Manuals Are For Appliances, Not People
You know you’ve crossed over into adulthood when you get excited about appliances.
They get delivered and installed, hand you a manual to read and voila, you're all set.
I'm one of those people who actually reads the manual. I want to know the right way to operate the appliance.
It's a quid pro quo in my mind.
I read and follow the manual. The appliance works like it’s supposed to. I’m happy.
That’s the relationship I want with my appliances.
Apparently, that’s how I want my personal relationships to work too.
I have manuals for the people in my life.
It’s a similar pattern of thinking.
In my mind, the manual is a list of expectations that explains how I want you to behave in our relationship.
If you follow it, I'm happy.
Simple stuff, or so I thought.
Here’s the tricky part for the other person.
We generally don’t tell them what’s in the manual.
Oftentimes, we aren’t even consciously aware we have a manual, but we do and it’s detailed and precise.
We think the other person should just “know” what to do and how to treat us.
If they “knew”, we would feel certain they really love and care about us.
When talking to friends, it sounds something like this:
If they/he/she would just….
be home on time
know what to get me for my birthday
help around the house more
be more involved
give me more compliments
Then I would be happy.
In theory, if we’re both following each other's manuals, it's bliss.
I do the things that make you happy and you do the same for me.
But human beings don’t work like that, plus that’s not the kind of connection we actually want.
Reading each other's minds, making assumptions about what the other person wants, and hoping we get it right? Sounds exhausting.
I like this theory better.
You get to be you. I get to be me.
I can ask you for things. You can ask me for things.
But if either one of us doesn’t comply, we can meet our own needs and take responsibility for our own emotions.
If I want you to compliment me more, I can ask you to, but if you don’t, I don't make it mean you don't care AND I can compliment myself and notice how amazing I am.
Are you giving me one of those looks where your face is contorted and you're thinking what the hell is she talking about?
Stick with me.
Conflicts stem from unmet expectations.
I love my husband, yet I had a giant manual for him.
I expected him to be different than he was in a bunch of areas (this blog would be really long if I went into detail, so we’ll save that for another day.)
I thought if he changed and behaved the way I thought he should, I would be happier.
I spent way too much time annoyed, frustrated and pissed off.
He spent way too much time being confused over why I felt that way.
Our conversations would go in circles and by the time we were done, neither one of us felt satisfied.
Mostly we felt bad.
That isn’t what I was going for. I wanted to feel happy. I thought he could make that happen.
Turns out, I was wrong.
I create happiness or sadness or any other emotion by the way I think about other person's behavior.
This is definitely NOT what I was taught about relationships in the movies.
I was taught that other people “complete me”.
Or that if a person really, really cares about you, they will telepathically know how to make you happy all of the time.
So what now? What do we do with these manuals we unknowingly create?
Acknowledge that you have one for the person (and other people in your life).
Figure out what the manual says and why.
There’s one for you husband/partner, your parents, friends, coworkers, etc.
Notice when you feel frustrated (annoyed, irritated) with another person.
Often, it’s because of the expectations you have for their behavior.
You allow what they do or don't do to dictate how you feel.
If the person would just do X, then I would feel Y.
When it was explained to me this way, I felt the lightbulb turn on.
I didn’t want my emotional life tied to another person.
And I didn’t want to be responsible for someone else’s emotional life either.
When it came to the relationship I have with my husband, I can see how much drama I was creating by wanting him to follow this arbitrary list of expectations.
I began to drop the list little by little and let go of the ideas about what I thought relationships should look like.
I've spent more time appreciating my husband for who he is and what he brings to our relationship.
I’ve learned to communicate my wants and needs more explicitly knowing that sometimes he’s not going to “get it” and that’s ok.
It’s not because he doesn’t care. He absolutely does.
He didn't need to change for me to believe this.
My thinking did.
This is Part 3 of a blog series called Around the Wheel, How My Life Has Changed from Life Coaching.
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