Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Should-less Relationship Principle #4: Setting Your Own Rules

Should-less relationships create their own standards and set their own rules.

Way too often, we assume that the people we are dating and connecting with share the same values as ourselves. These values may include everything and anything from where to live, what to eat, what kind of friends to have, how to spend leisure time. They may also relate to values such as child rearing, monogamy, spending money, addressing medical care. If you are automatically assume that the person you are with has the same standards and priorities as yourself, then you could be in for a some disappointment.

Of course we always want to think that our way of doing things is definitely the “right” way to do it. You may have learned the toilet paper “should” get pulled from over the top, and your partner may be absolutely convinced it should be from under. It might be easy to laugh how such an issue can be a source of strife between two people, but then think about what happens when the conflict comes down to money, sex, or taking care of an elderly relative. How do you negotiate who is “right” and how things “should” be?

The obvious answer in a blog about living “should-less” is that there are no absolutely right or wrong answers to any of these issues. Or to put it another way, there is no rule book telling you and your partner how you should live, what you should do, and what decisions you should make. You and your significant other are completely responsible for figuring out together what standards and agreements you are going to follow. From toilet paper to toddlers, from marriage to monogamy, you are setting your self up for failure if you automatically assume your partner is going to follow the same set rules as yourself. Unless you are living in a cult or a compound (and then unlikely reading this), you are living in a diverse society where societal values and norms are changing constantly. If you want the satisfaction and peace that a loving relationship has to offer you, then you may wish to create a set of agreements and standards with your partner that is agreeable for both of you.

As an example:

Should-filled relationship:  You should come with me to visit my mother on Sunday, that’s simply what good people do.

Should-less relationship: I would like your company when I visit my mother on Sunday. I hope you’ll come with me. But either way I choose to be at peace and hope you’ll make the choice that is right for you.

In the “should-filled” example, the speaker is trying to use “should” and social conformity to control what their partner does. In the “should-less” example, the speaker accepts that their partner may or may not come with them, but respects them either way, knowing that there are no hard and fast rules about visiting someone’s mother that everyone in a diverse society will agree upon. The speaker is practicing acceptance, staying in the here-and-now, and taking full responsibility for her or his own mood state.

What do you think? Is this more "BS"? Or is there some merit to communicating and co-creating standards with your loved one? Please, discuss!


Doug said...

One of the reasons my 16-year relationship failed was that my partner was very much the "should" person, while I was the "why should I?" person.

The problem is that my motivation came from a place of laziness. He was wrong for expecting me to do things just because it was, as you said, "what good people do." However, I was just as wrong because I didn't have a realistic reason for not wanting to do things other than I didn't feel like it.

So there was always resentment brewing between us when these responsibilities came up. Typically, I relented because I felt compelled to do things for him... guilt played a part, I suppose.

Wow... this is a tough one to wrap my head around. I guess in future relationships it would be a great idea to be very honest with myself and my partner: "I'd really rather not do that with you, but I want to support you, and if my presence is going to make this easier or more fun, then let's see what plan we can work out together. Maybe we can reward ourselves by having some intimate alone time after we visit your mom."

How'm I doin', Damon?

Damon L. Jacobs said...

What a beautiful and eloquent response, Doug. I think it is very brave to look back on a break-up, evaluate your role in the problems, and then be willing to make changes in your next relationship. I think the suggestion you wrote for how to approach a future partner is brilliant.

Anonymous said...

What is the should-less take on Dating? I'd love to get your take on He's Just Not That Into You, Why He Didn't Call and all the other books that tell women what they should (ha!) be doing dating-wise. They tend to make me feel passive and weak, since they tell women that if we make the first move, initiate a date etc we will never find love yet we're supposed to be ourselves.

John said...

Definitely not BS, Damon. I'm curious to read more about it in your next book. I guess I have been guilty of bringing my "shoulds" into relationships in the past. Some of those were definitely arbitrary and in my head, but on the other hand some may have been an indicator that it wasn't going to work out between us sooner. Hard to say, but I hope to give it more thought when it counts in the future.

On another note, I finally got around to reading your current book, and I wish I'd done so sooner. Great job, Damon. I think that "do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" may be the best advice I've gotten in a long time, and it's so concise that I've actually found myself thinking of it on the spot a few times since I read the book. Not necessarily because I was right, but because it's not a loaded question so it's less involved than facing up to the fact that I may be overreacting to a situation.

Damon L. Jacobs said...

Thank you John, what a wonderful thing to say! I'm profoundly glad if my book has helped. Deciding to be "happy" instead of "right" has saved me on many occasions! If you liked these ideas, you may also want to read "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie.

Thanks again!