In the latest The Oprah Magazine, there's a great article by Martha Beck about how you can improve relationships with others by not caring what they do. Sounds like it wouldn't work, right? How can you have a good relationship with someone and not care what they do? According to Beck, you can both not care and love someone; in fact, she argues that not caring is a great way to love someone. By not caring, we can stop trying to change those we love. We can fully accept them for who they are and, as a result, be at peace with whatever they do. Beck advises that we do the following:
The 4 Steps for Detaching from Loved Ones
Step 1. Choose a person you love, but about whom you feel some level of anxiety, anger, or sadness.
Step 2. Identify what this person must do to make you happy, but using this sentence: "If _________ would only __________, then I could feel ____________."
Step 3. Delete the first part of the sentence, so it reads: "I could feel _____________." Realize that this is the only honest truth in the sentence and know that you have the power to feel that way no matter what anyone else says or does.
Step 4. Shift your focus from controlling others to creating your own happiness.
These four steps create an environment for those around you to feel loved and accepted -- no matter what they do -- and they also create an environment in which you can be happy and at peace with those you love. Now, much as I love Beck's advice, these four steps can be really hard. If you are dealing with a family member that has an outrageously abrasive personality or a loved one who is battling an addiction, for example, deleting that first part of the sentence (in #3) can be really difficult. Especially if you are around the person often.
Detaching yourself from others' behaviors is great, in theory, but it's a difficult thing to actually do. It takes a lot of personal strength and mental bravery to recognize that you can be happy and positive no matter what other people do. It's completely possible -- it's just hard. Which is why I think these additional tips will help anyone trying to master these steps.
- Find your own unique sources of happiness. Relying 100% on one person is a big no-no when it comes to having a happy relationship. It's key to find some activities/people you can enjoy outside of the relationship you have with a significant other and/or family member.
- Surround yourself with external support. If you're struggling to understand someone you love or having trouble dealing with his/her actions, it's essential to have some support outside of your home environment. Find a close friend or a therapist you can talk to.
- Remember that you are powerless over others. This is such an important thing to remember if you want to improve your relationships (or just live a positive life in general). No matter what you would like to believe, you have zero control over others. Realize this and you will free yourself from a lot of mental anguish.
- Focus on the positive things about your loved one. If you're struggling to deal with a specific behavior from someone you love, a great exercise to combat any negativity you might be feeling is focusing on the positive things you love about that person. Most likely you've been ignore a lot of positive things!
- Focus on the positive things about yourself. Remember that there are a lot of positive things about you too. Sometimes when we're dealing with an upsetting behavior, we forget to focus on the positive things about ourselves -- like our strength or our resilience. Remind yourself of your awesomeness.
- Know that who you are is not defined by who you love. Sometimes it can be really hard to deal with a family member or loved one's behavior and it can be even harder to separate ourselves from it. We sometimes take it to be a part of who we are -- but it's not. Who you love (or are related to) is not who you are.
- Communicate your intentions with the ones you love. If something really bothers you about someone you love, ignoring it can be tough -- as can changing that person. In my opinion, it's best to communicate that you love the person, you don't love the action, but you're going to do your best to accept it.
The idea of "live and let live" is a tough one to abide by. As I mentioned, in theory it sounds great, but it's hard to keep it in mind when you're dealing with loved ones who, let's face it, can drive you crazy at times. It's incredibly difficult not to be influenced by the people we surround ourselves with and, unfortunately, we can't always choose who we have around us. And, for that reason, we have to make the most of the relationships in our lives. It's tempting to be critical and to want to change others, but remember that change must come from within and it's not up to us to change other people. Hopefully Martha Beck's exercise and my additional tips will help you (and me!) deal with the difficult behaviors of others, making our relationships -- and our lives -- more positive.
Have you had to deal with difficult behaviors in your relationships?
How have you handled them? Detachment? Confrontation?
Has the "live and let live" motto worked for you?