There are only three possibilities for the future of any relationship

         Stay as you are.
         Change how you are.
         Split up.

That's it, there are no other options. So if you can't stand it the way it is and you don't want to go, your only option is change and to quote the oldest idea in therapy "You can't change others, you can only change yourself". If you can't both agree on change then it's down to you.
Yes that may seem unfair, you may be in the right but that will not make any difference.

Here are some ideas and questions that may.

It is better to feel love than to feel right

And sometimes that is the choice, facts rarely changes relationships, being right rarely change feelings, so if you want to experience more love, both giving and receiving forget who is right and concentrate on being loving.

What do you bring to this relationship that is unhelpful?

Usually people can write a long list in answer to this question for their partner, but that is not what is being asked. Write down three times "What I bring to this relationship that is unhelpful is" and finish the sentence with three different answers. Then consider if you are willing to make changes.

What else could this mean?

A good question to ask when you feel upset. We are often quick to give a negative meaning to something and voicing our opinion of the 'true' meaning gives it strength. Stop and ask the question above, there is no right answer but you could choose a meaning that makes you feel more at ease with an event or a comment. So often things done or said to us are not about us at all but about the situation of the other person, and, to quote the title of a popular book "What you think of me is none of my business"

Acting as if

An interesting experiment and a possible way to bring about change in yourself and in others is to act as if life was already just the way you wanted it to be. Since the only thing you can hope to control is your own reaction to a situation (and some of us have great difficulty even doing that), it's worth testing this out for a day or two to see if it makes a real difference.

Who is responsible for this relationship?

No, the answer is not "You are", this is a relationship, the answer is "You both are" but does that make it 50 : 50. The best way to make a relationship thrive is for you both to take 100% responsibility for it. That means you cannot hold back because your partner is giving less than you because you regard yourself as 100% responsible for everything. It may not be fair, it is not good maths but it does seem to work.

The greatest love

The greatest love you can show others may sometimes be to leave them alone. This can be the most difficult thing to do for those we care about, particularly when they are going through difficult times and of course it's not always the right approach. It's particularly difficult with children but sometimes the best way to help is just to do nothing.

Snap shots and video

We have all seen photographs of ourselves that do not do us justice. Usually these are the ones we throw away, we don't see them as being "us". On the other hand a video is more likely to give a more accurate impression of who we are, it is taken over a period of time. Why then do we so often hang on to the snapshot of the careless comment from others, the unintended insult and the harsh word later taken back? So throw these away along with the bad photos. If the words do not fit the usual attitude of the other person then discard them, don't keep the worst, keep the best.

No matter how thin you slice it

No matter how thin you slice it there are always two sides. It's a good test of your understanding to see if you can explain the position of someone with whom you disagree so they confirm that is how they feel. Try it out and ask the other person to coach you until you get it right. Understanding is not the same as agreement but it is a big step towards resolving differences.

More of the same

If you have a problem in your relationship there is little point in doing more of what has not worked in the past. More of the same action almost always produces more of the same result. So it is time to try something different, change creates change. Notice what tends to make things better and do more of it, notice what tends to make things worse and do less of it.

Simple advice but over time it can transform a relationship.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." (Albert Einstein)

Limit you relationships

Limit your relationships to what you have in common. No relationship, however strong, can provide each party with all that they need. Most relationships require new input from outside experiences and these do not always have to be shared. There is a danger that in stretching the relationship to involve everything the parties end up doing things they neither like nor enjoy. This can be the breeding ground for resentment, a major relationship killer.

The miracle question

If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and your relationship was exactly the way you wanted it, and that includes your contribution to it, and yet you had no memory of how it was before, what would be different about you? What would you be feeling? How would you act? How would others react to you?
It's good to know what is tied up in our problems and one way to find out is to imagine our life without them. Sometimes our problems restrict us but sometimes they also protect us. See where the answer to "The miracle question" takes you.

How to have a bad relationship

Try lectures and advice, especially "for your own good"

Say "Why don't you just try to.....?

Try hints, pleading and begging.

Use long silences as in "Just see how you have made me feel"

Try a sentence that starts with any of the following
    "If you really loved me"
    "After all I have done for you"
    "Anyone with any sense"

Put your life on hold waiting for your partner to change.

Best of all, compare your relationship with that of another couple.

Just because you experience a problem in your relationship it does not mean your relationship is the problem

No one comes to any relationship without a history and while that history may not belong to the relationship it usually affects it. When two histories meet each other the problems that arise get complicated. If you find the same problem in a number of your relationships then you can be fairly sure the problem is you and not the relationship so work on yourself and leave the relationship alone to sort itself out.

Relationships can't provide everything

It must be fantastic to have a relationship that provides all your wants and needs, everything you require, in one warm, secure, permanent liaison. It must be like having a home that gives you all you desire, so much so that you never need to leave it....!

Relationships can give us great joy and satisfaction but they can't provide everything and ultimately we and not our relationship are responsible for our happiness. A relationship also needs the stimulation of new, external experiences or it will stultify and decay.

Love never dies a natural death

Being "in love" can settle down over the years but love itself, if nurtured, need never die.

What can kill love is a diet of negativity, particularly negative comments. Communication either builds or destroys, the choice is ours.

How can you ruin a relationship and grow old quickly?

The answer, have too many rules.

It is said that every cigarette you smoke costs you five minutes off your life. Well there is a good chance that every rule you have about how things should or should not be costs you many times more than that and such rules can damage and destroy your relationships as well.

Relationships, and life, need to flow and the more blocks we put in the way the more likely we are to prevent the flow. Things that don't flow tend to decay.

Let go of the past or let go of the future

Amazingly, some people keep a list in their head of times they were let down by their friends or partners, a list of various slights and transgressions. These same people have the ability to choose items from their list to throw into situations at a time when they can create the maximum damage.

Of course these are "other people" and you and I have never done anything like that. But just in case we are tempted down this path let's remember it's our choice, we either let go of the past or the future.

Sometimes the worst thing

Sometimes the worst thing you can do for those you love are the things they could or should do for themselves.

This is only true sometimes because it's great to offer help to others and it makes us feel good when we have supported those we love. But it's a thin line between supporting and undermining however well intentioned we may be. It's good to check this out sometimes.

Notice what works best, and do more of it

Take a few moments to review your relationship, or your life, and notice what works best for you. What's different about what works compared with what does not?

Suppose nothing works? Try doing something different and notice if it improves things or makes them worse. If it's an improvement, do more of it, if not, try doing something else.

Loving someone can be a decision you make

In the early years love can be a heady mixture of passion and desire, it's exciting, stimulating and for some people this can last for a lifetime.

For others such intensity can become too dominating. It's just as valid to make a decision to love someone as it is to be head over heels 'in love'. People are different and there is no right or wrong way to conduct a relationship.

Strike when the iron is cold

When is the worst time to deal with anger? When you're angry. Same is true of jealousy and many other emotions.

The trouble is if we don't feel it we don't feel we need to deal with it. Yet when we are in the grip of an emotion is when we have the least resources to deal with that emotion. It's a skill to learn, to return to problem areas when the strong feelings have gone. Look at or discuss with someone else how such difficulties might be dealt with if they arise in the future. Not easy but better than trying to deal with anger when you are angry.

Loving being in love

Some people just love to be in love, and who can blame them. It's a great state, emotions run high, it's so easy to feel fully alive.

It's worth remembering there is a difference between loving being in love and loving the person you are in love with. If you don't make the distinction the chances are your relationship won't last.

Relationships are a mirror

Relationships can reflect back to us aspects of ourselves we don't much care for, and then it's easy to blame our partner for how we end up feeling.
The image, however distorted, is still ours. You don't have to stay in a relationship that distorts who you are but it can be worth spending time checking the image to see how much of it is a true reflection of yourself.
If being with someone, a relative, friend or partner often makes you feel bad and that doesn't happen when you're with other people you may want to ask yourself if you let this relationship go.

Learn to play Mastermind

It's the game where one player sets out coloured pegs behind a screen and the other player tries to reproduce the colour and the order, at first by guessing and then based on clues. White pegs for a correct colour in the wrong place, black pegs for a correct colour in the right place. Without the clues the player would just go on guessing and the game could take a lifetime.

There are clues in our relationships, responses to things that work and different responses to things that don't. If we notice the clues we are more likely to get the result we seek, if we don't it could take a lifetime.

Dangerous animals

The sign in the zoo reads, "This animal is dangerous, it defends itself if attacked."

There's usually a reason for the aggression of other people and it's good to ask the question "Why do they/I feel attacked in this situation?" There are insights here and we can choose to modify either our behaviour or our reactions.

Relationship exercise 1

This won't work for every couple but a 1 -10 scale can be of help in enhancing relationships.

You can take your relationship as a whole or just one aspect, eg communication, love life etc. Think about your current level of satisfaction on the 1 -10 scale with 1 as the lowest possible score. Let's say your result for your chosen area is a 5/10. The question to be asked is not "Why am I not at a 10/10?" but "What would a 5.5/10 or a 6/10 look like?"

A maximum score may not be available right now but that doesn't mean improvement is not possible.

Relationship exercise 2

For couples who find conversations difficult, perhaps they often end in an argument, here's a way that might break the pattern.

Agree a length of time for this exercise. If you can't agree make it 30 mins, and then toss a coin to see who goes first. That person holds the coin and can speak for as long as they wish and can say whatever is on their mind. They can pause for thought but the other person is not allowed to comment until they hold the coin themselves. The coin is then handed over and the process repeats itself until the 30 mins is up. It's a good idea immediately afterwards to have a further 15 mins apart.

Relationship exercise 3

This is a very challenging exercise, just try it and you'll see why. It's certainly not for everyone.

Sit opposite each other with knees almost touching and for an agreed period, at first perhaps no more than 5 mins. Just make and hold eye contact without talking or moving, just being together. Note what thoughts and feelings come up, try not to dwell on them but let them go to see what comes up next. Again, take 15 mins apart before discussing, or perhaps agree not to discuss at all. (There is a version to do on your own with just a mirror.)

Relationships don't solve personal problems

Although they can do a very good job at helping people avoid looking at them.

The solution to whatever issues we have to face is our responsibility not that of our partners. We can easily adversely affect our relationship when we expect our partners to sort out the problems that don't belong there. It's a simple question to ask; "Did I feel like this before I started this relationship?" The answer will help you to distinguish between personal problems and relationship problems.

Don't give up being you in order to be with someone else

Do you look in the mirror and no longer recognise the person you see looking back?

Do you find you've given up on your friends. your interests, your beliefs in order to stay in a relationship?

Then it's time to either create significant changes or give serious consideration to getting out.

Forget the potential

Here's another good relationship question.

"If I knew my partner or proposed partner was never going to change, would I be happy to spend the rest of my life with them?"

If the honest answer, warts and all, is YES then go ahead and have fun. If the answer is NO then you owe it to yourself to stop and consider if this is the right person for you.

Commitment and compatibility

Both these things are essential for a successful relationship, it's not an either or situation.
The greatest commitment will not overcome a basic lack of compatibility and a relationship without this element can lead to a lifetime of unhappiness for both partners.
And just because someone is compatible does not mean they are committed or possibly even capable of commitment. The pig and the hen are both compatible in making bacon and eggs but while the hen is involved, only the pig is committed.

Change can either be an event or a process

Sometimes change occurs in an instant; eg, a major event, a sudden occurrence and life never seems the same again. Yet often the change has been going on for some time unnoticed, it's the realisation of the change that is sudden.
More often change is a process and we may not be aware of it until we look back, eg, a loss of weight of a pound a month is not much but over a year it's almost a stone. So look back a year or five and take stock, see what has changed and ask yourself if you like the direction in which your life is going. If not it's time to make changes so in a year or five's time it all seems a lot different.

Some things have to be

Some things have to be understood. It can help to have reasons even if nothing changes. Inquiry and exploration are useful tools for understanding and are important in a relationship.

Some things have to be accepted they are just are not going to change and it's good to recognise this and stop wasting your life waiting for something that won't happen. It may be useful to understand and let go.

Some things have to be forgiven. It may not be enough just to understand, it may not be enough just to accept. You may have to forgive in order to move on. Not so much for the sake of the other party but for your own sake.

Every relationship is unique

Wherever you read or are told about relationships, and that certainly applies to the ideas on this site, please remember it may not apply to you. If you think about your complexity as an individual and then add another party to the equation the possibilities are beyond comprehension. So don't try and fit your relationship into someone else's understanding. Ask the simple question, "Does this apply to me?" If not, move on.

We teach people how to treat us

Other people can be so unfair, so judgemental so critical and it's easy to put all responsibility on to others and not look at our own role.
If we see ourselves as teachers and other people as our students being taught how to treat us we may get a very different view about our relationships. We may also begin to change our teaching method, our behaviour, so that we get the results that are better suited to our needs.
"There are no learning disabilities, there are only teaching disabilities." (Richard Bandler)

Would you live with you?

It's a tough question, would you live with you? It's not meant as a "beat yourself up" question but as a way of honestly looking at your role in whatever relationship is causing you trouble. Here are some possible answers:-

Yes, I'd be very happy to live with me; so look at what your partner brings or doesn't bring to the relationship or how you spark each other off.

Yes, I'd live with me but I would find a few things difficult; a chance to see what you bring that is unhelpful and decide if you want to make changes.

No, I would not want to live with me; well what changes would you have to make to come up with a different answer? Are these changes you can make for yourself? Are you willing to seek help outside?

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." ( Leo Tolstoy)

There are worse things than having a relationship end

And here are some of them:-

Wasting your life waiting for someone else to change.

Living with violence or emotional abuse.

Watching your children being damaged.

Losing your own identity, friends, interests.

Its not easy to move on but sometimes it's what life asks of you.

"You gain strength courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stopped to look fear in the face." (Eleanor Roosevelt.)

What you resist persists

We have all experienced repeating unhelpful patterns in our lives, not just in relationships but in the way we deal with our finances, our eating habits etc. Each time we make up our minds next time it's going to be different, and then next time it's just the same.

When that is the pattern the chances are that there is something we are resisting, some underlying cause we are not looking at, some deeper reason we need to examine. You can't change things you don't own up to so here's something you can do right now:-

Take an issue where you repeat patterns despite all your efforts and ask yourself what it is you are resisting, ask two or three times and write down the answers. If nothing comes up ask yourself what you would write down if you were going to write something and then write that down.

OK, this does not solve the problem but it might well tell you where to start looking for a solution.

Avoiding arguments

It's almost impossible to argue with someone who is not concerned about being right. An argument is a process that relies on the parties being attached to different outcomes. If one, or both parties are happy to enjoy an exploration without attachment to the outcome then no argument can take place. So, it's a choice; sometimes it's good to stand firm and live with the disagreement; sometimes it's fine to give way; often it's time to respect differences and move on to other areas.

You're supposed to make me happy

There used to be a cartoon in my counselling room, it showed a couple pointing at each other and sharing the caption "You're supposed to make me happy." It might just be the biggest myth about relationships, that if you are not happy already, having a relationship will change everything. A better approach is to take responsibility for your own happiness and be willing to share this with your partner.

Be satisfied with small changes over a long period

It's a shared human failing, we want it perfect and we want it now and it's interesting how that urgency can prevent us from achieving our dreams. It's true of many things in life but particularly true of relationships, they rarely change overnight. It probably took you a long time to end up where you are now, so what makes you believe any change will be instant?

You may not be able to change your destination immediately but you can change your direction right now, and a small change which continues will mean you end up in a very different place in the future. You almost certainly overestimate what you can achieve in a month but equally underestimate what you can achieve in a year.

So, look for small, positive changes in your relationship and work to expand them, concentrate on what does work and make more of it rather than always looking at the problems.

Things to avoid in relationships

Here are some things it's best to avoid:-

Relationships with people who don't make you feel good after a few encounters, its not likely to change.

Relationships where, most of the time, you feel like the parent and the other party like your child, it's not good for either of you.

Relationships where you feel you are having to rescue the other person all the time, it does not breed respect on either side.

Relationships with people who have fatal flaws they are not doing anything about such as, affairs, drugs, alcohol. Fatal flaws are usually just that, fatal.

10 things to know about relationships and sex

The first thing to know about sex is that it was meant to be fun and if it's not then you need to do something about that.

The second things to know about sex is that it doesn't have to be a big part of your relationship and it's OK if it is.

The third thing to know about sex is that relationships don't last, long term, because of a great sex life, it's not enough.

The fourth thing to know about sex is that there are no external norms, if what you do works for both of you then that's fine.

The fifth thing to know about sex is that it's just as important to please yourself as it is to please your partner.

The fifth, sixth, seventh, eight, ninth and tenth thing to know about sex is that it was meant to be fun, don't make it too serious.

Don't smother each other

Relationships are very, very important. A great relationship is one of the best experiences life has to offer. But it's not the only experience and relationships benefit from each partner bringing in something new from time to time. If your relationship feels a bit dead it might be time to get out more and not always together. Most things don't grow so well in the shade so let your relationship be important but not everything otherwise it might just die from lack of nutrition.

Every unkind act is a cry for help

Now I'm not sure this is true every time and it certainly doesn't feel like it when I'm on the receiving end. But when I stop to think about times when I have acted unkindly it has been because I have been feeling bad about myself, so perhaps it is a cry for help. What I do know is that my relationships work better when I assume this to be true, I am less likely to get upset and more likely to meet the needs of the other party and so have a better time with them.

Work can be easier than relationships

Work, and here I mean any activity- your job, the garden, keeping fit- while good in itself can be a great way of distracting us from dealing with the issues in our lives and nowhere is this more true than in our relationships. So when you are "too busy" to be with someone you care about just stop and ask yourself this: "If I was using this work as a way of avoiding something what would that something be?" You may conclude the work pressure is genuine, and that's often true, but at least check it out and don't necessarily accept the first answer that comes up for you.

Why do we choose to live with suffering?

At first sight this seems a strange idea, that we would choose to live with suffering. One of the attractions of being in a relationship with someone can be the certainty it gives us, even if many of our experiences are not good ones. There are many people who, despite a poor relationship which gives them little, find familiar suffering preferable to the fear of the unknown.
Becoming aware of this and facing the fear involved in moving on can be the start of important changes.

You are more than the drama

You are more than the drama in your life, you are certainly more than the drama in your relationships. There is a place within you where you can stand back, be distant from the unfolding events and just observe what is happening without actively participating.
It is from this place that patterns can be noticed and reactions, our own and others, more fully understood. It is from this place that changes can be planned and resources gathered. Sometimes it's good to replay the past in our mind from the point of view of an observer and allow the insights to arise without the need for a reaction or an involvement.

Relationships, like life, don't last forever

There's many a person whose life is filled with regret at the things they wished they had said to someone who is no longer with them. They are rarely words of criticism, hardly ever words spoken in anger, these are the things we tend to say at the time, in the heat of the moment. But for some reason that is common to so many people, particularly in western society, it's the expressions of love, the words of congratulations and support we hold back from and regret not saying when it is too late.

Today you could change that.

What is the point of highest agreement?

Almost every area of dispute, be it between individuals or nations, has a point of agreement when the highest principles of each party are explored. Most disagreements are about practice and not principle. Let me illustrate this with some examples.

Parents may disagree over attitudes to child discipline but are unlikely to disagree over wanting the best for their children.

Politicians disagree over the use of prison as a deterrent but rarely disagree over their wish to create a safe society.

Nations disagree over territory but behind that is a shared belief that a nation has a right to know the extent of its boundaries.

Often when we disagree about things, trivial or major, it feels like the gap between the parties cannot be bridged but to seek and find the point of principle on which we can agree seems like a god start in the process of resolution.

When you disagree about the present don't bring up the past

This could be rule No 1 in the book of how to have a constructive argument. It applies to disagreements with your partner, spouse, friend, parent, child etc

We all know the phrase "Forgive and forget" and while there's a lot to be said for the first the second idea is often not possible. So you may not be able to forget past differences but that does no mean you should keep reminding yourself or the other party about them.

Not every argument can be resolved to the satisfaction of each of the people involved but throwing the further fuel of past events makes any solution less likely. Now you don't have control over how the other party behaves but you could have control of your responses and you don't have to play the game of past references if you don't want to.

Don't let a small disagreement ruin a big relationship

For that matter, don't let a small disagreement ruin a small relationship either.

It's so easy to attach emotional energy to a minor dispute. Our ego gets involved and what, in the greater scheme of things, is truly of no real importance becomes a matter where our very identity is put on the line.

Does this seem an excessive statement? Well sit in a car with an angry driver when someone cuts him (or her) up. Perhaps you have even been that driver.

It's good to stand back and ask ourselves this question.

"If I was observing this happening to someone else would I see them as overreacting?"

Emotional and physical

Societies have many types of restrictions on the expression of physical aggression. Laws and law enforcement seek protect us all, particularly children, from physical abuse and it's absolutely right that this should be so. However we have very few laws which constrain emotional aggression and yet this can do as much harm, to others and to ourselves.

Here's an interesting challenge.

Think over how you act towards other people, as a friend, partner, parent, business associate or towards someone you don't know well.

Now imagine your words and the feelings behind them being expressed as physical action.
The kind comment might become a soft stroke, the unkind one a slap, an unrestricted argument would be a full blown fist fight.

1. How do you feel about how you have acted today when viewed in this light?

2. Might you have ended up breaking the law and being arrested?

3. Are their changes you need to make, people you need to say "sorry" to?

Burning Communications

While it's true that honesty is important in a relationship it's also true there are some things best not said. When your strong feelings are about your own issues, when sharing them with someone close to you is equivalent to dumping on them then it's best to be silent.

But you are still left with the feelings. Here's a technique that can work for times like this..

Write your feelings on a piece of paper, it's best to write rather than type but, of course that's up to you. In a ceremony at your own creation set fire to what you have written and while you watch the paper burn let your feelings be released and rise with the smoke. You may need to do this more than once. The technique improved with practice. It can also be used for:-

1. Letting go feelings towards people who are no longer around.

2. Letting go of past damaging experiences that are holding you back.

3. Letting go of your failures, your disappointments, your setbacks

Moving the book

In my counselling practice I would keep a diary on the table beside my chair. Sometimes, particularly when clients were talking about a row they had had, I would push my diary towards the end of the table a few inches. I would do this a few times until, inevitably, the diary fell off the table onto the floor. "So" I would ask, "What caused by diary to fall on the floor?" "You pushed it" was the usual reply. "Which push?" I would ask and the answer was usually "The last one"

Well, it depends on how you look at it. To my mind each push was necessary for the book to fall on the floor and yet if you only look at the result it would seem like it was just the last push.

Here's the learning.

1. If you only concentrate on the immediate effect, on the drama, you will miss the pattern. The row didn't start without a history.

2. Successful relationships, and unsuccessful relationships, leave clues. It's worth looking back to get a full picture.

3. Cause and effect on not always simple. There is a tendency to think that if change takes place immediately after an action than the action called the change. It may not be so.

The meaning of a communication is the response you get

Most people think the meaning of a communication is defined by what they want to say. But consider this sentence, "I've explained it to you a dozen times, but you still don't get it".

So what's the meaning here? Is it the explanation or the fact that the person communicating doesn't seem to have been understood.

If your wish is to communicate something then it might be more help to see the meaning as being defined by the response to what you say rather than by what you actually do say. "I guess I haven't done a good job of explaining this yet" might be a better response than the one above.

This is particularly true when talking to children and others who are close to you. If they don't get it you need to explain it again and differently.

The bad news is that saying the same thing again, and saying it louder, rarely works.

The good news is you almost always get a second, and a third chance.

Confused communication

I had a client write to me (I have her permission to tell this story) saying she was surprised to find I had right wing political views. I'm always interested in how communication gets misunderstood and since I'm more towards the political left I asked how she had come to that conclusion. She referred to a time when I referred to myself as a republican. Since I'm British being a republican means to me that while I'm an admirer of our Queen I am not a supporter of the institution of monarchy. To my client, as an American, being Republican certainly does imply right wing views. It's a simple confusion, two countries divided by a common language. but it did start me thinking about how often two people are separated by what turns out to be a difference in meaning of words.

If you think your communications with someone, particularly someone you are close to, are becoming confused it's worth checking what they mean by relevant words or phrases, it could be quite different from your meaning. Just ask someone "What does the word "love" mean to you?" and you will see how misunderstandings arise.

The late President Nixon spoke in Beijing saying American and Chinese minds ran on parallel lines. He meant they were going in the same direction, the Chinese thought he meant their minds would never meet.

Most problems aren't caused by relationships
Most problems aren't solved by relationships

If each partner in a relationship came without a past, without an emotional history, then the above would not be true. But they don't, so it is.

Our relationships are often where our issues show up but saying our difficulties are expressed in a relationship is not the same as saying being in the relationship caused the problems. A good guide is when an old problem shows up in a new relationship or in more than one relationship at the same time, then you can be reasonably sure it's about you, not about other people.

The good news is that relationships can be places of healing, a place where we can nurture each other and grow.

The bad news is that for this to happen we can't blame our partners. We have to take direct responsibility for the problems in our lives.

If the same problem keeps turning up it's probably about you

Here are some examples:-

If you keep feeling misunderstood there's a good chance you don't understand yourself or you're not good at communicating with others.

If other people keep irritating you it's most likely that you are easily irritated and you can change the situation by asking why.

If you keep getting into bad relationships it probably means you keep making bad choices about people you spend time with.

If you think this just applies to other people but not to you you are fooling yourself. It may well apply to others, it certainly applies to you.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, works for everyone

Be certain only for yourself, not for others. Yes the world would probably be better if everyone believed the same as you but that is not because of what you believe but because it's the conflict between beliefs that causes suffering. Don't help create that suffering by believing things to be true for others.

If you are good with a hammer you may treat everything as if it were a nail

We tend to rely on what we are good at and yet sometimes that is not the best approach and we need to venture into areas where we are less competent. There are many first rate business people who find that business skills are not much appreciated by their family. There are many deep thinking people who leave it too late when speedy decisions are required. Many a good giver of dinner parties has lost a lot of money when trying to run a restaurant.

Sometimes our best skill is not the most appropriate one for a particular situation. 

You cannot not communicate

There is a big difference between talking and communicating. You can certainly choose not to talk but that's a communication. You can smile, frown, opt out, opt in, be neutral, show prejudice, not return a call, turn your head away, they are all communications. Not communicating isn't an option.

Since you are going to communicate anyway why not take charge of the process and take responsibility for all your communications. Express yourself, verbally or non verbally to the best effect and in the best interests of everyone involved, particularly yourself.

What you think of me is none of my business

We cannot control how other people react to us and our response to them is a good measure of our personal freedom. If we are over concerned about being liked we are choosing to be trapped in a world made by others.

Very few people will see you as you want to be seen and the differences are almost always about them and hardly ever about you. It's largely outside your control how people see you. Your job is to be you and allow others deal with being themselves, including the views they have about you.

Just because someone asks you a question does not mean you have to answer it

I guess we all know that is true but how often do we act that way?
Here are some other examples:-

Just because someone asks you to do something - does not mean you have to do it.

Just because someone asks you to contribute - does not mean you have to give them money.

Just because someone asks to borrow something - does not mean you have to lend it to them.

Who runs your life, you or other people? 

Don't try to be perfect

Two good reasons:-

1. If you get there it leaves you nowhere to go next.

2. You will make those around you feel inadequate.

There are no justified resentments

At the simplest level resentment damages the person who holds it more than the person towards whom it is felt. Not a smart move.

There is a Chinese proverb which says,

"If you're going to pursue revenge you'd better dig two graves".

Not all problems can be solved

But that doesn't mean we can't improve things. One of the signs of flexible approach to life is a willingness to accept partial solutions to problems that can't be solved in their entirety. So when you're faced with something you feel you have to accept don't stop looking for areas where you can still make improvements.

A week of making a difference

Each day for a week take one action outside of your normal routine that will give someone else an unexpected benefit.

Pay someone a genuine compliment about something you would not usually mention.

Give someone a small gift for no particular reason other than you feel they deserve it.

Reach out with a reassuring touch or even a hug when the are having a difficult time.

Most important, at the end of each day write down what you did and the response you got back. After seven days take some quiet time to review your list and think about the difference you have made to others and how it has left you feeling. This is an exercise that's meant to be fun. If it feels like a burden then don't do it.

Fixing process or outcome

In general you can't fix both process and outcome but a lot of people, myself included, waste a lot of their life trying to do this.
If you want to fix the outcome e.g. an athletic achievement, a house purchase, a relationship goal, you will usually have to develop flexibility in your approach in order to get where you want to be.

If you want to fix a process e.g. the way you react to people, a set approach to business then you can expect to experience variable outcomes.
There is no "right answer" here, just a need to select an appropriate process or outcome and waste time trying to force the way things are into a mould of your making.

Carrying the raft

A traveller comes across a swollen river that he needs to cross but the current is too strong for swimming. He builds a raft that carries him safely over. On arrival at the far bank he picks up the raft and carries it on his back for the rest of his life in case he has to cross another swollen river.

Let's look to see what we are still doing that served us once but is no longer appropriate and yet we hang on to "just in case". The way we had of dealing with a childhood fear which we still practice although the fear, and our childhood, are gone. The attitudes we had when we were poor which we no longer need now we are more financially comfortable, or perhaps the reverse now we have met harder times.

Don't do it then

A woman goes to see the Doctor, lifts up her right arm and says, "Every time I do that it hurts". The Doctor replies "So don't do it then" (Tommy Cooper)

Old joke, bad medical advice, but consider the following:-

Every time I drink too much I feel terrible the next morning:-
So don't do it then.
Whenever I think about my divorce I get very upset and cry:-
So don't do it then.
Each time we talk about your mother it ends up in a row:-
So don't do it then.

Fill in our own examples. Not all of life's problems can be solved this way but some can, it can be that simple, sometimes.

Falling in a hole

A woman is out for a walk when she falls into a deep hole from which there appears to be no way out. She cries out for help and a passing academic leans over and offers her advice on how to avoid such holes in future.

Later a religious leader hears her cries and suggests she thinks about the true meaning of her predicament and says that there is a being somewhere who cares about her.

Subsequently a therapist responds with an offer to help her explore how she allowed herself to get into this situation. Various other professionals offer advice as the woman sinks into deeper despair.

Lastly a friend comes by, realises what has happened and jumps into the hole with her. The woman is pleased to have the company but also wonders why her friend has put herself in the same situation. The friend replies "I have been in this hole before, I know the way out"

I am not suggesting the professionals cannot also be friends but often they are not. True empathy can involve more than listening or advice. Friendship requires someone who is willing to start from where you are rather than from where they are and who is willing, and able, to travel the road with you.

My English teacher

When I was 12 there was in my class a boy who was very badly behaved. One day, after his lesson had been disrupted several times our much respected English teacher lost his temper and to the shock of the rest of the class hit this boy several times before sending him to the Headmaster for the cane (this was many years ago). We talked of little else that day.

The next day our English teacher came into the class and publicly apologised both to the boy and to the rest of my class for his loss of temper and for hitting out. We talked of little else that week.

This is one of the best lessons in my life. This teacher taught me many things but, unknown to him, this was his best lesson as far as I was concerned.

1. When you are wrong you need to acknowledge it and apologise.
2. You can grow in the eyes of others by how you handle your failures.
3. You never know what it is that you do which makes the difference.

The two wolves

After the 9/11 attack a man was heard to say to his son "I feel like I have two wolves fighting inside me, one is angry and full of vengance while the other is still determined to be gentle and loving." "Which one will win?" asked the son, "Whichever one I choose to feed" replied his father.

Feelings, good or bad, don't survive without care and attention and it's our choice as to which ones we feed when we feel a conflict within us. In the end the negative feelings tend to feed on us but the positive feelings tend to feed us.

If I only had one hour to live and one call to make, who would I phone, what would I say, and why am I waiting?

None of us lives forever and none of us can know when our time will come. So if there is something that needs to be said, particularly if it is loving and supportive. Then say it. NOW! 
The partner, parent, child, brother, sister, towards whom you have loving feelings you have not expressed for a while...just tell them...why are you waiting?

How could I see this differently?

Perspective changes experience! Problems viewed when we have slept well can feel very different from when we are tired. We have choice over how we see things and it pays to look at situations from a number of different perspectives, even if, at first, we have to play 'make believe.'

Is this important or is it just urgent?

It's very easy to confuse important with urgent and the result can be that we spend most of our time dealing with things that are urgent and rarely get to the things that are important. Sometimes those close to us, important people, suffer because we are taken up with 'urgent' trivia.

An alternative question we could ask is:
"What would happen if I did not do this thing I think of as urgent and instead did something I consider important?
"Can I live with the consequences of this decision"?

What do you want? : How can I help?

The first question is about clarity, both for ourselves and for others. Once we are clear on what we want, our chances of getting it are greatly increased and yet sometimes it is so hard to be specific. We are usually more clear on what we don't want or find we just want to feel differently about something or somebody. It is good to recognise this is about our internal state and that therefore it makes more sense to seek internal change than to look outside for things to be different. (see Stories No 16)

The second question is a great one to ask others. It makes no suggestions, offers no solutions but simply states our willingness to be there and be of assistance. It is not an offer to be made lightly and sometimes the fact that we offered is enough in itself.

What's different about the good times?

Here is an interesting exercise. Write down five good times in your life (or less bad times for those of you who don't yet view life in positive terms) and look to see what, if anything, they have in common. Whatever shows up you might consider trying to get more of in the future.

Who can put you down?

Well, almost anyone, its a hazard of being human. People who think badly of themselves inside often try to boost their fragile egos by trying to put others down. It's good to remember when it happens, that it says far more about the person doing it than it does about you. 
There's a difference between being put down and feeling put down, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt,
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent"

Who or what is on your "LTS" list?

Since our time here is limited it's worth having a "Life's too short" list of things and people we can best do without.
Here are some thought starters:-
Life's too short to do things that don't make you feel good.
Life's too short to be in places you don't feel comfortable in.
Life's too short to be with people whose company you don't enjoy.
Why not use these ideas to draw up a list of things and people you really don't have time for, and then act on it.

What is commitment?

We have probably all had the experience of promising something in the heat of the moment. New Year resolutions are a good example, but that's not commitment.
Here's a good definition:-

 "Commitment is still doing something long after the emotion which caused you to start has faded."

What gets remembered?

In the long term few people are going to remember what you did, even less people will remember what you said. Everyone will remember how you made them feel.
So in a world of plans and objectives, in a world of financial and business achievements, in a world of competitive education, in whatever world you inhabit, just notice first how people feel when they are with you, that's your real legacy.

Does this free me or restrict me?

Personal freedom is not important to some people but for those to whom it has a high priority this is a good question to ask, particularly about relationships and possessions.

Most things do both, e.g. a vehicle gives freedom but also demands financial resources and maintenance, so perhaps the true question is "Does this give more than it demands?"

It's particularly relevant when looking at the relationships is your life, either existing or proposed. Make a list of say five people in your life and ask if the balance works for you.

Assumptions are like termites

Assumptions are like termites, unchallenged they can erode your foundations.

Think for a moment about the inaccurate assumptions other people make about you. Here are a couple of examples:-

"You always seem so calm"...(Like a duck, underneath I'm paddling furiously and it's hard work.)
"You don't contribute"...(Actually I do but you just don't notice.)

Now turn this around and list some assumptions you make about other people, particularly those close to you. Make the assumptions into questions and check then out with the person involved:-

"Do you always feel as calm as you seem on the outside?"
"Do you feel your contributions are acknowledged and appreciated?"

It's interesting how it's easy it is to feel misunderstood and how it's more difficult to to think we might misunderstand.

Using "and" or "but"

This isn't and English lesson but a simple way to improve communcation and change experience.

"But" shows an exception to a rule, e.g. "I love vegetables but I don't like beetroot". Beetroot is the exception to my love of vegetables.
"And" shows two things can be true at the same time; e.g. "I enjoy running and sometimes I like to stay in bed a bit longer". My preference for a lie in does not make me enjoy running less.
Lesson over. Here's where it gets interesting.

"I love you but sometimes you make me angry"
"I love you and sometimes you make me angry"

The first suggests, perhaps unconsciously, that when I'm angry I don't love you. The second suggests I always love you and sometimes I'm angry.
Today notice when you use each word and just check it's appropriate. The change might make a difference.

© 2019 David Mills