Do not use force. Use example.
Force comes in many flavours: manipulation, logic, deceit, posturing, flattery, and of course, brute force. It is captured in the moronic expression, “Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” The short cut of this one is simply, “Do what I say!”
This is a line familiar to many teenagers. Many parents, exasperated by what they perceive as their teen’s aberrant behaviour, lay down the law by using force. Now, I do not mind some use of force with kids. I want an adult to bodily haul a kid out of the path or a car, or forcibly remove a kid having a tantrum from the store. Kids need to learn that some things simply are not acceptable.
I have yet, however, to see a legitimate use of force between adults (or anyone above the age of 14 or 15). Trying to maneuver someone into doing something against his or her will, using threats, bribes, or whatever, simply is not ever a good thing.
Yet, I see this endlessly with client couples. Whining, bullying, demands, “the silent treatment” — all of these are methods used to get the other partner to comply, to behave.
there is no truth, no, universal belief, no commonality of understanding between people, so therefore there cannot be a “right” way to be in relationship.
All there is are ways that work and ways that do not.
The real issue with using force is that, even if the force somehow works‑i.e. bosses can use all kinds of manipulative techniques to force employees to “behave”-it misses the key point. Personal growth is personal. What this means is that even though it is possible to force others to comply, it accomplishes nothing of any meaning or depth for either the giver or the receiver.
Life requires the expenditure of energy, and energy directed at situations outside of self is simply a waste of that energy.
There seems to be a phase in relationships where, as the novelty wears off, there is a pull to get one’s partner to act differently (read the way he or she wants their partner to behave.)
I remember working with a client who endlessly referred to her mother and to the way her mother brought her up as the standard for all personal and relational conduct. She had a view of how life ought to be, and coincidentally it matched perfectly and totally her own upbringing. She was equally honest in saying that she had selected her husband because she knew he could be “taught” how to behave in polite society. Her effort and energy was endlessly directed at this project. He, on the other hand, had gotten tired of her endless criticism, and had retreated to his den in the basement. He eventually exited the basement and camped out at his lawyer’s office. She could not understand why he wasn’t grateful for her endless intervention.
She even went so far as to acknowledge that relationships are about sharing, equality, and learning from one’s partner. She balked at the idea that her relationship could be so — she fervently believed that she could never fix her husband sufficiently to want to share with or learn from him.
Power struggles are the root cause of failed relationships. However, most people equate dropping the power struggles with weakness and “giving in.” This leads to an endless changing of the kind of force being applied. For example, couples might choose to end verbal sparring, but then shift off to “correcting.”
Here is an example that happens quite often. Let us say that Max and Sally agree to use a communication model as they discuss difficult issues. What tends to happen, from a force perspective, is that “Max” says to “Sally,” “You’re not doing it right. You should do this…” and then “Max” provides a critique and demands that “Sally” change.
Now, of course, this is another form of manipulation, as opposed to communication. Rather than talk about the issue at hand, “Max” attempts to use “communication” as the topic for declaring his partner wrong and forcing her to do all of the heavy lifting.
I suggest, endlessly, that the only way communication will happen is if each person takes responsibility for their own communication, no matter what their partner is doing. I am not communicating if all I am doing is pointing out what my partner is doing wrong.
Because most people are a bit dense about this stuff, I compensate by setting a goal and structure. I say to “Max” that he is entitled to comment on “Sally’s, communication style only after he has communicated perfectly for 30 days.
In other words, once you repeatedly demonstrate that you can communicate, no matter what your partner is doing, then you have a right to suggest your partner is not living up to the agreement to communicate.
Never, in 25 years, have I ever seen this happen. People who gripe about and try to manipulate others seem to find it impossible to stop criticizing, complaining, and manipulating for 30 minutes, let alone 30 days.
This is precisely why I teach self-responsibility, as opposed to “other-responsibility.” Despite the attraction of griping about what others are doing-after all, what could be better than having someone else to blame for all of one’s problems-the only person I have even a modicum of control over is myself.
The other side of this one is this: how can I be so audacious and arrogant to think that I can demand that others do what I am unwilling to do? This one just blows me away.
Often, people enter therapy with an unexpressed wish. They hope to learn new, effective ways to force others to behave. They even attempt to get me to agree that they are the poor, helpless victim of what their partner is doing, or what their parents did to them, or some other version of “I’m helpless, please make me powerful.” They usually annoy themselves when I will not play along. I suggest that they stay out of their partner’s therapy, let their parents off the hook, and get on with the real work.
And the real work is always self-work.
Perhaps the simplest way out of all of this is to develop a sense of humour. I know that if I try to make what I am feeling or doing or thinking about what Darbella is doing, she is going to burst into laughter and suggest I get over myself. She just won’t bite on any attempt I make to blame her for my life. And vice versa, of course.
When confronted with accusations, blame, or attempts to manipulate me, it would never occur to me to attempt to defend myself. As soon as I go there, I am tacitly agreeing that I am somehow to blame for another’s experience. Rather, I simply invite the giver to take back responsibility for the reality they are creating for themselves. I will not argue with another about this. I just repeat myself-
“your life is about you. If you do not like how you feel or how you are thinking, change yourself.”
In other words, no matter what, I live what I preach, and I fix myself as soon as I notice I am off the rails.
Living by example is actually quite easy. You believe that life should be a certain way, and that is how you live, without excuses. No griping about others, no complaining about how hard done by you are. You live the life you preach.
Once you get this, you recognize what a waste of time and energy trying to change others is. You let go of force and manipulation, and devote yourself to your own development.