that. I’m sure I didn’t get it completely right but the sentiment is still relevant. I look at that example as a moment of unconditional love. I used that image in my mind to help me show up in a healthier, more loving way.
I want to be the person that loves someone no matter what they are doing with their life. I want those I love to know they can feel safe around me. I want to be the Dalai Lama in the moments I need it most so that the people I’m close to would feel something they might not have ever felt from me. I want them to feel like a “normal” person that receives “normal” love, whatever the definition of normal love is to you. I’m talking about non-dysfunctional caring, support, and love from another human being that a lot of people don’t get.
I started feeling like this awful person near the end of my marriage. I started to realize how broken I was treating my wife, and how unsafe she felt around me. And of course, she’s not going to share everything with me anymore because she doesn’t want to be put in that position where she’s so vulnerable that I could attack her while she’s vulnerable. Of course she’s not going to share with me that she just enjoyed a wonderful sugary drink! She’s not going to do that. She’s going to keep it to herself.
This is how the secrets start in relationships often is that we don’t express because we know if they judge us, we won’t feel loved, we won’t feel important, so we start to hide things from the people we love and hope that those things don’t come up.
But they eventually do. The emotional triggers are inside of us and if we don’t deal with them, if we don’t have a watchdog that says “Hey, you’re about to control someone, are you sure you want to do this? Because what if somebody did that to you?” That would be something to try on if you don’t currently have that voice inside you.
What if in this person’s case (the person who wrote) somebody said to her, “You spell everything perfectly. You use words better than anyone I know. You say words that I don’t even recognize! You are such a brainiac when it comes to this. It is so annoying. I get so annoyed that you always correct me when I say naivety incorrectly. It is so annoying when you do that. But know that I love you. I don’t want you to feel like you should change that about yourself, but if this is who you are then I’ll just accept that you are this annoying brainiac that has to correct people. I’ll just know that’s you, and I’ll just deal with it.”
There’s a little bit of acceptance in there, but at the same time, there is a resentment building up in the other person. There’s a little bit of anger in there maybe. And there’s a little bit of fear that they can’t be themselves around you.
Imagine you’re the type of person that corrects people when they do something wrong. Unless you’re their supervisor or their parent, and there’s a specific thing that they need to be corrected on, then it doesn’t apply. But imagine being corrected by someone whose values don’t align with yours.
“What? You’re getting an abortion? I can’t believe you’re getting an abortion.” Then you’re chastised and you’re judged if you are someone that needs to get one or chooses to get one, and the other person is not in alignment with that, suddenly you’re being prosecuted by this jury that you never asked for.
I want to get into a debate about abortion, that’s not my point at all, my point is that there are people that see you differently. There are people that see you as less than them. There are people that see you as not as smart, not as healthy, not as attractive, and vice versa. There are people that see you as overly something: Overly smart, overly healthy, etc, and you can still be judged no matter which way it goes. But when you have someone that is always pointing things out, you’re going to feel more and more unsafe with them as time goes on.
When I got divorced, I learned all of this stuff about judgment. I realized that my judgments were ruining all of my relationships. I also realized that I was becoming the judge, jury, and executioner of someone else’s behavior when I really should have been treating them as an equal adult in this world that has their own strengths and weaknesses. I had to remember that I also had my own strengths and weaknesses.
Imagine if someone was always pointing out your weaknesses? That is very hard to deal with. And pretty soon you don’t want to be with that person. In this person’s case, if my girlfriend always used words incorrectly, I would ask her, “Do you want me to tell you when you use a word incorrectly?”
I in fact, I think I did ask her that near the beginning of our relationship. I said, “You said this word. Do you want me to correct you when you say that?”
She said, “Absolutely. I don’t want to look like an idiot.” (those are her words). She said, “I don’t want to say something wrong. I really take pride in how I come across. I want to know that I sound intelligent.
I said, “Okay, great. I will let you know when you say something that I believe is incorrect.” She rarely speaks incorrectly, but when she does, I bring it up, and she’s very happy about that. She isn’t thrilled of course. After all, I’m pointing something out that she’s doing wrong, but that’s what she wanted. I asked if it was something she wanted and she said yes. So that is something we agreed upon.
But if this person who wrote said, “Hey, honey do you want me to let you know when you spell or say something wrong? Is that something that you care about?” If he replied, “No, I don’t care. Whatever. That doesn’t bother me at all.” Can this person get to a place where you accept him the way he wants to be?
I really want you to think about that because if I asked you this question, “Do you want people to accept you the way you are?” What would your answer be? Your answer probably would be yes, I’m hoping, but it may also be “Yeah, but I want other people to tell me when I’m wrong.”
That may be, but that is part of other people accepting you for who you are. Because part of you said that you want to know when you’re doing something wrong or saying something wrong. That is who you are. That’s part of your makeup, where it may not be part of his. He may not want to be told every time he’s saying something wrong or doing something wrong. And you may feel embarrassed when he misspeaks or says something in an unusual way, or does something in an awkward way or whatever. It may bother you. But it bothers you because there’s something inside of you that is not accepting.
If you’re not accepting who he is, and you’re only focused on what he’s doing wrong, then the love will dissolve, either from you toward him or from him toward you. Because he will feel constantly under a microscope. He will feel like he has to constantly either try to be covert around you, like hide his spelling and grammar violations or he just won’t speak to you at all. Then he’ll become secretive and everything will become less and less intimate and the connection will be gone.
This is a worst-case scenario. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen. But I do believe if it bothers you, that the question should be asked, “Hey, do you want me to let you know?” If he says “No, I’m okay with it. I don’t need to know. You don’t need to do that.” Then you can say Okay, and be accepting.
How do you do that? How do you become accepting? I already talked about it. You have that watchdog inside of you that pops up every time you are triggered by something that he’s doing or saying, and that watchdog says “Okay, you’re about to say something. I just need to know if you’re going to say it in an effort to control him because no one likes to be controlled.”
This is a big part of this: No one likes to be controlled. If you have somebody in your life that controls you, and you enjoy it, then you are probably not the same type of person he is. No one likes to be controlled unless it’s agreed upon. And that usually consists of a dominant-submissive relationship where one person is dominant and the other is submissive, and the submissive prefers to be controlled.
That’s not just a sexual thing. Sometimes a relationship can be a dominant-submissive relationship and both people like it. Those might be people that like the structure and control. They like the discipline.
But then there are people that don’t like to be controlled. The people that don’t like to be controlled will become more and more distant when it comes to connection. There’ll be far out there and you’ll be like, “What’s wrong with you?” And they don’t want to say “You’re what’s wrong with me. Every time you judge me. I just don’t want to share with you anymore.”
This leads to the other questions that your watchdog asks you (the ones I talked about previously) to help you stay in alignment with the bigger picture of the relationship. The bigger picture is if you love someone, and you want them to be happy, their happiness is of the utmost importance to you. When you love and accept who they are, it will make them want to be with you and share with you. They’ll want to express things to you because they feel accepted.
When we have someone in our life that fully accepts us and doesn’t judge us, then we feel like we can be ourselves. When we can be ourselves around someone, we get the most authentic, wonderful version of them.
If we’re allowed to be ourselves, we are allowed to be happy. We are allowed to be the very best version of ourselves, faults and all. We can be ourselves with all our faults without worrying that somebody is going to put us down for them.
Coming back to your question, “How do I deal with this in my current relationship?” I created that watchdog. And I go through the process I described earlier.
I also ask myself if I’m tired. Because most of my judgments come when I’m tired. Most of them are from this other place inside of me that when I get tired, I can’t really believe what’s happening in my brain.
I don’t know if this works for everyone, I haven’t done a survey on this, but when I get tired, thoughts will come up that don’t come up when I’m not tired. I’ve gone through this in my current relationship. I’ll have a judgment pop up and I’ll think, Oh my god, another bowl of ice cream? What’s this leading to? What’s going to happen?
Then I have to stop and ask myself wait, are you tired? If I am, I’ll reply by saying, yes, I’m tired. Then I’ll tell myself to think about this later when I’m not tired.
I’ll say things like this to myself. I’ll go through that. Then later on, or the next day, I’ll ask myself how do you feel about that now? My reply will be (and this happens often), I can’t believe I thought that. I don’t even care. Why do I care? Why am I involving myself in her decisions? If she finds it’s going to be a problem for her, can I not trust her enough to make her own decision to eat another bowl of ice cream or not?
I’m just using that as an example. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her eat a bowl of ice cream. I think she eats like a spoonful. It’s just too much for her. Me, I could eat a half gallon. I love ice cream, which is why I never buy it. But in this case, being tired, I know, brings out another part of me that yeah, sure I might need to look at but because I know I’m tired and fine the next day, then it’s probably no big deal and it really surprises me that I even had that thought because there I was in my mind making her challenge, her issue, her decisions, my problem.
That’s really what it comes down to is recognizing if am I making her challenge, her problem, her decisions, my problem. If I make it my problem, then it becomes a problem in the relationship. We’ve been together just over five years now and I tell you what, this has been the most successful, emotional trigger-free relationship I’ve ever had.
I’m not saying I’ve had no emotional triggers throughout the relationship, I’ve had them. But it’s always an internal reflection process and thinking about why I’m thinking that way. And also drilling down. I didn’t even mention this, but when the emotional trigger comes up, I drill down into why I feel that way and why it’s a problem.
If I think what’s with that second bowl of ice cream? I stop and ask myself if I’m tried. And I ask myself if what I’m about to do or say is going to be with the intention of controlling her? I don’t want to do that because that ruins the relationship!
I also think about my boundaries, and am I willing to accept this if this never changes? What if she eats more? What if she wants to eat the whole half gallon and another half gallon that day? Am I going to be able to accept that no matter what?
If the answer is yes then I have to get myself no choice (there’s the ultimatum) of accepting it. Meaning, that’s who she is, I have to accept it. Because if I can’t accept that, then it’s a boundaries thing, right? You come back to your boundaries and tell yourself no, that’s violating my boundaries, or my values, or whatever. It’s violating something inside of me that I don’t want in my life.
It’s like if she snorted cocaine every day. I would have a problem with that! Even though it was really her problem, her challenge, absolutely. But I have values. I have boundaries. And I don’t want drugs in my life. So what I’m going to do is say, “Hey, look, you need to stop doing that. I have a problem with this as it is a personal boundary.”
She might reply with, “No, I don’t want to stop doing it. I get high and I love it and I don’t have a problem with it. I can control this.” Or something like that. At that point, I make a decision for me. This is again, turning it back on yourself.
Make your decision for you.
Because the question that’s going to come to my mind, just like I said earlier, is ‘if she never changes that behavior, and she does even more of it as we go into the future, will that be okay with me? Can I accept it?’
My answer would be no. And at that point, I would tell her that I can’t accept it. That conversation might lead to a breakup. It might be painful. I might hate it. She might hate it. She may not want me to go. We may be in love, but she has this thing that she does and likes, but that thing is not in my values. It’s not in my belief system. Or, at minimum, I don’t want it in my realm. I don’t want strangers selling her drugs. There are a lot of things that might be attached to her behavior and I prefer not to get caught in that web and be stuck in a situation I don’t like so I have to address my boundaries.
Your boundaries is where judgments almost always end up. So when I make a judgment about her, and it’s something that she’s doing that I don’t like, I have to come back within me and ask myself is this something that I can accept forever?
If the answer’s no, I have to tell her I can’t accept her behavior. Then we can have a conversation about it. Hopefully, we’ll have a good conversation and things will change. Not that I’m trying to control her, I’m just telling her she can do whatever she wants to do but I can’t accept it as a part of my life.
This is where we have a conversation that I hope to never have. It’s telling the other person that they’re doing something that you don’t want in your life, or that you don’t like. Or they’re doing something they can’t control and it hurts you to see them do it, or it affects you in some way, and you can’t handle it. You tell them you can’t accept it which is essentially saying, “I am unable to accept you as you are.”
There’s a scary thought! We’re actually putting ourselves in the position of being the person that can’t be accepting. That’s what’s really happening here. This is where I go. I tell myself I am being the person who can’t accept unconditionally. You point the finger right back at yourself. All judgments are one finger pointing at them and three fingers pointing right back at you.
Pointing at yourself is taking responsibility for your inability to be accepting of who they are through and through.
I’m not saying you have to accept them. I’m not saying that you have to approach everyone with unconditional love. I’m just saying that judgments are your inability to accept someone as they are. They could be doing awful, vile things, and maybe you have to judge them. Maybe that is your place to do that. Maybe that is what you need to do for you. Because judging people helps you make decisions for your life. This is how boundaries work and this is how they’re created.
If you were in a relationship with someone that was doing behavior that you couldn’t stand, and they were out of alignment with your values, or your boundaries, and you decided to leave the relationship, you’re probably going to have a very solid line that no one can cross regarding what they were doing,
If someone was a big-time drug addict and it really caused a problem in the relationship, you might tell yourself, I will never, ever date a drug addict again. That would be a new boundary for you and from that point on and that’s great because you wouldn’t have to deal with that issue anymore.
I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing. I’m just saying that we all have our limits. We all have our boundaries. Not all of us can handle it. I wouldn’t be able to handle it with a heavy using addict. I would have to say, “You need help. I can’t be here until you get help because right now there’s a big violation of my boundaries and I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel like we can connect. You’re sometimes there, you’re sometimes not. This is not the kind of relationship I want. I want a different type of relationship. I want someone that I know will always be there. Someone I can connect with. And I know you won’t be able to show up for me all the time, but when there are other factors involved that are really out of alignment with who I want to be and what I want my life. That’s a big problem. I can’t handle it. I don’t know what to do. I take responsibility. I put it back on myself.”
In this woman’s case, she’s probably very annoyed when her husband misspelled something or uses words in a way that weren’t meant to be used that way. To turn that back around on herself, and ask herself a question like, “Okay, if he never changed, ever, and he spoke in front of the Queen of England in a way that was probably going to make him look a little foolish, and make me feel a little embarrassed, would I be okay in this relationship if that never changed?”
If your answer’s no, don’t put that on him, make that your responsibility. You are choosing No, which means you have to make a decision. You might have to talk to him and say, “Look, I can’t take it. I feel embarrassed every time you do it. I don’t want to be in this relationship if you’re not going to improve your English.” Or whatever. And personally, I don’t think that’s a productive conversation at all and I don’t think it should get to that level. But it really does cause you to face yourself. This is exactly what I did in my marriage. I asked myself the question, “If she never, ever changed, and actually ate more, and if she ballooned to 400 pounds, would I be okay with it?”
My brain went to “No, I wouldn’t be.” I said that to myself. When that happened, what was the next thought after that? The very next thought for me was ‘I guess we have to break up then.’
That reality struck me hard because if I knew I couldn’t be accepting and I knew that the next step would be to break up, and that I would have to live the rest of my life without her, it struck me to the point where I finally snapped out of my thought process and asked myself what am I doing?
I thought why would I give up this relationship? In that instant, all the wonderful qualities about her sprung to my mind. I realized what I would be losing because of that snapping point where I saw things differently for the first time. My perception shifted and I was able to face it in an entirely different way.
When I made the decision, “No, I can’t live with this. I guess the next step is to break up,” That made me change my mind. It shifted my perception. This was the pivotal moment where I started healing because I realized the loss was greater than the acceptance of something I didn’t want.
Once I realized how much bigger the loss was, all of the judgments I had about what she was doing, started to disappear. Because those judgments weren’t as important as what we had in every other sense.
For me, that’s what it took to shift is accepting that we needed to break up and I wouldn’t be able to accept her. And as soon as I tried that reality on, it hit me hard knowing that I was about to lose this person. Because I cared so much for her, I didn’t feel the need to judge anymore. I told myself, I will accept who she is and support her happiness from this point on.
It’s hard to explain exactly the mental shift that took place. It was powerful. Because I finally came to an acceptance that the only choice was to break up. For some reason that didn’t sit well with me at all, which caused the shift inside of me.
I think this is part of it. As you go through this process I’m talking about the big part of it is reaching that point of what you absolutely must do next. You just accept that “this is what I need to do next,” then you’ll find out if you really want to do that. And you’ll also find out what is most important to you.
When you come to a decision, and you think about following through with that decision, reality strikes. Then you’ll realize what decisions are most important to you, and if the relationship is more important than your judgments about certain behaviors.
To the person who wrote in, I really hope that you have a better relationship from this point on. I hope this episode helps. I wouldn’t call this a “technique”, I would just call it a process, or just the steps I go through.
If you really play full-on with these steps, then you will reach an understanding inside yourself where you don’t have to carry around these emotional triggers and you don’t have to be a micromanager of their behavior.
It takes so much pressure off of you when you are no longer being judgmental because you’re not consistently listening or watching their behavior. That won’t matter to you.
You’ll still get triggered. That will happen. But going through the process I outlined today might give you a way to control that and let the people you love live their lives in a way that makes them happy. The bonus to all this is that when you accept people for who they are and allow them to be happy, A: They’re going to want to be with you more They’re going to love you more. They’re going to realize that they have an amazing person that they never want to let go.
And B: You get all of them! You get their authentic self. They show up as who they are with you because they feel safe with you.
And actually, there’s a C: All that pressure inside of you goes away. All the pressure to make sure you correct them or make sure they’re on the right path, it goes away because now you’re no longer concerned about that, which makes you easier to be around and you more loving and caring and supportive in their eyes.
There’s also a D: The behavior that really bothered you all those years, in my experience, more times than not, tends to dissolve. It tends to be in the background or go away completely.
Sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it does. But in your case maybe if you weren’t always mentioning it or talking about it, he may feel incentivized to work on it. I’m not saying he will. Maybe he’s happy the way he is, and that’s fine too (because we accept the person who they are if we want to keep the relationship), but if he chooses to, he now can change his behavior without being told that he’s doing something wrong. Because it’s very difficult to want to do anything for yourself when somebody tells you to do it.
If somebody said, “You don’t know how to swim, you need to learn to swim, and I’m going to nag at you every day until you learn to swim.”
If you take swimming lessons, you’re going to do it because they nagged you to do it instead of feeling self-empowered to do it. Thing we’re nagged to do or told to do when we aren’t ready to do it, or we don’t want to do it, we’re more likely to resist. And whatever we learn is less likely to stick.
“You got to stop smoking, I can’t stand smoking. I hate it when you smoke.” That person is less likely to stop smoking because they’re probably going to be emotionally triggered that they were just yelled at for smoking.
If you’re a smoker, you probably smoke because you’re stressed out or you have other reasons, but some people smoke because they want to squash some negative emotions, or just feel relaxed or de-stress, so they smoke. And of course, they’re going to be stressed if they’re yelled at for smoking, so that continues to exacerbate the smoking, which is the same thing that happened in my marriage.
Every time I made her feel bad or guilty for eating sweets, how would she be able to handle those emotions? She can’t express them to me because I’ve become unsafe, so she’s going to go eat more sweets because she doesn’t feel safe with me! She has these unsafe feelings and she may have some anger in there because I’m not understanding that she has a challenge that she’s dealing with and it’s only her problem. It shouldn’t be my problem.
So she has all these negative emotions that come up because I made her feel bad about what she’s doing. And when she feels bad, because she’s an emotional eater, she’s going to eat more sweets. Of course, I exacerbated that situation by continuing to tell her not to do something that was nearly impossible for her to control at that time because of me.
She knew she had a problem. I made it my problem. Now it became our problem. And I made sure that she knew that her problem needed to be fixed for me to be happy. That made her feel awful, ashamed and guilty, and all these other feelings I’m sure she had. She didn’t know how to handle those emotions and she couldn’t share those emotions with me because the very thing I was doing to her had to do with her sugar addiction, so she goes back to sugar to feel better.
I did it. I caused her to do that behavior the more unsupportive I became. I wasn’t the guy that said, “Hey, no problem. If this diet plan didn’t work for you, don’t worry about it. We’ll try something else if you want.”
I wasn’t that loving, accepting, supportive husband. I was a jerk. I admit it. I was awful. And I feel bad for it. I wish I hadn’t done that.
But I do know she’s in an amazing relationship now and I’m just very happy for her. She has a very supportive person in her life, and that’s what I want for her. Why? Because love is wanting someone else’s happiness. Love is accepting them for who they are and wanting them to live their life in a way that fulfills them and brings them joy.
I want to see that for her and I want to see that for you too. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, I want you to be happy. I want you to do things that fulfill you and be with people that support you and accept you for who you are.
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