bring positivity home: decorating for an optimistic outlook
4 steps for conquering emotional muggers

live and let live: how detaching can improve relationships


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?  



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The greatest gift of detachment with love is it allows me to be my own person. I can be okay even if the other person is not okay. I determine what level of care and concern I'm going to show myself when I'm not wrapped up in what someone else is doing or saying or thinking. Detachment with love allows me to live my best life, regardless of what someone else is doing, even if I love that person deeply.

Detaching with love is also valuable and loving in that it allows the another individual to follow their own path and make their own choices. They can ask for my help if they need it, and in detaching with love I am giving them the opportunity to make their own mistakes while I am here to listen and support them when it's needed.

LiveLoveWork - Great point about how detachment (in a loving way) frees you up to be yourself and not to rely on other people in order to be okay. This can be a hard concept to master, but it really does allow you to live the best possible life. And, as you also noted, a loving form of detachment can really help others develop a sense of self as well. Thanks for sharing your insights on this topic!

Love this post and it's been perfect timing for me, so thanks!

I am about to see my boyfriend after 6 months of being apart, over the past couple of months he has been driving me slightly crazy. Last week I hit a wall of stressing about it and realised I needed to let go of any expectations I have for him and our relationship, it's been so freeing and I feel like I have got myself back again. I have the view now that what will be will be and I can't do anything to control the outcome or his behaviour, he is who he is.

It's the day before I see him and this post is a perfect consolidation of everything I have been thinking over the past week. So thanks! xx

Louise - You're welcome! I'm so glad this arrived just when you needed it. It's great to hear that you've been able to get back to yourself by letting go of expectations. Sometimes expectations can be a really big drain on relationships (though they are necessary in some ways) and it's important to evaluate them and seeing if they are hurting or helping. I hope you have a great time hanging out with your BF!

This is such an important and often overlooked concept. I loved your 4-step process. The way I often think about it is removing your expectations from relationships. When you can simply accept the other person, expecting nothing from them and enjoying the present moment you have with them, relationships can take on a whole new level of fulfillment.

Thank you!

Andrew - Glad you liked this! The process wasn't mine, but I'm glad I was able to share it with you here. Accepting others for what they are is a very difficult thing to do, but I really think it's the best way to make the most of relationships, especially those with family members and loved ones.

I think relationships are great. Its a process. It take time. It's a love hate thing.. You have her..she hates you..haha.

Jonathan - Relationships are great -- but they can also be hard work, especially with loved ones and family members. Finding a way to lovingly detach from those who are difficult to deal with is a great way to improve on those relationships.

Another timely post...depending on the situation I have found I can just "let it go" if I can see it will lead down a road that's really not necessary or good. Example...a friend giving an opinion on something/someone that they don't know anything about, but comparing it to what they would do or how they feel about a certain thing (I hope that makes sense). I had a recent experience w/ a friend like that and I didn't know how to respond back to it, but I got a negative reaction from their comment (whether that was intended or not I'm not sure), and I chose not to respond back. It showed me that we should all be careful in how we say things b/c you never how it can come off and if you are going to go in a direction of speaking on something so strongly (again of a situation or person you know nothing about as the example) be clear of the intent in your comment. At least that's the lesson I got from it.

Saggleo - You bring up a great point. If you look at the outcome of not letting something go and it is a negative one, it becomes much easier to let things go. Also, it's very important to consider how we speak to others; what we say can be interpreted in a way that is quite different from the way we meant it to be. Clarity is so important when it comes to communicating with others (especially about a difficult topic). Thanks so much for your feedback!

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