There are two ways to compromise:
One has attached resentments, the other doesn’t.
I’ll give you one guess which method of compromise works better for the relationships in your life.
I’m going to start a little differently this time with a concept that most of you probably understand at different levels. That concept is:
People are not an extension of you.
My girlfriend is not an extension of me.
Your son, your daughter, your sister, your brother, your partner, your friend, is not an extension of you.
This kind of comes from the narcissistic world where narcissists will have a partner in their life, and they treat that partner as if they are an extension of them.
What does that mean? It means, “When we go out, I need you to wear this dress or suit because you represent me.”
Now, that in itself doesn’t sound too toxic. It could be and it sometimes is, but in the sense that “If you don’t wear that, I’m going to shame you, I’m going to make you feel guilty, I’m going to try to control you into a submissive posture so that I get what I want” – the narcissist will do that.
When the narcissist is in a relationship, they will treat their partner as if that partner is them too:
“Whatever you do represents me, therefore you have to live by my standards, you have to do what I would do so that when we go out and someone talks to you or looks at you, I as the narcissist, will be satisfied that you aren’t misrepresenting me because God forbid someone misrepresents me.”
That’s where this “extension” concept comes from. I don’t know if that’s where it originally came from but that’s where I learned it. It’s that narcissists believe that the closest people in their life, usually their partner, are an extension of them, which is why they become so controlling.
It’s like them wanting to control their left hand – “I’m going to control my left hand, so Lefty, I will tell you what to do.” Just like “I’m going to control you as my partner, I’m going to tell you what to do and what to wear and how to think.”
I opened with the concept that people are not an extension of you. They are not an extension of us, because it falls under the category of wanting to control someone. It falls under the category of “I want you to change for me so that I am happy. I want you to do things that make me happy so that I will be satisfied in this relationship, or this coexistence, whatever we call it, and if you don’t do it, I will make you feel bad.”
This falls within the emotional abuse spectrum, and a lot of us do this without necessarily being abusive. Many of don’t try to be toxic like this. We do it in small ways. We do it in ways that affect someone else’s life to the point that they start showing up as not themselves, and they start conforming to what we want.
Yes, you can look at it almost as a parent-child relationship – “I need to model you around a set of standards, around a set of values, so that you turn out in a way that I believe is good” – that would be like a parent talking to and about the child.
I’m not saying that all relationships are like this or that all parents treat their children like this, but it’s a common model, where “I want to teach you to do things right in the world because you don’t have enough life experience.”
The problem comes when we do this with other adults. When we are an adult doing it to another adult who has their own life experience, who has their own values, their own belief system, their own perception in the world, and we place our standards, beliefs, and values onto them.
In a relationship, this can be very destructive. This can be a way to disintegrate the relationship over time because what will happen is the controlled person, the one who feels like they need to conform, will do so in small ways with high resistance; with reluctance.
When you mix resistance and reluctance, you get resentment. And if you have someone that is slowly growing resentment, even in minuscule amounts, it amplifies over time and it comes out in ways that you can’t figure out; you have no idea what’s causing the problem.
It comes out in explosions. It comes out in either mini-explosions or big explosions.
The other person might lash out, the other person might cry for no reason, the other person might yell for seemingly no reason, the other person might get angry, they might be irritable. And often it can be traced back to when they started behaving in a way that wasn’t them and in a way that they wanted to please their partner because a lot of people want to have a relationship, and they want to be in one. They don’t want to lose that relationship. They want to feel loved.
You want to feel loved.
You want to feel worthy.
You want to feel important, I’m assuming.
Most people do. And because you want to feel that way, you want to be with someone that makes you feel that way. You want to be with someone that reinforces that in you and makes you feel special. And sometimes when you’re not feeling special, you’ll alter your behavior so that they can make you feel special.
When that happens, you lose a little piece of yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re disappearing, it doesn’t mean it’s still not there, it just means now you’re playing the role that you believe you need to play so someone else will find you special.
I hope you’re reading between the lines here because I don’t think I have to spell out what happens. You know what happens. You eventually give in more and more, and your resentment grows more and more so that you comply with someone else’s standards or values or beliefs.
As you do this to yourself, you might point the finger and say “They’re doing this to me, they’re treating me wrong”
But really, we are making the choice to do this to ourselves in many cases because we want the relationship. We want to keep it and we want to feel special. We get these little rewards of the special feeling during different times that we’re together and we like this special feeling so much that we’re willing to give in and make a sacrifice – that’s a strong word – how about compromise instead. We’re willing to compromise a little bit here and there and we’re okay with that.
You’re not going to have agreements in every area of life, you’re just not going to do it. You’re going to meet someone that likes different music than you, different movies, different books. Everyone has their own history of how they grew up and what they’ve learned to like- different generations. When you have these differences, there has to be some giving in, but I need you to notice when the giving in, or the compromising, has resentment attached to it.
My girlfriend, she can listen to most country music. I can listen to less country music. Not that country music is bad, it’s just something – well, let’s put it this way – I don’t know if I’ve ever said this:
My stepfather, when he got into alcoholic rages and I could hear him screaming and throwing stuff and smashing glasses downstairs from my bedroom when I was a young kid or a teenager, let’s just say that the country music was blasting. It was loud and I kind of grew a hatred for it.
I don’t necessarily hate it anymore. I’ve healed through that. And I don’t have any anger toward my stepfather anymore, I’ve become very forgiving and accepting of who he is and he’ll never change but it’s just funny how we have these associations when we’re younger, then we grow up through years and years of something – years and years of this association, and we just don’t want to be exposed to it anymore.
There was a big part of my life that I didn’t want to be exposed to country music because of that association. I realized how this is my own thinking, I realized how ridiculous that was.
I thought, “What? I don’t like this music because of that?” And I was able to separate it. I’m still not a big fan, but at least I can get through a song or two without having to go “Turn this crap off.”
Again, not making fun of country music. There are amazing artists out there. They’re awesome. It’s just not my style. I just don’t have a taste for it.
The reason I mentioned that is because my girlfriend can easily listen to country music no problem and this is something that I might have to check on inside and think to myself, “Okay, if she cranks it in the other room, which she hardly ever cranks music, but if she did, would I be okay with it?”
My thoughts go to “Absolutely! Because that makes her happy.” I like to say this, I can feel it in my bones that I know she would be out there happy, enjoying the song so much that she’s cranking it.
I might even go out there and say, “All right, honey, go for it!”
I might do that because I know that if I liked a song and I cranked it, she would probably feel the same way. As long as we’re not working in the house and on a phone call or anything like that, but you get the point – the thought that you can support someone enjoying what they’re doing for themselves, that really strengthens a relationship. This is quite the opposite of controlling the person or making them feel bad for doing something that makes them feel happy.
She is not an extension of me. And quite honestly, for the past four or five years that we’ve been together, this is something I learned coming into this relationship. She is the most independent woman that I’ve ever been with, that has no problem enjoying what she enjoys, having her own opinions, having her own beliefs, and not knocking me for mine (although we’ve had conversations), and not putting me down for what I like, and really honoring my path. At the same time making it clear that she has her path and she’s not going to allow someone else to change it.
She might listen to opinions and form her own opinions and form beliefs from those opinions, but she doesn’t go around pleasing other people. She doesn’t have the thought of, “Oh, that’s going to make that person happy so I’ll show up that way.”
It’s not that she’s belligerently herself, it’s not that she just shows up and if somebody doesn’t like her behavior, she won’t modify it a bit. When you’re empathetic, when you’re kind and you’re compassionate, and you care about other people, you’re usually not going to show up in that way anyway.
My point is, she’s the first person I’ve met that was truly an individual in a relationship, instead of “I’m all about you.”
That’s mind-blowing to me! It’s the first relationship I’ve ever been in where it’s not all about me, and it took me some time to adjust to that. At first, there were narcissistic behaviors that I was doing, there were components of narcissism that I absolutely relate to, that I can look back and say, “Oh, I did that.” A lot of us will relate to that.
She felt like my property.
She felt like an extension of me. And this is the relationship that I learned (and somewhat in my marriage too before this), the most about someone being their own person doing their own thing, having their own life, and not having to conform to me, or change themselves for me so that they would become a little bit closer to what I liked.
Again, there were compromises made. She doesn’t do everything that she used to do in other relationships, I’m sure, but the compromises made didn’t have attached resentments. That’s the most important part. When you make compromises in your relationship so that you can get along better so that there is more time together, that’s not stressful, and not about something that you can’t agree on. Those little compromises, as long as there’s no resentment attached, tend to make the relationship happier overall. If the relationship is happy, you’re happy and they’re happy.
When the relationship is unhappy, you can usually attribute it to some small resentments that kept building. And those resentments really start to stand out in other ways. You don’t know where they come from, eventually, because you made them a long time ago, you started making small compromises, these small sacrifices with attached resentments and then one day it comes out in some angry moment and you can’t figure out why you’re so angry about it, or they can’t figure out why they had a reaction to it. You might be able to pinpoint it to a small compromise, a small resentment, that happened five years ago or something.
A good exercise to do is when you have some sort of emotional trigger, is to ask yourself, “What compromise or sacrifice did I make that might be associated, that might be related to this emotional reaction taking place right now inside of me? Any small or big sacrifice that I might have attached a resentment to?”
If you can’t figure that out, just write down what you resent today:
“I resent that he leaves his socks on the floor.”
“I resent that she never washes the dishes.”
“I resent that he never cooks for me and I always cook for him.”
“I resent that she goes out three nights a week with her friends.”
These may or may not be actual problems for a relationship, but they might be a problem for you, and you have to understand what your resentments are so that you don’t get caught up in years-later destructive behavior.
You don’t want this stuff to come out as something else because you lose sight of the origin. When you lose sight of the origin, it’s hard to get to the origin, it’s hard to get to what caused it in the first place because it’s so far removed from what you’ve been talking about.
You could have been talking about politics and some angry moment comes up that has something to do with your partner’s mom, 10 years ago. There are little things that we have no idea where the origin is.
It’s time to start understanding what negativities you’re holding on to if you haven’t already. It’s time to really dive into them so that when something happens, you can attribute it to one of those emotional triggers that you might be carrying around.
A little later, I’m going to read you a portion of an email and give you a few more examples about how we might control people, make them feel bad, make them feel like they can’t do anything right or in order to be loved, they have to conform to our standards.
Of course, when we feel like we have to conform to someone else’s standards, we don’t necessarily open ourselves up to be loving, kind, or caring. We instead deviate from who we really are and who we really want to be to accommodate someone else, and often there’s resentment attached to that.
Everything I’ve been talking about in the last segment has to do with molding compatibility, instead of allowing or learning about compatibility with someone else. What I mean by that is when you want compatibility with someone, you hope that things line up:
“I’m compatible with you because we like the same things and we appreciate a sunny day, and we like these movies.”
I want to be compatible with my girlfriend in many ways. I like thinking that, “Hey, we both like music, we both play musical instruments, we both have a somewhat compatible spiritual side, we both have the same taste in friends, and we both are honest with each other.” There’s a lot of compatibility there that I don’t have to force.
That’s what I mean by “molding compatibility”. It’s that sometimes you’re in a relationship where you feel like you have to conform or they have to conform in order to create more compatibility. It’s compromising compatibility. It’s the thought that “I need to compromise a bit to be more compatible with you.”
Again, that’s okay as long as there’s no resentment attached to it. i.e. “I’m going to compromise a little bit to be more compatible so that the relationship is happier. When the relationship is happier, I’m happier, and you’re happier. But if my compromising has attached resentments, then it’s not a happy relationship. It’s a slowly disintegrating relationship, because we start to close off from each other, or at least one of us closes off more than the other.”
That closing off is like damming the stream. The stream of emotions, love, and vulnerability are flowing out until you start closing it off a little bit. That stream flows less and less emotional water. The less water you pour out, the less love, vulnerability, and connection you pour out. And the less connected and vulnerable you’ll feel.
Love and connection usually contain and require a bit of vulnerability, because over time you should feel safer with that person.
When you have full trust and feel so secure with someone else, that usually makes up love, in some way. It usually makes up that wonderful feeling that we feel when we’re with someone that we can fully be ourselves. But if we have to mold compatibility – “I have to change this part of me for you and you have to change that part of you for me” – that’s when the relationship may not be as successful. I can’t say it’s always not successful.
There are compromises that work even with little resentments. It sounds a little strange, maybe to you, but maybe it doesn’t. The idea that we could compromise and maybe feel a little resentment but there’s so much more to appreciate in having this relationship in my life, that it makes the relationship happy overall. That can be true, that can happen, but we do have to be aware of the negativities that we carry around with us.
If you are carrying around negativity, and they are resentments, and they are coming out in ways that are unhealthy for the relationship, destructive to the relationship, then even though you have these compromises and the relationship is happier overall, what is it doing in the long run for the long term? What is the culmination of all these resentments, or negative feelings, doing to the relationship when you could probably deal with them, talk about them, reach some sort of non-resentful compromise, and perhaps get to another level?
Again, it doesn’t work for all relationships, and some relationships are so set in stone the way they are, that they’re not going to change and they’re not going to change or one’s going to change and one has to really give up a lot of who they are and the other person just wants to be who they are. There might be compatibilities, there might not be, but I like to gauge the relationship as a whole. If the relationship’s happy, that means I’m happy and you’re happy. How you rate happiness is totally up to you but for me, it’s a feeling. Am I happier more often than not? Because when that happens, I’m going to be in a pretty good space.
But to have a relationship that is compatible, where you can allow someone else to be themselves, and you can show up as yourself and it still works – that can be a really successful relationship. That can be a very enjoyable relationship. That is one that you don’t have to think about too much because you just are enjoying it. It’s supporting each other’s happiness. It’s supporting each other’s paths even when you yourself may not be on their path or really enjoy the path they’re on.
If you allow them to enjoy their path, and they allow you to enjoy your path, that creates more compatibility. But if you have to “mold” compatibility, giving up a little part of yourself just to become more compatible, that’s when it can hurt.
I like to think about how friendships start, for example. When you hang around people being themselves, which could be acquaintances, could be complete strangers, you get to know them for who they are because there’s no need or desire to impress anyone. If I’m hanging out somewhere and there’s another person somewhere hanging out and we get to talk to each other, and there’s no thought of a romantic connection, there’s no thought of, “Hey, I wonder if this could turn into something deeper. I wonder if this person could be my friend” – it’s just talking, letting loose, and being yourself. When that happens and a friendship develops, it was because the compatibility, at least in that moment was in full force, because I didn’t have to be what I believe they wanted me to be and they probably felt the same way. They didn’t have to show up as anyone else but themselves.
Good friendships are formed this way. When you can show up being yourself, someone else can show up being themselves, you don’t have to mold compatibility. You’re just compatible or you’re not. Then you move on and move apart or you connect again. Once we add that component of trying to impress someone, we turn off some of who we are to show ourselves in the light that we believe they’d find favorable. We change when we’re trying to impress someone, we want to appear better in ways that maybe we don’t feel good inside, that might be stretching a little bit that might be reaching, but maybe you want to show more of the good in you. Maybe you want to impress someone so that they’re attracted to you.
When you do this, is this the way you show up for anyone? That’s a really good question – Is this the way I would show up for my friend, for my parents, for my teacher, for my brother, for my sister, for my kid? Am I showing up as the same person? Not that you wouldn’t have a different set of rules in all these places because kids might involve being a little bit more parental. siblings might involve being a little bit more family-oriented, teachers and co-workers and other people might have a different set of rules for that, but overall, if you don’t have to compromise who you are, there’s more of a compatibility.
If you’re trying to impress someone, that’s when compatibility can really take a hit. I remember trying to pick up this girl, many, many years ago when I lived in Florida. After my first long term relationship ended, I thought it would be great to get into another relationship, even though I was in the middle of depression, and was trying to figure my life out. I was still young, at least emotionally, and I would see this girl at a restaurant and I think I was bothering her, because I would show up at this restaurant and she wasn’t like, “Hey, great to see you.” It was more like, you know, “Can I take your order again?” I was showing up enough to try to make an impression on her but wasn’t really being myself because I was trying to impress her.
I wanted her to see, or at least I amplified many things about me so that she would be impressed. It’s the same stuff I amplified in my last relationship to impress that person to bring them into my life so that I had to keep amplifying these qualities about me that maybe I didn’t want to necessarily do, all the time at least. But it was putting on a show. When you’re trying to impress someone, if you find yourself trying to put on a show for someone, then you are trying to mold compatibility. You’re trying to force compatibility where it may not be there.
This is what we do to ourselves, we force something that may not be there just so we can get something that we desire and I desired a relationship. So I showed up as someone that was me but wasn’t. I wasn’t completely honest, I didn’t necessarily tell her the truth of what I was doing or how I felt.
You don’t give away the farm in the beginning, I know that, but looking back, I was in the middle of depression, and I was acting like I had it all together. I’m not saying that I should have just said, “I’m so depressed, and I want to share it with you, a complete stranger” but I was pretending that everything was great. “And when you get into a relationship with me, I’m not going to be this depressed guy”, but that wasn’t true.
I’m not putting people in depression in some sort of category here. I’m saying no matter what’s going on in your life if you turn on the charm and try to impress and you’re forcing compatibility, what’ll happen is you’ll get into a relationship that later on, reveals itself that it wasn’t really meant to be. If we had gotten into a relationship, I have a strong feeling that I would have revealed myself to be someone else than I was at that time.
Just to finish the story, I eventually did ask her out to go somewhere and she said no, or she had a boyfriend or something like that. So I let it go and everything was okay. I had to reconnect with myself. And at that time, I was looking for someone else to complete me.
Of course, that’s not what I recommend because you kind of have to bring the best version of yourself into a relationship to share a connection, to share experiences so that you’re not bringing all this deficit into the relationship that someone else needs to fill. When you do that, they become the source of your happiness and the source of your energy. I try to avoid that. I try to teach that so other people can avoid it too.
Back to compatibility, I definitely wasn’t compatible with her because it wasn’t easy connecting with her. I didn’t talk about my life in a way that allowed her to see the full version of me so there was no way she could have known me. She only knew what I was trying to impress upon her and that is what I mean by forcing or molding compatibility. Once we add that component of trying to impress someone, we turn off some of who we are to show ourselves in a light that we believe they’d find favorable.
My point with that is, trying to impress someone, sometimes we turn off we are to show ourselves in a light that we believe they’d find favorable. If you find yourself turning off a part of you, so that someone else will find you favorable, so that you’ll feel good and you think you’re creating a happy relationship, you’ve got to remember that that part that’s turned off, that part that they don’t know about you yet, if you don’t turn it back on really soon and they don’t see these parts of you, it comes out in different ways. It comes out in sometimes surprising ways or devastating ways – “What? You do that? I didn’t know that. What? You have that belief?” I like to get all that stuff out up front.
That’s why I prefer slow relationship build up so you get to know the person systematically and you learn over time what they’ve told you that they think that you want to hear, and what they told you that’s actually authentically them. Very, very helpful, in my opinion, to start a relationship like that and learn about the person that you’re seeing in a way that helps you assess compatibility and longevity.
Anyway, I mentioned an email that I was going to read at least a portion of it. It’s from someone who gave up a lot to be with her man. I don’t know if it’s a husband or a boyfriend but she moved, she lost some of her friends when she moved, she’s changed her life quite a bit and he was doing things that she didn’t agree with.
He was still talking to his ex, he was having some sort of friendship with her and some other friends and that makes her uncomfortable because his ex is kind of everywhere. She didn’t mention that she feels that he might cheat on her or anything like that. She was just telling me that she doesn’t want him really communicating too much, or at least as much as he does, with this other girl and it took him a long time to let this other girl go.
They were living together for a while and he just wouldn’t let her go. He would always talk to her and probably felt bad for breaking up with her, I don’t know. Or they were just really good friends and they kept staying friends. It’s all fine.
The reason I bring her email up is because I want us to look at something like this in a way where we see someone doing something that we don’t like, and we want them to change because if they change that’ll prove to us that they love us.
That’s what goes through some people’s minds is that if they do this, if they stop talking to that person, then it proves to me that they love me and that there’s no danger to consider over there. If they do it willingly and they even say “Oh, look, I don’t want anything to come between us, I will definitely stop talking to her because I value our relationship more”, that would be wonderful. And that does happen and it would be great if it happened more, if there are no attached resentments, of course.
But if there are, then we have to look at the other person and ask ourselves, “Am I trying to control this person and take away a bit of themselves? Am I trying to change them so that I can mold our compatibility a bit more? I want him to change or I want her to change so I will feel safer, more comfortable, more happy in this relationship.”
I’m not saying what she’s thinking isn’t wrong, like if my girlfriend was talking to her ex daily, and they were sharing pictures and they were sharing online accounts, and all kinds of things that this email said, I might have an issue with that. That would be just a bit too much connection. If there’s energy to being taken out of my relationship and being applied to their relationship, I suddenly feel like there’s a deficit in our relationship that needs to be addressed.
To the person who wrote the email, I’m not saying that she’s necessarily incorrect or bad for thinking that her boyfriend or husband needs to change. I’m saying that when you look at behavior and they don’t want to change their behavior, then we have to consider something else.
This is my next and final point. When someone doesn’t want to conform or change and they don’t see a problem with it, like this guy, he doesn’t see a problem with it. If my girlfriend was talking to her ex all the time… Well actually, she does. It’s her ex-husband. But there’s nothing going on there. I know that and it’s not daily, it’s a ‘whenever she has to’ sort of thing. So it’s a different situation there.
But if it was a daily thing, if it was a little too much time and energy, and it was being taken away from us, or I felt like our relationship was somewhat suffering because she was putting more time and energy into them, then I might want it to change.
I might say, “Look, you know, this is what I feel. I feel like when you’re with him or talking to him, it’s really taking away from us. It’s taking away from me. When I want to snuggle with you, you want to get on the phone and text him. That really bothers me and I would like to talk about this.”
Hopefully, she’d be like, “Oh my god, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I’m so sorry. You’re right.” That would be a wonderful conversation. But let’s just say she didn’t. Let’s just say that she said, “Look, this is my friend. Yeah, we had a relationship together but we’re still good friends and I shared everything with him. I shared my life with him.”
That’s not something I’d want to hear, but okay, you shared your life with him. He knows everything about you. Great. I don’t feel very good about that but okay So I’d hear this from her then she says, “I’m not going to change. This is who I am. This is my friend and I’m not going to change or stop talking and sharing with him.”
At this point, I can either get grumpy about it, which I probably would. I could also try to change or control her. I could also tell her what I want her to do and she may do it. I could say, “Look, I can’t be in this relationship if you’re talking to him so you need to stop talking to him.”
She might respond, “I don’t want to lose our relationship. Okay, I’ll stop talking to him.” Attach a little resentment there. Now she’s not talking to him anymore but our relationship isn’t really all it could be now.
Why isn’t it all it could be? Because I just took a piece of her away. I just disconnected her from something that fulfills her in some way. Again, I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it’s good, I’m saying that, in this example I had a problem with it and I didn’t want it to be so I chose to control her and told her she needed to stop.
And because she wanted the relationship that we have and she wants happiness with me, she chose to take a little piece of herself out to diminish that or make it disappear. And when she did that, yes, she put more time and energy into our relationship but, is it all it could be? Or is the water now flowing a little less?
When you start to dam the water, it flows less and less. When that happens, there’s not as much emotional connection. There’s not much vulnerability and good feelings. There’s some being taken away. In the above example, the behavior I didn’t like stopped, but now I don’t have the relationship that really could be more than it is.
When it comes to this person who wrote the email, yes, his behavior might be inappropriate, I agree. It might be bad for the relationship, I agree. It might make you feel less special, less important, less valued, less loved. It might make you feel a bunch of things but do you feel like you should change him or control his behavior so that you have the relationship you want with him? Or do you instead look inward and ask yourself, “Is this the relationship I want with him? Is this the kind of person I want in my life?”
This is the hard part. This is what I had to do in my marriage. When I was super judgmental and trying to control her, I came across as, “You need to do what I say. You need to eat what I say. You need to look how I want you to look.”
I didn’t use those words but I definitely found other ways to convey that information. When we separated it was the first time ever that I realized my finger was always pointing at someone else to change for me. That was the first time in my life, when I was like forty or fourty-one years old I realized I wanted others to change for me. It was an unpleasant thought: “I want you to change for me.”
What makes me so damn special?
Back then I thought, “Wow, this is the first time I realized I need healing” because I’m trying to control someone else. It’s also the first time I realized that trying to control the people in my life made them not want to be with me and for the first time I took personal responsibility that I was the cause of every breakup in my life and that was a huge mind blow. It was a huge explosion in my brain. You want to know where the show’s name comes from?
It was a huge explosion. It was an overwhelming sensation of “What the hell have I been doing all my life?” I can’t believe I’ve been doing this in every single relationship of my life. I have my fingers pointed at other people instead of looking inward and asking myself is this the relationship I want with this person?
With my marriage, she wasn’t doing anything wrong. I just had standards and values that were way too high for her or anyone to meet, and I was placing them on her. Her not meeting them made me feel like she was doing something wrong.
But she wasn’t! Again, in hindsight, I realize this. But back then, her not changing meant that she didn’t love me. Her not changing meant that she didn’t love us. Her not changing made me feel like she didn’t care, and that she was being selfish.
The moment I was alone after she left, and we were apart for the first time ever, I had this realization that, “Wow, all I’ve been doing was trying to control her instead of asking myself if this is the type of relationship I want and is this the type of person I want to be with.”
Again, she wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was just that I never asked that of myself. She was an emotional eater so every time I saw junk food, I just thought, “Oh, she’s doing that again and I want her to change” instead of pointing the finger at myself and asking, “Well, you could ask her to stop or you could ask yourself, are you okay living with an emotional eater?”
But in order to be okay living with an emotional eater, I would have to accept her behavior. That meant I would have to be okay with whatever behavior she had because I could either force and mold the compatibility for us, or I could allow it to happen (let her be) by looking at myself and realizing I needed to make a decision for me.
There came a point where I told myself, “You know what? If you really don’t like her behavior, instead of trying to change her, why don’t you just get out of the relationship?”
I had to face the decision of staying with someone that did behavior I couldn’t agree with or accept, or try to change them.
Since I decided I didn’t want to be the person that controls someone else, forcing them to create the relationship that I wanted so that I would mold compatibility forcefully (which attached so much resentment that it pushed love out of the picture), instead of being that controlling, manipulative person, why don’t I be someone that does what he wants for himself.
This is where you take back your power. This is where you start to make decisions that are right for you because instead of trying to control someone else, you’re looking inward and saying, “Is this what I want for me?”
I finally realized, “Oh, I’m responsible for our relationship happiness, at least my half of it. I am responsible for how I feel and what I do in this relationship. I’m not responsible for her behavior and I’m not supposed to control her which means I have to control myself. That also meant I’d have to look inward and figure out if this is the relationship I want”
When I told myself, “No, this isn’t the relationship I want,” I couldn’t accept that answer. I didn’t want to accept that the relationship would be over. This line of thinking forced me to come to terms with the big decision of working on this relationship or not.
In that moment, I came to an acceptance of her behavior because if I was going to try to work on this relationship, I either had to accept her behavior, or try to control her. And I didn’t want to control anymore for all the reasons I’ve talked about.
I wanted her to be herself so that she could be happy. I wanted to support her being herself even with all the challenges that she was having, even when I disagreed with her behavior. I wanted to support her to show her that I’d be there no matter what. I wanted to support her in a way that showed her I wasn’t here to control her.
When someone does that for you, or you do it for someone else, when you say “I am here to support you, whatever path you take, even if I disagree with it, I’m here to support you. Because if it makes you happy, if it’s the path that you want to take, then that is what I want for you”, when you can show up for someone like that, you will be the most admired person in their life. And the chances that your relationship will last long are great. The chances that your relationship will be happy and fulfilling are great because you both get to show up as yourselves.
To the person who wrote this email who has this issue with her boyfriend and he’s talking to his ex, and they’re good friends, I hope this helps you make the decision that you need to make.
One of the last questions that you had was, “Am I just really pathetic having stayed so long? Or is there an underlying aspect within me that I need to control to make this work for both of us? Or is it time to call it quits?”
You’ll know the answer if you look at the situation as never, ever, changing. This is who he wants to be. This is the life he wants. If you look at that situation and accept that it will never change, then you have to make the decision for yourself.
The question I might get asked is, “Well, Paul, what if it does change? What if he does change his mind?”
I’m going to assume because you’ve had that talk, because he may be not communicating with her as much as he used to, that there might be attached resentments. And if he makes you feel bad, which you intimated in your letter (that he still makes you feel bad, he tells his friends, “Oh, my girlfriend doesn’t want to go so I can’t go.”), these are sort of little emotionally abusive ways to make you feel bad about yourself and make you feel bad for the decisions that you’ve made.
You can tell there’s resentment in him. And as long as that’s there, the relationship can’t be as much as it could be. It can’t be as satisfying. It can’t be as happy and fulfilling as it could be because he’s dammed off some of that flowing emotion. He’s disconnected a little bit. He’s not going to be as fully open and loving and vulnerable with you because he had to squelch a part of him. He turned off a little part of himself.
I’m not saying his behavior is good or bad. I’m saying that when you have to take responsibility for what happens next, which is asking yourself, “Do I want to be with someone who does this behavior? And if it never changes will I be okay with it?” If your answer is no, then you have to decide what to do next for you.
He could realize that he really loves you and doesn’t want to lose you which could make him rethink his priorities. He could come to a place where he says, “You know, I’ve been spending way too much time with this person. You’re absolutely right. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.”
If it comes to that, and he’s able to have no resentment about closing that off or toning that down, then maybe this (you deciding to move on for example) is exactly what needed to happen because you finally did what you needed to do for you. And if he really wants you in his life, he might make those changes. As long as there’s no attached resentments, you’re good.
If he says, “I don’t want to lose the relationship, I don’t want to lose you. I’ll tell you what, I’ll do this, and I won’t talk to her anymore. I’ll block her from my phone.” You can hear it in my voice when I’m just role playing this, that he’s not happy about it, but he’ll do it.
When you have someone that says something like that, you don’t want that energy in the relationship because that’s what will be brought into the relationship. So you have to really look at things carefully.
If he says, “No, I definitely don’t want to talk to her anymore because it’s ruining this relationship that I love so much. I want you. I want to spend more time with you. I want to put all my energy into you, not this other person. Yes, maybe her and I will talk every now and then, but certainly not at the level that we’ve been doing. You’re so much more important to me and you make me happy. You fulfill me, you “complete” me”, or whatever he says. If there’s all of this energy coming back toward you, and you don’t feel that resentment, then maybe you have something there.
But that may never happen if you never decide to do what you need to do for yourself. Why? Because he’s probably going to feel like you’re controlling him: “You’re controlling who I see who I talk to. I don’t like it. So I’ll give you some love, but not my whole self. I’ll give you some of me.”
Then if you are able to control him or make him sacrifice time with someone that he wants to spend time with, he still may not be completely there for you. There will still be a part of him turned off. If you don’t get the whole person, then what are you getting and what is that doing to the relationship?
That’s really all I have to say about this. Thank you so much to the person who wrote that email.
On a final note, the idea that someone is an extension of you, that’s a great philosophy to carry around. It helps to keep in mind how we show up in people’s lives.
“Do I want to control this person because I believe that they need to represent me in a way that I find acceptable?”
That might be a question to ask yourself. Or “Is this person doing something that I find unacceptable? Do I think I need to change their behavior because if they don’t change then it’s a violation of my boundaries, my values, my beliefs, my perceptions? If any of these are violations of something in my life, and by changing them it will cause them to abide by the boundaries in my life… Is that something that I should really do? Is this the type of behavior that I want to have in my life, wanting to control others?”
If we go around trying to control others behaviors, we spend so much time and energy that could be spent on ourselves looking inward and reflecting on what we need to do for ourselves, instead of trying to make the world conform to us, molding its compatibility with us.
This is hard to do. I struggled with it all my life. I wanted to control others. I wanted them to do what I wanted them to do for me. I wanted them to show up in a way that I found acceptable so my life would be easier. Life’s a lot easier when everyone does what you want them to do. But resentment builds and people dislike you, and people disappear from your life and you wonder where they’re going. You think, “If they’d only just conform to my way, then everything would be great.”
I’m not saying this is you. I am definitely pointing the finger at myself throughout my life, having come to this place where I’ve let that go. Happiness in my relationships now arrives so much easier because I don’t spend any time trying to change anyone else.
It’s like this show: I just provide information and you can choose to change or not.
I think it’s important to look at things in context as well. What would happen if you change the behavior in a certain context? Does it improve your life or make it worse? There might be a reason that you have to control someone’s behavior. There are some people that, without your control, they are out of control.
I can’t necessarily cite any specific examples right now but maybe someone who has a mental disability of some sort needs controlling of their behavior. And if you didn’t do it, they’d lose control. They might hurt people, they might hurt themselves. I absolutely understand that there’s a context for everything.
This is why you pick and choose what works for you. And if the message that you’re hearing doesn’t resonate, don’t use it. But if you find yourself trying to control perfectly capable people that can live their own life – they can show up in the world, and survive and thrive fine – then maybe you’re spending way too much energy on other people when you should be looking at what’s going on inside of you.