Responsibility in Relationships And Change

The only person you can change is you. That’s difficult enough as it is, you are wasting your energy if you try to  perform the impossible with someone else. It doesn’t matter what you do or say, other people will only change when they want to. In fact, my perception is that the more you push another person to change, the more resistance you will meet.  This applies to you too. If you are like almost every one else, you will only want to change when you are so uncomfortable that anything seems better than staying the same and the more people push you to change, the harder you will cling to what you know.

Yet we are changing all the time – growing older, gaining experience – without being aware of it, or being in control of it.  We grow, we put on weight or lose it. We meet new people, make new friendships, lose relatives and take on new responsibilities. Every one of these new situations calls for us to adapt. If we insist on staying the same in the face of such changes, then we become less and less effective and more and more stressed.

Once you accept that you can only change you, and you stop trying to get others to change by direct confrontation, you will find that your sphere of influence is wider than you expect. This is because, when you change what you do, the people around you have no choice but to change their responses to you. If you no longer shout at your partner, there will be no excuse for shouting back. The only drawback to this is that you have no control over the ways they choose to change. Your partner may choose to needle you until you do shout (escalate), or accept and be calm (co-operate).

Whatever goes wrong within your relationships is never all your ‘fault’, or all the other person’s. This is true whether you are dealing with a member of the family, a work colleague, a friend or a  customer. By the same token, whatever goes right in your relationship is neither wholly your achievement nor your partner’s. In effect, you put in 50% of the relationship. This is true, even if you think that your partner’s behaviour is the whole problem. In this case the question is about whether you are kidding yourself and could explore your responses more thoroughly, or whether your 50% genuinely is just the fact that you remain in the relationship.

All this is something that I started to understand when my second child was a baby.  When my first daughter was born I felt really scared to be totally responsible for this small being. This was compounded when she cried for roughly eighteen hours a day for the next three months. I got the impression that I was failing her and I truly believed that it was all my fault.  Then I had number two and was so relieved to find that strategies that had worked with Lesley had no effect on Frances. I had to develop new ways of relating to her and could look back and reassess that first babyhood in the knowledge that the baby had put in her own (50%) share of the relationship between us.