I’ll go into this more later, but here is a very brief summary of the three choices we were talking about today.
If someone is doing something that you don’t want them to do, you really only have three choices: 1) Alter their behavior, 2) Have them lie to you, or 3), experience pain. That’s it.
I’m not talking about getting your child to stop playing in the street or avoiding a physically violent situations. I’m talking about all the things that “push your buttons.” Typically this is when your partner or your children are doing something you don’t want them to do because it bothers you.
Choice #1) Alter their behavior
Unless it’s an emergency situation, if you are yelling at your spouse, your child or anyone else, you can be sure that the problem is yours.
You are choosing option #1. You are attempting to threaten, beg, barter, or negotiate until they alter their behavior and you get what you want. These behaviors include the silent treatment, humiliation, withdrawal, abuse, violence, screaming, denial, and anything that is passive aggressive. This indeed works, I’ve seen many a spouse alter their partner’s behavior in these ways, and I see parents resort to this as if it is the child that has a problem. The child does indeed have a problem. The problem is that they have a parent who is more interested in ameliorating their own discomfort than caring for the child.
RESULT: Short term, it works. We know just how to make those close to us miserable enough to get our way. Long term, its a disaster. It’s the death blow to a marriage and it’s crippling to children. All participants suffer, all relationships deteriorate and the perpetrator typically moves on to the next victim where they soon reach critical mass again.
People behave this way when they feel powerless, jealous, incompetent, insecure, guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, weak, humiliated, or in some way not enough.
Choice #2) Have them lie to you
This is what happens when you, in your effort to alter their behavior, create enough emotional discomfort for your beloved that they find it easier to lie to you and do what they want to do, than to deal with the consequences of your behavior.
A few years ago we were having a small get-together of high school friends. I picked up Ian on the way. Before I got to his house he called to tell me not to mention that there were people besides us at the dinner. After we got in the car I asked him why the secrecy. He explained that his wife was extremely jealous and after our reunion five years ago when he mentioned that a specific woman was there she “went psycho.”
“I don’t know why it’s such a big deal, but she’s been beating me up with it ever since and as much as I hate deceiving her, I’m not willing to put up with that again.”
I’m not condoning his behavior or suggesting that his best choice was to deceive his wife, but his wife is clearly creating a situation that is making her own deception an increasingly attractive choice.
I have a friend who insisted that her daughter not have a boyfriend until she graduates from college. Any indication that she might have any involvement with a male was met with sharp criticism, insults, and eventual screaming and name calling. The daughter is 23. Last year she ran off with her secret boyfriend and got married. Mom was furious with her daughter for deceiving her, but did her daughter really have another reasonable choice?
RESULT: Once again, short term it might work, but who wants to live in a world of lies?
Choice #3) Feel the pain
To feel the pain is to look inside to find the reason you don’t want others to take the action. Then, sit with yourself knowing that the path to your higher self and your best relationships is to learn to take the emotional hit, rise above it, and bask in the ensuing freedom.
Choice #1 and #2 will obviously erode your relationship and keep you in a vain cycle of circumstance rather than learning to resolve the conflict within yourself, knowing that in the long run, it is the only way.
Ian needed to be brave enough to talk with his wife until she understood the source of her pain. The insistent mother needed to discuss her feelings and concerns with her daughter, and the parent screaming at the grocery store needs to stop and take a close look at what is really going on inside.
Few of us want to willingly experience pain, yet that is the only path that leads where any of us want to go.
The next time your beloved is infuriating you might be a good time to take a closer look inside. Why do you hurt? What is causing your pain? What do you really want, and what is the most unifying path to resolution. Yes, the truth will be painful in the short run, but long after the pain has subsided you will be free and so will your beloved. Isn’t that what you really want?