You can perceive the title of this article as a shaming statement that
says there is something really wrong with you, so, shame on you.
Therefore, you must feel bad
Or, you can feel empowered by this title because you know that the
ability to make your life as you want it is in your hands. You are the
source of all the choices that have put you in a place of discomfort,
pain, or misery. You have also made the choices that brought to you
joy, enlightenment, and serenity. You have the Choice to make things
better for yourself by making better choices.
I received many questions this week from people who would truly like to
improve their lives. One of the main themes was (my summary), "How can
I change my partner, my friend, my parents, or my world so that they
will love me appropriately, do what I want, or do what is good for
The questions come out of pain and disastisfaction, and from situations
that cry out for change. However, these questions all assume that the
solution will be arrived at when other people change.
This is the same problem I face with couples doing marriage therapy. We
almost always have to go through several sessions of the "Blame Game"
before we can get down to business. It's "he said" and "she said" ad
nauseum. She says he should change, and he says she should change.
But finally, we
start to break through to a key question, "If your
partner doesn't change, what will YOU do, how will YOU think, and how
will YOU take charge of yourself from here on?"
"And, how will you do that with justice, fairness, respect, self
containment, and belief in your inner sense of direction regardless of
your partner's attempts to change you back?"
A fear at this point is that if you take good care of yourself then
your partner may leave you. This leaving could be through silence,
hostility, finding someone else, or physically leaving entirely. The
good news is that this rarely happens in a severe way. Usually, your
partner will try ingenious ways to trick you back into the old
behaviors. And, you will fall for it many times.
If the leave taking actually happens then we have a much more serious
problem going on with your relationship and simple "self-help" is not
going to fix the problem. Professional counseling is required.
Another fear is that you don't know what good self-care is and that you
will make a mistake, creating unnecessary problems and pain.
If this is true for you, then educate yourself about it. And then,
trust your sense for what is respectful treatment of others and treat
yourself the same way. It's really not so complicated.
(And finally, feeling guilty about self-care sabotages this whole thing
over and over. We think we are being "selfish" rather than practicing
self-care. I'm not going to try to cover this one today. It will take
another whole article to address. Let me just say that this argument
against self-care doesn't hold up too well.)
The further good news is if I can help one person in a couple start to
choose this perspective of self choice and self empowerment, then the
partner is usually effected in a positive light. We then move on to
stage two of couples therapy where we can actually work on couple
This can work for you, too. YOU are the problem. Not that other person.
The sooner you accept your responsibility to treat yourself well
regardless of what the other does the sooner you might have a chance of
the other person actually changing.
You get to be responsible for you, not for your partner. You get to
make the choices for how you will behave, not how the other behaves.
You get to perceive this as a choice of empowerment... Or you can see
it as just another sign of what you can't do. The choice is up to
But I want you to know something. And that is that I believe in you.
After all my experiences of helping many, many other people grow in
this way, I really do believe in your ability to change yourself for
the better. I believe you have the strength, the courage, and the inner
conviction to make it happen for you. Because, if you are the problem,
you are also the solution.