I keep coming across people who struggle in their personal relationships. They often complain about their partner, family members or close ones, and what I find curious is that most of the complaints all have one thing in common: they’re all about why the other person is the way they are. Let me explain.
When I work with couples, I mainly hear things like “Why can’t he be more this or that?” ,”Why does she have to behave like this?” or “Why does he react this way, it’s not helping”. Basically, when people are sharing those thoughts with me, they’re in essence saying “why is this person the way they are?”. When I investigate further and listen to the full story, it often ends up with something along the lines of “if it was me, I wouldn’t do this” or “this behaviour really annoys me, they shouldn’t do that”. In other words “why can’t they be more like what I want them to be?”
I think a lot of this issue stems from the fact that when we enter a relationship initially, we tend to subconsciously project our ideal partner onto the other person. We’re not aware of this but one of the reasons we fall in love with them is because they fit our subconscious image of the ideal lover. Later in the relationship though, we begin to drop this idealisation and begin to see the real person in front of us ; and that’s when some of the complaints begin.
I am amazed how frequently those complaints can be summed up with “I don’t like that trait in my partner ; they should be different“. I then ask “according to which criteria?” and the answer is mainly “according to what I think is good/right“. Does it sound familiar? When you complain about someone, could it be that you’re actually saying that their way of thinking or behaviour is somehow “wrong” and they should be more like you?
I know this might sound uncomfortable or even trigger a stronger reaction in you, but I invite you next time you find yourself complaining about someone, to examine what are the underlying thoughts and beliefs you’re holding about that person’s behaviour ; in other words, if you’re judging it to be not as good as what-you-would-do-if-you-were-them.
Fortunately, this is not always the case. But I’d like to think that if we were able to free ourselves from the expectations we have of other people, we could start to begin to accept them exactly as they are and work with them, instead of against them, to find a better way to relate with each other. And perhaps that’s the way to more authentic and meaningful relationships. What do you think?
What would it be like for you if you simply accepted the people in your life exactly as they are and instead of complaining about each other, you could collaborate with them to improve your relationship? Don’t get me wrong, it’s MUCH easier said than done. But I’m wondering what the world would be like if we all related to each other in this way…