Transforming your relationship manuals

Your power is with you. Part 2.

Last week we looked at the manuals we have for others and why we have them. 

We create manuals, or sets of instructions, for the people in our life about how they’re supposed to behave, so we can feel good. 

We then base how we feel about others on whether they follow our manuals or not. We also make it mean they care or don’t care about us based on our manuals for them.

When we place the responsibility of feeling good on other people, we give all our power away to those people. 

In reality, each of us is responsible for meeting our own needs. When we’re in a relationship where we feel responsible for fulfilling someone else’s needs and they feel responsible for fulfilling ours, there’s constant manipulation and effort to control one another so that in the end, nobody wins. 

We can’t control another person, and there’s nothing they could possibly do that would make us as happy as we want to be. All of the power to feel happy lies within us.

So transforming our relationship manuals is about deciding who we want to be and taking all of our power back so that we can show up in the way that we like and feel good about ourselves. Then we get to decide how we want to be or act from that place, in any circumstance.

This doesn’t mean that we stay in relationships that are harmful or not serving us well. We need to do what’s necessary to protect ourselves. Although boundaries and requests are appropriate, trying to control and manipulate other people never works. Instead, it can make us feel and even act like a crazy person.

Of course, we can make all the requests we want from other people, but when we allow our

emotional happiness to depend on whether those requests are met, we’re setting ourselves up for trouble. This looks like trying to manipulate people to behave in the way we want so we can feel better.

This creates a spiral of negativity, and this can happen when we are attached to our manuals for others.

Instead, we can become familiar with and practice the following:

  1. Allow ourselves to feel all of it. This means being willing to feel all the emotions, like the emotions we’re trying to avoid by wanting someone to behave in a specific way.
  2. Decide who we want to be. When we’re trying to control someone else, we’re usually not being versions of ourselves that we’re proud of.
  3. Decide what we want the other person’s actions to mean. We don’t have to take it personally.

Here’s an example if I have the manual instruction: “My friend should always remember my birthday.” 

If my friend forgets my birthday, I can allow myself to feel sad and disappointed about that. I have the manual instruction because I want to avoid feeling sad and disappointed, since those are uncomfortable feelings, but I allow myself to feel those feelings anyway. 

Then I can decide who I want to be in the relationship. I can decide that I want to be an understanding friend and give my friend grace, even if they forgot my birthday. I can still want to be friends with them. 

Then I can decide what I want my friend’s action to mean. I can decide to not take it personally and not make it mean anything about me. My friend’s action is about them. Maybe their life is very full and they didn’t do it on purpose; they are still a good friend even if they forgot my birthday.

We get to decide what we’re going to do with our time, how we’re going to respond, and when we want to make changes in our life. We’ll want to make sure we’re thinking about those changes and what we want based on what we do have control over. Our power stays with us.

Your turn: Do you recognize why you have manual instructions for other people? What feelings are you trying to avoid feeling by having these manual instructions? What would happen if you allowed yourself to be open to feeling all the emotions? How might your relationships be different if you stopped trying to get someone to behave in a specific way so that you can feel good?

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