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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Your “manuals” for other people

Yes, you have them. Part 1.

When we have assumptions or expectations about what people are supposed to do, we have “manuals” for them. 

We want people to behave in ways that make us feel good and happy. We usually don’t tell the other people what’s in our manual for them. And we usually don’t even realize we have these manuals or see how they’re causing us pain. 

We think that the other people should just “know” what to do and how to treat us. It can seem justified to have expectations of other people, but it can be damaging to us when our emotional happiness is directly tied to them behaving a certain way.

Many of us have manuals that come from the belief that we would be happier if someone in our lives would change. This is a huge cause of suffering because we’re handing over the power of how we feel to someone else.

Other people’s behavior has no impact on us emotionally until we think about it, interpret it, and choose to make it mean something. No matter what people do, how they act, or what they say, we don’t have to give others the power to determine how we feel.

Some common manual instructions might look like this: 

• He should text me back within an hour after I text him.

• She should listen to me for as long as I listened to her.

• He should spend less time at work.

• She should remember my birthday.

• He should know what I like.

• She should invite me when she has a party.

• He shouldn’t watch so much football.

• She should write me a thank you note.

• He should buy me something special on my birthday.

• She should support me.

• He should be emotionally available.

• She should ask me to be a bridesmaid, godmother, etc.

• He should tell me he loves me.

If there’s a “should” in there, it’s likely a manual instruction. These are simple and brief examples, but most manuals are pages and pages long. They’re complicated, detailed, and intricate. 

Rather than sharing these expectations with the person they’re about, those of us with manuals generally think the other person should just inherently know. We then want to make it mean that we are really loved by this person. And if they don’t do what’s in our manuals, then what do we feel?

Does it make sense why manuals can create pain for us? So what are we supposed to do instead? More on this next week.

Your turn: If you’re open to the idea that you have manuals for other people, what are the instructions you have for them? Would you be open to sharing the instructions as requests for the other person? If not, are you willing to see how these instructions might be causing you pain? Can you become aware of when you’re experiencing manual instructions for both yourself and for others?

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Work with me: Want to see how self-care is transformative and can help create a more meaningful life in which you start committing to yourself and show up the way you want? I can show you how. I offer first-time seekers a complimentary 45-minute exploratory session. Sign up here.