Many of you who have read my work have heard me talk about ‘The Manual.’ If not, I’ll reiterate–this is an instruction guide for people in our lives about how we’d like them to behave so that we can feel good. Usually we don’t even share this manual with people we are close with and often we don’t realize how much pain and suffering it causes us.
We might feel justified having expectations of other people, but when your emotional state is tied to that person behaving a certain way, this is where we run into problems. Why? Because the belief that we would be happier if someone behaved a certain way is putting all our power in the hands of another person. Most adults do not behave exactly as we’d like them to 100% of the time. I’d argue that they don’t behave the way we’d like them to MOST of the time, and even though they may do things that give you positive thoughts and positive feelings at times, they won’t be able to or even want to do such things much of the time.
Even clients I’ve worked with who understand this and have experienced firsthand that it is their thoughts about someone else’s behavior (not the behavior itself) that determines how they feel have asked me, “well, what about the fact that I want to be with someone who will surprise me with something special and treat me like a queen on my birthday?” Is that a manual?
That’s when I’d ask a client to consider the following questions:
- So what if your partner did NOT act this way on your birthday?
- What would you make it mean?
- Would you want him to do this even if he didn’t want to? If so, why?
- Do you understand that you have the option to feel (happy, cherished, etc.) on your own, whether or not he behaves this way?
You will know you are learning to drop your manual and are moving toward a state of taking responsibility for your own emotions if you are able to make requests with no strings attached.
This is also what I call voicing your preferences and making a clean request. This might look like telling your husband that you think it would be awesome if he surprised you with something special on your birthday and not thinking negative thoughts when he comes home with ‘only’ flowers and a card for you or comes home from work having not made plans and asks you what you’d like to do for your birthday. You don’t feel resentment toward him and you recognize that any disappointment you feel is based on the thoughts you choose to think–and that you can choose to think thoughts that don’t make you feel disappointed!
When it comes to preferences, I’d ask you to question whether or not having those preferences is serving you. With the client above, she had not yet met this dream man who would surprise her and treat her like a queen on her birthday. It’s great that she has a vision in her mind of her ideal partner, but is she limiting herself to the men she could have an amazing relationship with even if they don’t act the way or possess certain qualities she would like them to? What if she meets someone who behaves this way while they are dating but things change after they get married (those of us who are married or have ever been married can attest to the fact that this is very likely to happen 😉)?
What if she could learn to have her own back and think thoughts that generate the feelings she desires so that she could even date a man who didn’t behave this way or seem to fit her desired preferences? That could be an option that would open up so many possibilities for her. Maybe it would be a skill that could come in handy if she ever decided to marry one of these men…