Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Should-less Relationships Principle #2: Staying in the Present

Should-less relationships focus on the present moment instead of the past

How many times have you been annoyed with someone for doing something wrong, and then found yourself recalling all the similar incidents where that person did the same thing? You then use past incidents and events to add “evidence” to the current situation to convince yourself and others that that person is really and truly messed up.

It is completely human nature to believe that the past should be used to understand what is happening the here and now. Especially when you’re confused, angry, or upset, it can seem like the most natural thing to recall all the times and places and ways that your partner has done the same exact thing. The search for blame and fault in others will always be successful. The problem is, focusing on what has happened before leads to anger, fury and resentments. That’s fine and good if you want to have a relationship that involves fighting and drama. But if you’re reading this blog, then you probably know there can be a better way.

I understand how much you want to be “right” in your arguments, and how the past can usually be twisted and distorted in a way which will serve your point. Being “right” can sometimes feel like a drug high—you literally can get pumped and feel invincible when you use the past to argue how completely unequivocally right you are. You can always look back and remember the times your partner should have called, when she should have been on time, when he should have put the toilet seat down; these examples are steadily there for the taking. But I also understand that being “right” in your position can often shame and demoralize the person you are with, which can then lead to them continuing to do very things you think they “shouldn’t” be doing.

There is an easier way to be in relationships, but it does entail giving up that high. It is by staying completely in the present, letting go of the past, letting go of cocaine-fueled righteousness, and working collaboratively with another person. This can be very hard if you’re not used to it. Here’s an example of two very different approaches to take when your significant other is late picking up the kids:

Should-filled relationship: I can’t believe you were late again! You shouldn’t keep the kids waiting like that. How can you be so inconsiderate? This just happened two weeks ago, and the month before that. Why can’t you get it right?
Should-less relationship: I know you were late picking up the kids again. What happened? Can I help you to be more on time? I know you’re doing your best, let’s try to work together so this doesn’t keep happening.

Which one of these responses is more likely to illicit a change in someone’s actions? By focusing on what is happening in the present you are much more likely to convey loving respect, honor, and more likely to get the outcome you prefer. You may be reading the above examples and thinking, “Well it’s really all in the way someone says these things.” And you would be right! You can say either one of the statements above with judgment or sarcasm, or with compassion and respect.

How does one stay in the present? First of all, pay attention to how you are reacting to your significant other when s/he makes a mistake. If you find your level of frustration or anger goes beyond what the actual here-and-now situation calls for, you may be dragging you past into it. Stop right away, and ask yourself, “What is absolutely true in this moment.” In the above example, you may say, “What is true in this moment? Partner is late to pick up kids today. That’s it.” Notice how different that feels, and talk about this with the person you are with. In my case just telling my partner what I was going through made a world of difference and helped me to come back to the present much faster.

Is there ever a time when the past is helpful? Absolutely, but it completely depends on your intent. If you are trying to dig up the past to shame and guilt someone into behaving differently, then you are likely to end up bitter and rejected. Unfortunately, even if you use this argument to “win”, then you have already lost. For the sake of experiencing all the joy a should-less relationship has to offer, I encourage you to try keeping your focus in the here-and-now, and practice more of the acceptance that was discussed in yesterday's blog post.

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