Some of my clients come to me wanting things to change in their lives, not realizing that the power to change these things lies squarely in their hands. This comes up a lot in relationships. A client will tell me how exhausted they are by a pattern or dynamic in the relationship, how they’re at the end of their rope, how they’re totally at a loss on how to move forward or “fix things”. They’re looking for a solution that involves the other person, a solution that probably includes lots of discussions and personality/compatibility assessments and compromises and talking about “how we can meet each other’s needs“ (which isn’t a thing….more on that in a future blog post), but the solution I like to offer them is so much simpler. Just stop doing things you don’t want to do, no therapy necessary, and see what happens.
If you’re struggling in a relationship right now, maybe it’s with a partner or a sibling or a boss or a parent, think of whatever it is that’s causing you pain or frustration. Now think about the part you play in that unwanted dynamic. Maybe the part you play is escalatory, maybe it’s an attempt at peacekeeping or mediation, maybe it’s entirely internal—you’re just building up your own anger without anyone being the wiser, maybe it’s something else that seems innocent enough but somehow never ends well. I want you to consider what it would be like to simply disengage. Walk yourself in your mind through one of these scenarios, and turn left where you normally turn right. Rewrite the story this time. What might be possible for you in these instances if you just stopped behaving in a way that brings you pain? What if the only magic you need in order to break a toxic cycle was your decision to no longer participate in it?
This concept was absolutely infuriating to me when I first was introduced to it. ”You want me to do WHAT? But THEY are the ones causing the problem in the first place”, I insisted to my coach during more than one session. Thankfully, I recognized that a tiny, tiny part of me resonated with the idea that I could and should clean up my side of the street no matter how wrong I thought the other person was. I kept my mind open to learning more about this solution and to taking more radical responsibility for the things I didn’t like about my life and relationships. In considering and accepting responsibility for the things that I didn’t like about my various relationships, I was able to identify a list of things I was simply no longer interested in/willing to do because I didn’t want to be part of continuing an unpleasant pattern. Then, I got to work breaking the cycles I spent so much time lamenting by no longer participating in them.