We all have challenging or even what could be called difficult relationships. It might be our in-laws, boss, co-worker or even our spouse. No big surprise when you remember that fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. What makes a relationship challenging? We really want to believe that it is how the other person acts or what they say that is the problem. However, if you have read any of my blogs, you will know that I am going to say it is your thought about what the other person does or says.
When I am coaching clients it is common for them to want to argue this point. As humans we so want it to be the other person’s fault. If they would only ______________ then we could be happy.
Try this exercise with me. Pick one relationship right now and think about it. Notice what you think about when you think about that relationships. What thoughts come up for you? Are they all negative? Are they positive? If they are mostly negative, then you probably don’t feel great about this relationship. If they are more positive, then you probably feel pretty good about this relationship.
Now ask yourself: why are you choosing to think this way about the relationship. Wait, what? This is usually the point where people want to argue that these aren’t thoughts. They believe they are facts. You can’t see that you are making a choice about how to think about this person. It seems like this is just how they are or just how it is. It is hard to see that what you are thinking is just a thought, not a fact. You want to believe this person is challenging and therefore, that is why your thoughts are the way that they are. But these are not facts you are thinking. They are thoughts. A fact is something that every single person would agree upon right down to the smallest detail.
Now consider that thoughts don’t just happen. You actually choose what to think. You are probably saying: “No, no, you don’t understand. I wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t do/say ______________ or not do/not say ___________________________. I know it seems that way. But please consider that no one can make you feel or not feel anything. You feel what you feel because you think what you think.
This is the first step, taking responsibility for the thoughts you choose to think. Now ask yourself why are you choosing to think and feel the way you are thinking and feeling about that person? Consider that it is your thought about that person that is making you feel bad.
In the past I have left jobs and ended a marriage because of what I perceived was wrong with another person. I even strongly considered ending my second marriage because at the time I thought my husband was a selfish, thoughtless jerk. I thought he didn’t value my feelings or opinions. Then I was introduced to mindset work. I started to take responsibility for how I was thinking, feeling and acting in our marriage. This was after I had met with an attorney to start the divorce proceedings. Once I started taking responsibility for my thoughts, feelings and actions, it seemed as though my husband transformed into a kind, loving, thoughtful man.
What changed? He didn’t. I am, and you are powerless to change anybody. I changed. And here is what I think of as the magic: When I took responsibility for my thoughts, feelings and actions, how I saw him, our marriage changed. Down the road he began to take responsibility for his thoughts, feelings and actions. We even learned to communicate better with each other. I want to be clear here, nothing I did changed him. He chose to make changes in himself. I also have experience of this working to create a better relationship when the other person doesn’t change.
Why is that? Because how we think, feel and act is what creates our entire life. Have you heard the phrase “Think you can, think you can’t, either way you are right.” It’s the same way with your relationships. What you think about them is what you will create.
Here are some questions to help you notice what you are creating in your relationships:
- Think of one person that you have a challenging relationship with and write down their name.
- Set aside the evidence you have gathered to support your view and simply ask yourself: What do you think about them.
- How does thinking that about them make you feel?
- When you feel that way how do you act? What do you do or not do?
- Do you pretend?
- Do you lie?
- Do you shut down?
- Do you stuff your feelings and boil underneath?
- Do you argue, yell, or scream?
- Do you talk about them to others behind their back?
- Are you behaving in a way you want to behave?
- Are you feeling the way you want to feel?
- Can you see how it is only your thoughts that are causing you to feel and act this way? Why or why not?
- Who do you really want to be in this relationship? How do you want to behave?
- What feeling could you choose to feel about this relationship that would have you behave that way?
- What thought could you think about yourself and this relationship that would have you feel that way?
- Practice thinking this new thought and notice over time what happens.
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