It’s not that I’m a dictator, expecting everyone to jump to attention when I bark an order, but, I’ve noticed that problems within my relationships usually occur when people do not behave in the way I expect them to. If I ask someone to do something and they don’t, I sometimes get upset, I might get a bit huffy, or give them the silent treatment for a while until I think they have made amends. Realising that this might not be the healthiest attitude to relationships, I did some research into the way our minds work and what can help us achieve more harmonious relationships. Here’s what I discovered.
We live in a world where many things are beyond our control. In order to gain a sense of control over the vast amount of information that streams into our brains every day, we organise it in a way that makes it easier for us to deal with. We form categories within our minds, rules and expectations, things we agree with and things we disagree with. This gives us a sense that we are in control of our lives. One way we organise our minds is by having expectations about how other people should behave. We decide that politicians should be fair, spouses should help with the housework, kids should behave at the restaurant, friends should invite us to all their events, emails should be answered within a specific set of time, neighbours shouldn’t be noisy, journalists should write the truth, parents shouldn’t interfere in our lives, colleagues should be cooperative – the list goes on and on.
Of course everyone else has these rules in their heads too, and the rules are not the same for everyone. One person might believe that raised voices are never acceptable and another might believe that vociferous discussions are the best way to solve family disagreements. One person might believe text messages should be answered in five minutes, another might think a few days is fine. Many of our relationship problems begin when these expectations don’t match.
When people don’t behave in the way that we expect, it breaks our rules and expectations about the way things ‘should’ be and we get upset. We become afraid that we are losing control. Our inner need for control is then projected onto the outer circumstances of our lives. Something inside us thinks: ‘You didn’t behave in the way I expect, so I am going to make you pay’. We then do anything we can to regain control and make the other person behave in the way we want them too. And this includes shouting, arguing, slamming doors or giving them the silent treatment.
Letting go of this need for control of life and circumstances is the first step in having more harmonious relationships and a happier, more peaceful life in general. We must try to accept life as it is, with its ups and downs, rather than fighting with it and trying to force it to comply with our mind-created ideas of what ‘should’ be. In our relationships, we can begin to make progress by accepting people for who they are and not trying to make them fit into the mould we have created for them. This doesn’t mean we have to accept people treating us badly, and we certainly shouldn’t tolerate aggression, violence or controlling behaviour from others, we deserve be treated with respect. But when we stop making every disagreement about our inner mental picture, we can relax and really listen to the other person’s point of view. The ego likes to defend itself against perceived criticism or judgements, when we quiet the ego we can stop defending and begin to see what is really going on, clearly, objectively and hopefully, lovingly.
Instead of requiring others to match up to our inner rules, we can look at our relationships in a different way, accepting the other person for who they are, becoming interested in their unique way of seeing the world and appreciating their special qualities and talents. This isn’t always easy. It can be very challenging indeed to release our expectations of others. We may feel justified in demanding that they do what we require of them and we may see them as irresponsible, uncaring or selfish for not sharing the same attitudes as us. We may get very upset when people do not finish a project to the standard we expect, help enough around the house as much as we’d like, or spend time doing the things we think are important. But when we realise that we are projecting our own values and expectations on to others, and demanding that the world,and everyone in it, abides by the rules we have constructed to hep us feel in control, we can begin to see that our expectations might not be quite as justified as we think. Perhaps it is okay if our in-laws give the kids sweets occasionally, or our co-worker can’t work on Sundays because of religious views, or that the dessert for our dinner party is shop-bought rather than home-made, or that the washing-up gets done tomorrow, or that our friend can’t always respond to our messages until later in the day. Accepting that other peoples life-rules and expectations can differ from ours, and neither have to be right or wrong, is a good place to start building healthier, happier relationships.
The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer