If you are struggling in your life, in your marriage, with your children, in your professional lives, or as an athlete, take a look at these steps to assess how well you are doing, and how you might make changes toward more success and happiness.
- Look in the Mirror
Look at your reflection and reflect. Assume that humans are relational beings and they cannot, not be influenced by others. If you have an issue with someone in your life, assume that they have to be, in part, reacting to something you are doing, have done, or they expect you to do. Take a look at how you are behaving and what you are saying, and think about how that could force your partner or family member to react in a certain way. Any relational dynamic takes two to support and maintain. If your partner is doing something you don’t like, you play some part in it. So figure out what it is that you are inputting into the situation and change that. If you think hard you can probably recall exactly how to get the wrong reaction from your partner. So first things first, stop doing that and see if you get a different reaction.
- Look Outward
Stop thinking selfishly and begin to actually put yourself in the other’s shoes. Think about how they might perceive what you are doing or saying. Think about what is going on in their lives. Assume they have good reason to behave the way they are behaving, say the things they are saying, or think the things they are thinking. Humans do not behave for no reason. Humans behave for a purpose. If a behavior serves no purpose, humans stop doing it. If they get something out of it, they do it again. So make the assumption that the other person has just as valid a perspective as you do and seek first to understand and seek second to be understood. Lastly, don’t worry so much about truth. Truth is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is perspective and there is no point in arguing perspective. If your only hope is to prove that you were right and your partner was wrong, your relationship will suffer and therapy is not the place for you.
Really, truly, and honestly think about what matters in your life. Too many couples argue about the dishes and the toilet seat. Remember its not about the dishes, its not about the laundry, its not about the toilet seat. It is about the message value behind the complaint – ,its about generosity, its about criticism, it’s about what is important. So think hard about what is really important and focus on that. Additionally, think about all the things in your life that matter, and that require effort either physically, emotionally, or mentally, like your marriage, your job, your children, your parents, your alone time, etc. As an experiment, grab 4 plastic cups and write on each cup one of the 4 most important things in your life. Take a 16-ounce water bottle and fill the cups to represent how much energy you put into those things. When you are done take a look at how even the distribution is. Think about what else requires your time and energy. If your marriage is at the bottom of the list, it is going to suffer.
- Be honest
Once you figure out what is important, just ask for it. Be honest with yourself and with the people in your life and ask for the things that matter.
- Avoid the Double Bind
Don’t want your partner to want to do something. They are not going to want to do the dishes. This is the part to remember – if your partner wants to do the dishes, then the doing of the dishes is selfish. If your partner does not want to do the dishes, but they do it anyway, just because you asked, then it is generous. Aim for your partner to be generous, not selfish or clairvoyant.
- Don’t be Distracted
If something is important and needs to get done, DO IT. It sounds insensitive but it is truly imperative, give up the excuses and make it happen. If it means you have to hire 10 retired police officers as babysitters, or take time off of work, or scale Everest, figure out how to make it happen.
- Stop Pathologizing
Most people are not sick, they are stuck. If there is something seriously wrong, go to the doctor and get it checked out. If not, don’t diagnose your spouse or your child for no reason. People often choose to assume that there is something broken in the other person’s head that explains all of the struggles that they are experiencing, instead of taking a look at how they can fix it if they put some of their own effort in to the equation.
- Try Something Different
It sounds simple but it could not be more important. I talk to people all the time that say they can map out the entire argument in their head before it even happens, and then they do exactly what they do every time, and it ends exactly how they expected. Don’t do that. If you continue to do the same thing, and it continually does not work, stop doing it and so something new.
- Keep Trying Different Things
If you try something new and it works, do it again, and again. If it does not work, try a something new. Keep trying new things until you find something that works. Don’t give up and don’t expect something in return.
- Sharpen the Knife
Remember the reason you fell in love, remember what brings you joy, remember what recharges you and keeps you grounded. If you keep using a knife and you never sharpen it, even the sharpest knife will eventually get dull. Learn how to sharpen your knife and sharpen regularly. Your partner is a sharpener, your hobbies are sharpeners, your sports, your career, your family. Don’t forget to nurture those things and those relationships.
- Generosity or Power
Bonus tip: power is defined as authority, influence, and decision making power. Generosity is sacrificing self for other, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Think about whether you want your relationships and your life to be characterized by generosity or by power over others, especially your loved ones.
If you take an honest inventory of your life and your relationships and you take these steps and tips to heart, I hope they will help you get unstuck and allow you to be more flexible, more happy, and more healthy. If you can’t make changes in these areas, it may be time to ask for help. A family therapist can help you to see the ways you are stuck and the options that seem invisible or out of reach.