She should text me back.
I’m his mother; he should treat me with respect.
He should take out the garbage (without being asked.)
Does this sound like you? If so, like most of humanity, you have manuals for the people in your life. A manual is an instruction guide we have for others that we are often unaware we have- it just seems obvious, true, and just, well: duh!
Like: kids should respect and appreciate their parents, pick up their socks, not lie or sneak around, and of course, text their moms back within the hour. Husbands should be emotionally available, know when their wife is upset (and ask the right questions, but not offer advice), mow the lawn, change the smoke detector batteries, and of course, take out the garbage. Obvious, right?
Let me just ask: do you like it when other people have rules for you? Even if you like to have dinner ready by 6:30 every night, don’t you want it to come from your own personal ideals and free choice, rather than another person’s rule for you?
When we feel responsible for meeting another person’s needs, and they feel responsible for meeting ours… especially when the rules are unspoken and assumed, not deemed mentionable let alone negotiable… the result is often manipulation, effort to control each other, and a lot of resentment.
What if we allowed others to decide for themselves what they were willing and able to do? Each be responsible for meeting our own needs. Ultimately we have no control over others’ behavior, so when we tie our satisfaction or happiness to their actions, we give away our power to feel good and to take care of what is important to us.
Clearly in relationships, in families, in households, we have many overlapping interests and goals. We all want chores to get done, bills to get paid, to have food to eat, for life to run smoothly. We generally want to help each other, and do our part. We want to feel appreciated and cared for.
Conversations- that include listening as well as talking- lay a foundation for relationships that honor all parties. Negotiating in good faith, working things out, giving and taking, looking for solutions that all can live with. Being open and accepting, avoiding blame and judgement, even when things don’t “go our way.” (Tip: There is always more than one way.)
Conversations and openness allow us to be real with each other. To learn about ourselves and each other. To practice kindness, accountability, fluidity, responsibility, allowance and communication in very concrete ways.
Rules and roles don’t. “Shoulds” and “musts” don’t.
So start noticing whether you have a manual for others’ behavior, and how it affects your relationships with them. Consider throwing your manuals out. Some advice though: don’t expect others to throw theirs out. Instead, just begin a conversation, listen, be curious, and see what you learn.