The Most Important Step

  1. Creating and Maintaining Relationships that Work
  2. What Commitment Looks Like
  3. Honesty in Communication
  4. Curiosity, Interest and Acceptance
  5. The Most Important Step

Synopsis: The Most Important Step — learning to be self-responsible is the only way to go!

Of Wayne’s many books, the one closest to today’s topic is: The. Best. Relationship. Ever.


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important step

Several issues ago I proposed the following:


• I can only commit to an action — to something I will do. 
• I commit to being in relationship with you. Here is what I commit to: 
• I will be open, honest and vulnerable in my daily communication with you. 
• I will tell you, today, who I am and what I am thinking. 
• I will tell you, today, everything I have done, and what it meant to me. 
• I will listen to you with curiosity and interest, today. 
• I will accept that you are who you are today, and will integrate who you are today with my picture of you from “yesterday.”
• I will make myself fully available and present to and with you, today, and engage in clear and concise communication with you for not less than 30 minutes, today. 
• I will own all of my thoughts, feelings, emotions and interpretations, working to take full responsibility for each and every one of them. If I slip and go into blaming, I will stop myself, apologise, and return to self-responsibility. 
• I will actively encourage you to listen to me and to actively hold me to the performance of what I have committed to. 
• I will commit to all of these things, without any expectation of anything from you, as all I can ever commit to is to what I can and will do.

Today’s topics:

• I will make myself fully available and present to and with you, today, and engage in clear and concise communication with you for not less than 30 minutes, today. 
• I will own all of my thoughts, feelings, emotions and interpretations, working to take full responsibility for each and every one of them. If I slip and go into blaming, I will stop myself, apologise, and return to self-responsibility. 
• I will actively encourage you to listen to me and to actively hold me to the performance of what I have committed to. 
• I will commit to all of these things, without any expectation of anything from you, as all I can ever commit to is to what I can and will do.


I’ve decided to wrap up this series of articles. I think I’ve made my point — at least the point that is common to this group of ideas — 

Everything I judge to be “so” about another is actually and totally about me

The Most Important Step is being Self-responsible

Over the years, I’ve been struck by the amount of time and effort people put into trying the get others to “behave,” or “treat them right.” Yet, over the years, I’ve never, not once, met someone who successfully changed another person. 

Oh, I’ve met people who have cajoled, and bartered, and whined, and griped, and complained, and got their partner to shift something in the moment.

But lasting change? Forget it.

People treat each other the way they treat each other, and won’t change just because you want them to.
This seems like such an obvious idea.

One client I worked with was two years into her 5th dysfunctional relationship. In each of her relationships, she’d chosen a partner who thought it was his birthright to tell her what to think, how to act, how to dress, and what to do, horizontally and, emphatically, vertically.

She told me that she was in therapy to figure out why her present man refused to change his ways. Because, she told me, that’s what a “good man” ought to do.

Here was her shtick:

  1. find a “macho” guy who turned her on,
  2. fight with him, then have make-up sex,
  3. after 6 months, get tired of the macho and the fighting.
  4. tell him “If you love me, you’ll change, do it my way,” and then be baffled when he refuses.

It seemed clear to me: my client chose (almost like she was using radar) men who were into “being in charge.” There was a part of her that liked this — she said she “felt safe” when in the presence or a strong, forthright man.

After a while, though, his macho behaviour and endless criticism wore thin, and she discovered she couldn’t stand being told what to do. And remember: she did this 5 times!

So, in other words, each time, she changed her mind about what she wanted in a man. (She wanted strength and directness, then she didn’t.)

But here’s the weird part: she changed her mind, and then expected that her man should just go along with her request that he stop doing what he’s always done — the very reason she was with him in the first place.


Finding a partner and maintaining an elegant relationship is difficult. Our culture is tells us that how we feel and the way we act is determined by “good” or “bad” external forces. Therefore, relating gets mixed up into, “Getting my partner to behave in the right (read “my”) way.” 

I call this partner-blaming

As I’ve tried to make obvious in this series of articles, we are what we do, not what we say. Who a person is, is wired into them. Each of us, through force of will, can modify behaviour on a moment-by-moment basis. But who we are is wired in. For more on this, read “Change isn’t possible…

One thing this means is that you can’t change another person — you can only choose to behave differently. This means that hooking up with someone with the intention of changing them is stupid in the extreme.


Here’s another example:

A friend from back in my Seminary days married a strong-willed psychiatrist. They lasted 6 months. She told me that all they ever did was fight over who would dominate whom.

I suggested she look at her contribution to the relationship failure. She (predictably) blamed the guy. In a slight twist, she said, “What I’ve figured out is that I need a guy who does what I tell him to. We’ll never fight, and things will be great!”

Yeah, right.

A year later, she married a guy I called “Lester Milquetoast.” The guy was mild-mannered in the extreme, always agreed with everything she said, did what she said, etc. (The first time I met him he spent half the meal cutting her meat!)

Two years later she dumped him. Showed up on my doorstep, and declared, “He never has an opinion! He makes me make all the decisions!!”

Yeah, right. It’s entirely his fault… Not.


How I choose to relate is totally about what I will do, whether in relationship or as I engage with the world. So, if things seem to be “slipping,” my responsibility is to state what I observe, and then state what I will do to get things back on track. 

Both my client and my Seminary friend “ordered up” the men they got. Then, each grew tired of what she’d ordered, and demanded that the man change.

Had I said to either of them: “You need to change and become acquiescent, doing exactly what your man tells you to do,” each would have refused: “Why should I have to do what he says?”

This is the danger of expecting others and the world to have nothing better to do than to make you happy. 

At the end of the day, happiness, like everything else, is an inside job.

Our last series of points are simple and self-responsible. Rather than hold my partner accountable to my whims and desires, I turn it around and hold myself accountable, and then give my partner permission to also hold me accountable.

It’s saying: “Here is how I agree to be and act in our relationship. I will slip from time to time. I intend to catch myself when I slip. If I don’t, please remind me.”

Now, of course, this will work elegantly only if my partner has made exactly the same agreement with me, and sticks to it.

I would argue, though, that in less than ideal relationships, one person can choose to be accountable to his or her partner, without the requisite agreement from the partner, and that the person who chooses accountability will be much, much better off than he or she was when all that was happening was blaming.

On the whole, though, I believe that it’s better to leave a relationship that is not equal than to live with the imbalance. That’s more a personal preference than a hard and fast rule.

So, that’s where I am on this topic. I suggest that you resolve to live with honesty, integrity, and commitment. Do it for yourself — for your spiritual and bodily well-being. Pick a direction, own it, commit to it, stick to it. 


About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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