Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Should-less Relationships Principle #3: Responsibility

Should-less relationships encourage responsibility for one’s own wellness.

Think about all the reasons you have for getting involved with another person. Is it for safety? Security? Stability? To avoid loneliness? To avoid emptiness? Have you ever stayed with someone simply because the relationship itself had become a habit?

If you answered “yes,” or even “maybe,” to any of these questions then fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Because anytime, yes anytime, you are using another human being to make you feel something or give you something you think you don’t already have, then you are setting yourself up for a roller coaster of emotional turmoil, stress, resentment, and most likely emptiness.

Now before you push the "x" button on this page, please consider the following. As long as you tell yourself that your needs “should” be met by another person, you are giving someone else complete control of your emotional state. I am inviting you now to simply take a look at the active role you are playing in the story of your suffering, and encouraging you to assume more ownership in this process.

In order to this, we must first acknowledge a fundamental idea that runs consistently in nearly every book, movie, song, or even fairy tale about love and romance. It states, “I am not enough alone. Another person should come into my life and make me whole. Another person should meet my needs.” Sound familiar? Most of us in American society have been directly and indirectly inundated with this message. It goes as far back to the idea of Romeo & Juliet's tragic love story, Snow White waiting for the prince to wake her up, to Renee Zelwigger telling Tom Cruise, “You complete me,” to nearly any movie playing now or song you’ll hear on the radio. If you have ever believed you are not enough and need to be “completed” by another person, then you have been bought and sold a bill of goods by the corporate media.

Why would they do this? Why would someone knowingly make you believe something that is bound to lead to suffering, disappointment, or heart ache? Because they know you will buy things when you feel bad about yourself. If I’m trying to sell a movie script which will give single people hope, then I damn well better make sure that there are a lot of miserable single people out there who need hope. I’ll do everything in my power to make single people feel less than or inadequate in order to get to them to spend their good money to see my movie. Given this context, it makes perfect sense that you or I or that person next to you are all saying, “Other people should meet my needs.”

What follows, then, is a natural tendency to blame others for the way you feel. After all, if other people are here to meet your needs, and they’re failing to do that, then they deserve to be blamed, shamed, maimed, or whatever it takes for them to fall in line and get busy attending to your mood state, right?

The good news, it simply doesn’t have to be that way. There are much easier ways to be in relationships with others. By taking responsibility for your own needs, for your own moods, for your own sense of purpose and wellness, you are opening the door to experiencing all kinds of wonderful connections with others. When you approach other people from a place of fullness, instead of emptiness, you will find that spending quality time with others will result in much more fun, joy, and peace.

People in should-less relationships do not meet each other’s needs, they expand upon what is already there. Individuals enter into this relationship realizing they already are lovable, stable, adequate, and deserving. Other people may help to increase these qualities, but they do not fill them or make them true. Or to put it another way, people in should-less relationships don’t wait to be brought flowers, they bring their own. If someone else offers them, then that’s great, there are more flowers in the room! But either way, each member takes responsibility for their own garden with or without the contributions of the other.

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.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Should-less Relationship Principle #1: Acceptance

Should-less relationships promote acceptance of others and ourselves.

Acceptance is an essential element in having any type of relationships with others. Please note: There is nothing here that says you have to like every aspect of the person you are with. But if you wish to have happier, more peaceful, and more satisfying experiences with others, then you had better learn some ways to accept other humans for who they are, versus who you want them to be.

This may seem completely opposite to what seems right and logical to you. If this sounds completely nuts, then it would could be beneficial for you to consider how you have learned what you think you know about being in a relationship with another person. Everything you know about being in with other people is something you learned along the way. None of us were born into this world saying, “My husband should pick up his underwear off the floor.” Somewhere along the way you learned this. You may not remember when and where, you may have been too young to exactly recall how you received these message. But now that you’re reading this blog you are aware you have a choice about how to see your partner, and how to react.

Unfortunately, most of us have learned that being in a relationship means that you “should” change someone else. Movies such as “My Fair Lady” or “Grease” powerfully convey the notion that a woman should fundamentally alter everything about herself in order to be loved. Daytime talk shows brutally reinforce this notion with special “makeover” episodes which convey messages that one’s value is in her appearance. Comedians frequently utilize the joke about a spouse that “should” change for comic fodder.

Along with these messages inevitably comes the idea that you should change yourself in order to be loved. You should lose weight, dress better, make more money, drive a better car, learn to be a better lover, get rid of wrinkles, know all the right things to say, go to a prestigious university, see the right movies, all so you can get others to like you. See anything wrong with this picture?

Acceptance is the complete opposite of using “shoulds” on yourself and the people around you. It means that you allow all things to be as they are, even if you don’t like how they are in this moment. You stop fighting with reality, and acknowledge that other people are doing their best even if you don’t like how they are doing it. Or as Dolly Parton may say, “It’s all wrong but it’s alright.”
In order to practice acceptance, you must be willing to be humble. This does not entail thinking less of yourself or anyone else, it’s quite the opposite. Being humble simply means you acknowledge, I do not truly know how others should be. I may think I do, but I am not God and do not know everything.” Try saying that three times. How did that feel? It may initially feel scary to make such a proclamation. But over time you will most likely feel a sense of relief. When you let go of knowing how things “should” be and how other people “should” act, you will most likely experience more peace and freedom in your relationships with others.

To some this may sound like, “Fine, you’re saying that I can just let every one do what they want even if it hurts me or really annoys me.”

Not at all! Being in a “should-less relationship” doesn’t mean you “lie down and take it.” If you were to become a doormat for other people’s problems then that certainly would not promote fulfillment in your connections with others. The goal of practicing acceptance is to find peace, not to create more suffering. Sometimes this means learning a different way to communicate concerns or frustrations. For example,:

Should-filled relationship: You’re really messing up your credit, Nicole. You should stop spending money you don’t have, and you should stop being so damned materialistic. You’re really going to be in trouble if you keep going like that, and don’t think I’ll be there to bail you out when you do.
Should-less relationship: I’m concerned about some of the choices you’re making, Nicole. Your spending seems to be hurting you, and could hurt your credit rating in the long run. Can we talk about your options right now? I can’t do this for you, but together we can discuss healthier steps.

What are the differences you see in these examples? In the first the speaker sounds angry, annoyed, and emotionally invested in the spending choices Nicole makes. In the second example, the speaker is aware of the problem, concerned, willing to take action to help, but ultimately allows Nicole to find her own way without such a strong emotional investment. Which example allows the speaker to practice acceptance and feel more peaceful?

“But Nicole may still go out and destroy her credit.” Yes, this is true, and will be true regardless of how much stress and agony the speaker is going through. In the first example, the speaker uses anger and shame to get Nicole to break down her will. In the second example, the speaker uses compassion and respect to encourage Nicole to make better decisions. In my experience, people are more motivated to make healthy choices when they are feeling appreciated and respected.

Either way you have a choice in how you want to be in your own relationship. If you are looking for ways to change yourself and/or your partner, then you are a bound to feel stressed out, resentful, and frustrated in your relationships. If you are willing to accept other people, "warts" and all, then you are on your way to having a lot more fun.

And We're Back!

Dear Should-less Readers,

The rough draft of "Absolutely Should-less in Relationships" is completed, and I am so excited to share samples and ideas in this blog in the upcoming weeks. I really believe this book will be of assistance to ANYONE who is in a relationship, has ever been in a relationship, or received "Shoulds" from others about being in a relationship. I believe that connections with others can be fun, joyful, and peaceful, but all too often we make them complicated and stressful. If you're not sure if this is right for you, try asking yourself if you have ever said the following:

Being with me in a relationship means you "should"...

- Like the same friends as I do
- Enjoy the same foods as I do
- Go to the same kind of movies
- Watch the same TV shows
- Spend all your available spare time with me
- Always talk about your feelings when I ask
- Enjoy the same games I do
- Agree with me in front of others
- Return my calls, texts, or e-mails, as soon as possible
- Visit my family with me
- Practice the same religion or spirituality as me
- Never make a serious mistake
- Have the same political views as me
- Have sex with me a certain amount of times each week
- Enjoy the same things I do on weekends
- Dislike the same people I do
- Feel the same way about marriage
- Make more money than me
- Make less money than me
- Be sexually monogamous
- Call me a certain amount of times every day
- Not go out for fun without me
- Have grown up with the same values as I did
- Like the same kind of music I do
- Feel the same way I do about having children
- Keep in physical shape
- Cut your foods a certain way
- Have your full attention focused on me when we’re together
- Put the toilet seat down
- Like the same sports I do
- Tell me everything you’re thinking, including what you discuss in therapy
- Have the same standards of cleanliness as I do
- Enjoy doing the same things as me on our vacation together
- Squeeze the toothpaste the same way I do
- Stay in bed with me after we have sex
- Love my pets
- Be willing to dance with me at weddings
- Take care of me if I feel sick
- Stand up for me if I’m attacked by someone
- Be healthy
- Not have your own friends apart from me
- Meet my needs

Anyone of these "shoulds" can be a significant barrier to you having the stress-free relationship you deserve. Please keep reading in upcoming weeks for ideas, tips, and fun tools, that will help you learn how joyful and satisfying connections with others. And PLEASE feel free to leave comments, for this helps us to learn and grow from each other.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

We Love Soaps Podcast

The first podcast is done! I had so much fun sitting down with these two wonderful intelligent guys and talkin' soaps. Please give us a listen at or "Welovesoaps" on iTunes and tell me what you think!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Should-less Holidays

Earlier this afternoon I found myself experiencing a considerable amount of anxiety and irritability. In my experience I can always pinpoint a "should" that is directly responsible for this kind of suffering. Today, my "should" was:

It's the 4th of July, it's a Saturday night, I should go out.

So with the help of my book, "Absolutely Should-less," I did some questioning:

How did you learn this should?
I learned it from the culture around me that reminds I should be social and extroverted on a Saturday night, especially if it's a holiday. The media is constantly telling me I should want go out, spend money, watch fireworks, and party the night away.
Is this should true for everyone?
Absolutely not. There are plenty of happy people who do not go out on the 4th of July,
Who is profiting off your should?
Certainly the bars, the clubs, the restaurants I would go to, the cabs I'd end up taking (despite my best intention to use the subway).
How do you feel when you think this should?
Anxious, inadequate, miserable.
What would the 4th of July be like without this should?
It would be great! It would be peaceful, fun, joyful, whether I go out or not.
Replace it...
I could go out tonight. I might go out. Or I could stay in and prepare for my WeLoveSoaps podcast on Monday. No matter what I do, I have a choice to have fun, or be miserable. That choice is mine.

And with that I feel better. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do, but I realize that if I make a choice based on "shoulds" then I will be unhappy. Wouldn't it be easier just to be honest with myself and do something that feels right?