“Real love is accepting people the way they are without trying to change them.”
-Don Miguel Ruiz
How often we say we love someone and then in subtle (or not so subtle) ways try to change them. If we are honest we all feel like there is something we would like to change about our spouse, our partner, our parents or our children. Yet, when we want to change something about them we aren’t honoring who they are or where they came from.
I have a patient whom I have been seeing for quite some time. She is an older woman who has been married for many years with two grown children. One of her issues is that she feels bad when her husband is verbally mean to her. His meanness takes her to a place inside of herself where she feels bad about herself and doesn’t feel good enough, even though she knows intellectually that he is really mad about something else. She is working hard to change this in herself.
And, yet she also wants to change his reactions to things and to her. For as long as she can remember he gets upset with her when she wants to spend some quality time with him and he doesn’t want to be interrupted. He also gets mad at her when his stocks aren’t doing so well, or when he is upset about something. At those times he looks at her and takes his anger out on her. To this day, it still upsets her and yet she keeps hoping this will change and he will change.
In our work together she came to realize he has wounded places that stem from his relationship with his mother. When he looks at his wife he blindly sees his mother and reacts to her as if she were his mother. My client wants it to be different for him and yet this is an issue that is out of her control. Until he becomes conscious of this pattern it is also beyond his control. The only thing she has control of in those moments is to accept him for who he is, to know that it really isn’t about her, and to do something different for herself.
Understanding the hidden patterns beneath events and people’s actions is not always easy. In fact it can be quite challenging. My client doesn’t want to leave her husband whom she has built a long life with, but she is not happy. Through our sessions she is learning that first she must accept him and his actions for who he is. The real choice is in reacting differently to him.
She is finding there is freedom in feeling her sadness and in letting go of her hopes and expectations that were based on him changing. When she lets go, along with the sadness comes a feeling of emptiness and a confrontation in herself of her fear of being alone. When she confronts her fear and feels the emptiness, the emptiness changes from a hole, to a sense of expansiveness. Letting go of something that no longer fits allows room for something new to come in.
Taking the time to accept her husband for who he is then allows my client to grow. She can finally feel the fears that have kept her trapped. This also frees him. He knows that she finally sees and accepts him the way he is and a pressure is released inside of him that he didn’t even know was there. When one person changes and grows the other person is affected thereby creating healthier and more compassionate patterns that serve the partnership in ways trying to change someone else never can.
Small Lifestyle Changes that Promote Big Results:
Try this exercise as described above with someone whom you are involved with. Find a quiet place and time in which to evaluate your relationship with your partner. First write down what you like and what you don’t like about yourself. Then look at your partner and see what you like about the other person. Then look at what you don’t like.
Next check in to see if you secretly or overtly want to or are actively trying to change something about the other person. Check to see if there is a secret fear you are carrying which keeps you from accepting the other person just as he/she is. Thirdly, take a risk and let go of the hopes and dreams you had of this person being different, and see them just as they are and you just as you are. Usually something changes inside you at this point.
Next, let go of the expectations that something will change. Finally, feel the feelings that emerge as a result of this exercise. Do you feel sad, do you feel happy, do you feel relief, do you feel fear, do you feel an emptiness, etc.?
Just notice these feelings, and let go also of having to do anything; just be and be with them. The last step then is to just look and see what opens up as a result.
I heartily recommend the book entitled: Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendricks. The first half describes why we choose who we choose, and the second half is filled with exercises you can do together which help to shift your trouble spots to understanding spots.