Taking ownership

It may not be fun to hear, and sometimes you just want to rant about how unfair it is, but let's face it. It's your life. If anything's going to change, it'll be because you change it. Sounds simple enough, but apparently it was a very hard pill to swallow for two of the people on my phoneline this week.

A woman calls me late at night, laughing and joking like it's all a wonderful thing. She says she's been looking at the phoneline listings for a while, and finally decided to call anyway. She wants some perspective on her relationship, which turns out to be not much of a relationship yet and she wants it to change. She wants to understand where he's coming from, how he sees things, what he would like, what she can do to make the relationship better.

I have trouble getting a word in edgewise.

There is a lot of talk of "He's kicking me away, he's lying, he's not being honest", and even more of "And I said to him, you can't do this, you can't do that, listen I can't handle you doing this thing, you terribly hurt my feelings when you did that thing, what were you thinking, if you really mean this thing then you also have to do this and that thing, and you can't do those other things."

I let her talk for a while. Other than trying to shout over her, that's about the only choice I have anyway. I try to mediate a little. To get her to a place where she wants to hear what I sense, how the psychic outsider perceives the situation. It's not going well, she seems to want to hear little other than "it's obviously his fault" and I'm not delivering. It's the second one this week like that - the other a mom of a teenage daughter, who was so ugly in her expression that I won't repeat any of it.

I try reassurance. Tell her that he feels like an honest, good guy, that he's not being deceptive, and doesn't feel like he's trying to keep her at a distance or play with her feelings. She'd be selling him short if she thinks that. That the energies between them are more-or-less ok, they could be alright as a couple, there are possibilities to make it work.

It doesn't work, she agrees with me, then continues with her blaming.

Perspective, then. I explain that he is near-allergic to women being controling of what he does or should do, he's had bad experiences. He's at a place in his life where he's re-evaluating a lot: who he is, what he really wants, why he's doing the stuff he's done for years, what the point it - it's going around the last few months. To pressure and confrontating, to coming on strong and demanding, he responds by taking space because he can't think clearly around that. I ask some leading questions to try and get her to consider his feelings, what might motivate him.

No good.

At some point, she starts taking it personal. "Look!" she says, "You're putting all of it in my court, you're saying everything is my fault! That I'm too controlling, too pushing, too confronting. I'm not confronting! Why do you say that! You're not listening to me, now!" Ok, convincing argument. Clearly not pushy or confronting.

I explain patiently that it would not help her if I blame him for everything and come up with the verdict that he is clearly wrong and he needs to change - because I'm not on the phone with him, and therefore there is nothing I can do to make him change. I do, however, have her on the phone, and I am trying to find her some approaches she can take, to change the dynamic between them and improve the clearly difficult relationship they are having. I'm trying to give her the power to address a problem in her life.

She calms down and audibly nods. "Yeah ok, of course you're right, I know that."

They've been having this problem of on-again, off-again for 5 years. They are no closer to a committed relationship, or even consistently dating, than they were back then. Clearly whatever she's been doing, however she's been relating to and with him, has got them to this point. If she wants to get to a different point, she's going to have to do something different. I'm suggesting things she can try to do different - things I feel would resolve most of the tension and miscommunication, and are really simple. They don't involve anybody being wrong, or needing to change. Just communication, mutual understanding, and being gentle with each other's sore spots.

Two breaths later though, out of nowhere and before I could even say anything, she starts up again. "But I'm not controlling, I'm not confronting at all! I don't have to accept these things, he can't do that, he keeps kicking me around, he's the one who's promising things and not delivering!"

The 20-some minute call ends with a hangup.


If she'd let me give her the suggestion, I would have recommended she meet with him, and they both make an honest list:

  1. These are the three things I absolutely MUST HAVE in a relationship, or it won't work for me.
  2. These are the three things I absolutely CANNOT HAVE in a relationship, or I walk away.
  3. These are five things I would really enjoy, but I can live without if it's a problem for you.
  4. These are five things I find difficult to handle, but that I'm willing to live with if you need me to.

Put your lists next to each other. If you have items under #1 that they have under #2, or vice versa, end it. It's never going to work. If you have items under #3 that they have under #4, talk about it. See what you're willing to do for each other, or live without for each other. If there are a LOT of things in #3 or #4 that one would really like but would be a major bother to the other, evaluate if it's worth it. If none of these apply, go ahead, agree to have a great relationship. If someone violates #1 or #2 after the fact, stick to your personal boundaries and end it.

And please, for your own sake, get this little point through your head: It's your life. Own it. If you cannot accept the way things are working out in your life, you need to change them. That doesn't mean you are wrong, or that the bad things are your fault. It does mean that sitting around being angry at other people, waiting for them to change while you repeat the same stuff that hasn't gotten you any results in years - is going to get you the same stuff you've been getting for years, plus a lot of frustration.

There is no righteous anger. There is no "It's their fault and now they have to come fix it, and I'm going to sit here with my arms crossed and feel wronged until they put it right." That's manipulative, petty, and self-destructive.

It doesn't matter who's the problem, who started it, or who's to blame. It matters if you want a solution, and if you're willing to be that solution. It's your life and the only person who can be the solution for you, is you.

If that makes you angry enough to stomp off with a temper, I think I've made my point.

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