I was on the phone with a girlfriend today who was absolutely distraught over the state of her relationship with her long-term boyfriend.
"He's not being fair! We work together, and whenever a deadline approaches, he freaks out and yells at ME over the littlest things," she said. "I'm so sick of it. He's such a DICK."
I nodded calmly and I asked my friend if she had tried two of my favorite "tools" (I know, retch, but what else to call them?): detaching with love and establishing healthy boundaries.
She continued on about how it wasn't fair and she was in the right. She gave me about 100 reasons why she was in the right.
Yeah, so? Who's paying the price though? HER. By being so stressed out. And nothing's probably ever going to change from the dude.
"I agree with you," I said. "I support you. But this isn't about who's right. This is about you taking care of yourself so you stop exhausting your energy and your happiness having the same go-rounds with him every time this situation comes up."
"Yeah, but don't you see, it's like you DON'T support me. You're saying I should just let him abuse me?" she asked.
I cracked up. "Man, we are so similar, that's why we fight so much I think. I do the exact same thing with black-and-white thinking. Where you take something to a ridiculous extreme. Seriously, think about it. All I do is suggest a tool that can help in relationships and you take it to a place where I'm pro-abuse. Not at all. If you want to break up with him, go for it. If you want to get into counseling, go for it. If you want to do nothing, go for that, too. But since my guess is you aren't going to break up, this can be a strategy that works well! Just for coping with people being dicks. We're all annoying dicks sometimes. Except for Gandhi. Gandhi had it figured out."
That's when she stopped justifying her position. Maybe it was the Gandhi-drop?
Because I think she knows that I do absolutely 100 percent agree that it is not fair to deal with someone's abuse, but at the same time, life is very tricky and complex. It's not like because we have a specific, very frustrating problem in a relationship, we then have to dump the entire thing.
My rule of thumb is this: If you're not getting enough out of the relationship? If your happiness ratio is less than 50% then yes, break up. But if there is more good than bad, and your gut tells you to stick it out, then here are some ways to cope.
The following is from an amazing lecture by Ann W. Smith, who is director of the Breakthrough at Caron Institute. She's actually in New York tomorrow signing copies of her new book "Overcoming Perfectionism, Revised & Updated: Finding the Key to Balance and Self-Acceptance."
She rules. Caron rules, too. It's on Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., at Caron NY Recovery Center, 244 E. 58th St. It is free, but pre-registration is required.
DETACHING WITH LOVE -- from Ann. W. Smith
Every day, in our closest relationships, we encounter situations calling for the art of detachment. Common examples would include:
-- Your spouse chronically complains about work, parents, friends, or other problems but is not ready to make a serious change.
-- Your partner is overweight, or out of shape, and upset about it but doesn’t take any action.
-- Someone you love is depressed or in an addiction and needs help. You haven’t been able to convince him/her to see a professional.
-- You are caught in a triangle where two people you love are in conflict with each other.
Detaching with love means that we don’t stop caring, but that we take a few steps back, stop giving advice or getting angry, and focus on ourselves. The key elements of detaching with love are:
-- Know and remember that you are not ultimately responsible for the well-being of others (except children). They have the right to choose if and when to change anything in their lives.
-- You are responsible for your own well-being. If someone upsets you, find a tactful, respectful way to tell your loved one without criticizing or fixing. Say it once and make it short. Get support for yourself when you are not heard. Work on acceptance.
-- When communicating feelings, use “I” statements, such as: “When you don’t take care of yourself, I feel sad and scared.” Or “I’m having trouble hearing your complaints over and over.” Also state, “I AM willing to help you if you want to change, but I am not willing to listen to the same complaints without action.”
-- If you are faced with a difficult, long-term situation, look inside and find a way to improve your own circumstances with or without your partners help. It will rock the boat for a while, but if it is done with love, it will make a huge difference.
-- Detaching with love must include love. It does not mean we shut down and stop caring. Demonstrate your love and support without judging or worrying. Let them know you still care, but that you trust them to solve the problem. It’s OK to ask, “Is there anything you need from me?”, but don’t assume your help is needed.
DEVELOPING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES -- Ann W. Smith
BOUNDARIES: defined by author Rokelle Lerner as “an internalized limit (physical, emotional, intellectual) that enhances your sense of identify by implanting more deeply the precious knowledge that you are a separate human being.”
Boundaries represent the invisible lines between you and me. They provide protection, role definition, and a sense of security in our separateness. They are activated through verbal and non-verbal means and are based on our beliefs, needs, preferences as well as the nature of each relationship we encounter.
EXTERNAL BOUNDARIES -– are those we impose on or request from others by setting limits, saying now, etc
INTERNAL BOUNDARIES –- are those we use inside to protect ourselves. Examples would be: positive self-talk, affirmation, moving physically away, choosing to be tolerant but not hurt by the dysfunctional behavior of others (ex. Your child says, “I hate you!” You know it isn’t true so you take care of yourself through it), choosing to behave in a way that minimizes the likelihood of others abusing you (ex. Choosing when or with whom to share something).
HOW WE DEVELOP BOUNDARIES -– through modeling and teaching parents; by having out limits honored and respected by caregivers; by associating with others who have healthy boundaries
HOW WE EXPERIENCE BOUNDARIES –- Instinctual need to move away or toward; a sick feeling inside; discomfort; sudden fear or anger; a sense that something doesn’t feel right -– sometimes after the fact; sensitivity to when others need space -- “vibes."
HOW WE COMMUNICATE BOUNDARIES – Taking spare or asking for space; making “I” statements such as “I need” or “I want”; expressing feeling as in “When you.. I feel…”; setting limits –- saying “no”; body language changes -– stand up, create distance, raise voice, make eye contact, asking questions like, “Is this a good time?”, “May I touch you?”, “Do you need space right now?”.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DON’T HONOR THOSE INSTINCTS? Abuse occurs. We live as victims and hold others responsible for how badly we feel. We abuse others and invade boundaries unconsciously.
- self betrayal -– we abandon ourselves or our inner child
- compulsive behaviors –- the anger, grief, and fear are repressed so we act out with compulsive behaviors
- physical illness –- the pain makes us sick in some way
- we get overwhelmed and over-extended wondering, “When is it my turn?”
I can't recommend Smith strongly enough. She's incredibly practical, empathic and so helpful.
So what do you think my friend should do? Break up? Seek counseling?
Do you detach with love and use boundary setting? Tell me what you honestly think! (I've set a boundary and am detaching with love SO IT'S ALL GOOD.)
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.