One of my clients complained that her husband had an annoying habit of constantly chewing gum. “It drives me crazy! Aside from that, he’s great,” she stated. “How do I get him to stop? He says he’s not doing anything wrong and accuses me of nagging. If I was doing something that bothered him, I’d change because I love him. Shouldn’t he do the same for me?”
She is not going to like what I have to say, I thought. But I had to be honest. That’s my job. When someone else’s behavior is problematic for us, we must first look within ourselves and ask, “Why do I allow this to bother me? Is there something within me that needs to heal so this is no longer an issue for me?”
The behavior itself is not the problem; problems exist only in the mind. They are judgments we form and labels we assign to individuals or events we are experiencing. So-called problems are based on our perceptions – our thought process – rather than reality. In order for this to no longer present a challenge, my client needed to look within herself for the solution. Once she resolved her internal issues, his behavior would cease to upset her.
Secondly, I reminded her that we have no right to ask or expect others to change for us, with the exception of behavior that is illegal, immoral, or puts us at risk. People have a right to be who they are and engage in activities that suit them. We must learn to either accept and appreciate who they are or politely distance ourselves from them if necessary.
Finally, I addressed her rationale that if he loved her, he would change. This was a selfish attempt to shame him into conceding to her demands and manipulate him into giving her what she was seeking. Her actions were self-serving, arrogant, and unloving. Authentic love supports and encourages others to freely express who they are; to live in a way that is comfortable for them; to feel safe enough within the relationship to be authentically themselves without fear of criticism, comparisons, or the need to change. This is unconditional love.
Anger is the result of unmet expectations. We all demand (whether explicitly or covertly) that others conform to what we regard as right or acceptable in appearance, actions, or beliefs. When those expectations are not met, we become disappointed and angry. We inflict pressure on them to conform to our ideals. Their resistance may be interpreted as defiant, uncooperative, selfish, disrespectful, or unloving – when in fact it is more often an attempt to maintain their personal integrity and authenticity.
Learning to get along means eliminating unnecessary or unrealistic expectations that are petty and insignificant, while choosing instead to be supportive of another’s uniqueness. The fewer demands we place on others, the less disappointment and anger we will experience and the more freedom we will have to simply enjoy the relationship.