Jeffrey Kottler says he saved the most difficult subject for last in his book, “Change”, and it is addressed by Chapter 13, “Soliciting Support and Resolving Conflicts in Relationships”. He isn’t kidding. There are some really tough things in this chapter, often dealing with abusive spouses, parents with addictions, and family problems out the wazoo. It is both a problem in and of itself as well as an obstacle to other changes being accomplished. A list he includes of the types of changes you would like to make in relationships is an extremely powerful one, simply put:
Changing the patterns of those that are frustrating, unsatisfying, or unfulfilling;
Setting boundaries for relationships that aren’t meeting your needs or are taking a bite out of your soul;
Reducing the level and intensity of conflicts with others, especially those locked into repetitive patterns;
Ending relationships that don’t seem amenable to necessary changes;
Enhancing intimacy with friends and loved ones;
Feeling and expressing more love and caring in current relationships;
Initiating and broadening new relationships that meet interests and needs that are currently unsatisfied;
Experiencing more authentic, caring, honest, respectful, and fun exchanges with people on a daily basis;
Processing and recovering from perceived slights and relational difficulties in the past;
Practicing forgiveness to let some things go and move forward without lingering resentment; and,
Learning from past mistakes, misjudgements, and relationship breaches in order to enhance future connections. [pp. 276-277]
If you’ve done any past soul-searching about relationships, you could likely read the above list and think, “Yes, please”. All of them sound good. I’ve certainly faced hard truths in the first four. In the end, it led me to one of my greatest insights and freedom from some avoidable pain…
I trust people to be who they are. Not who I want them to be, nor who I unrealistically expect they should be, but rather that they will be who they are. It’s stupid, I know, but it reminds me of a scene in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. Small geek diversion…Data is about to do a war game against Riker, and is trying to postulate what Riker will do. He starts to tie himself into knots to wondering if Data thinks that Riker will do X, then Riker could change his behaviour by knowing that Data thinks what he’ll do (X) and therefore Riker will do Y. Except if Riker knows that Data knows that Riker knows, etc…In the end, Troi counsels him that Riker can’t avoid being who he is at the heart (a risk taker with a penchant for innovative solutions). A stupid geeky reminder, but one that I find strangely comforting.
And from that “truth bomb”, that I should expect people to be who they are, I found the basis for a much different relationship with my mother when I set some clear boundaries (such as games I would not let myself be tricked into playing) and changed the pattern of expectation and disappointment from what I thought/hoped she would do to simply what she did do. I expected (and loved) her to be herself for her last ten years, not the mother I wanted her to be or expected she should be. Just who she was. By contrast, another relationship had passed its healthy expiry date and had become consistently toxic, so I ended it. And with #6, I make sure that I tell my son every day how much I love him.
I’m still working on many of the other ideas from #5-11.