In part one I talked about how Jeanie taught me the importance of seeing each other as perfect. (When she first introduced me to a cousin of hers, he took a long moment to look me up and down, then turned to her with a smile, “So this is what perfection looks like.”)
The idea of seeing someone as perfect may be difficult for many to accept, because we observe what we consider lack or flaws in others. If we like a particular quarterback, for example, and he fumbles the football, it feels phony to say he’s perfect.
However, in the way Jeanie is using the term, seeing someone as perfect means there is nothing about them that needs to change for you to be happy. There is nothing nagging at you about the way they are being, and you aren’t nagging at them to change. In the case of the quarterback (or your partner), that means your happiness is not dependent on whether they drop the ball.
I’m unhappy. You need to change.
When children make a mess, it is commonly understood that it’s our job as parents to teach them (get them) to stop doing that. They are wrong in behaving that way, and we are right in insisting they change.
This attitude carries over into all our social relationships, whether it’s passing laws, condemning wrongdoers, or being frustrated by a fumbling quarterback. It manifests most intensely in our intimate relationships—and ruins them.
Let’s take a hypothetical suburban family. The wife leaves the garage door open, the children leave their toys in the driveway, and the husband hasn’t fixed the mower, so the grass is embarrassingly tall. Both parents are frustrated, and we haven’t even gotten into the house yet. If everyone would simply change and do the right thing, everything would be fine. What is wrong with these people that they don’t do that?
If you ask them, they can give you some excellent excuses, but it all boils down to, “I chose to do something else instead.” That is the problem with relationships: people will do what pleases them instead of what pleases the people around them. (Or they relentlessly do what pleases others, and then want to get out of the relationship as soon as possible.)
The ideal is, everyone does exactly what pleases them and everyone else is okay with that.
There are two ways to approach the natural conflicts when people are sharing their lives. The one that usually gets the most energy is to try to get the other person to change. The one that works the best is to change yourself.
One of the parents comes home after a hard day’s work, and the kids have left their bicycles and toys in the driveway (again). How often have they been told not to do that? The tired parent gets out of the car, yells at the kids to move their toys, pushes the clutter out of the way, feels uncared about, and so on. Ask them why they’re feeling frustrated, and they point to the driveway and the thoughtless children.
But that’s not actually why they’re feeling bad. The only thing that ever makes us feel bad is our thoughts. Once someone understands this—and applies it—they never need anyone to change again. They may prefer them to change, but that’s it. They will never again continue to feel frustrated or unhappy if someone else doesn’t do what they want.
You can imagine what the parent was thinking as they turned into the driveway and saw the barriers left by the inconsiderate children. But let’s change the situation somewhat. In the last column I talked about the deathbed scene. That’s a little extreme here, but let’s imagine a severe flu bug had been going around, and the children had just gotten out of the hospital.
Imagine the joy of the parent to see that clutter in the driveway. Suddenly, those toys represent healthy children who can go out and play, rather than inconsiderate children who are bad. Same children. Same situation. Different thoughts. When there is (even the potential of) a loss, the unresolved frustrations feel trivial.
Next: You can always get what you want.
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