Studio 5 Contributor Dr. Liz Hale explains why understanding these rules will make for happier, healthier relationships.
The Law of Unconditional Love
When people say to us, “I love you because…” we can hardly wait to hear what follows: “…you’re so beautiful/strong/clever/cute/strong/funny.” All our lives we’ve heard people describe the qualities that make people loved, and we’ve come to believe that in order to be loved ourselves, we must possess those qualities. How thrilled we feel when someone tells us that we are indeed worth of their affection. But that is conditional love. Unconditional or real love is caring about someone’s happiness without any concern for what we’ll get for ourselves, and without any standard that must be met by the person we love.
Why do we love others without them having to earn it? Because they need it! Let’s say you see someone who is suddenly drowning in the deep end of a pool. Why do you throw him a rope of life preserver and try to help him out of the pool? Does he have to pay you before you’ll help him out? Or say something nice to you? Or tell a clever joke to make you laugh?No! You pull him from the water because he needs it. And that’s we aim to love others unconditionally, because they need it.
The Law of Expectations
It’s obvious we are controlling another person if we chain them hand and foot, put a ring in their nose, and lead them around as we wish. That’s obviously wrong; however, most of us use a more subtle way of controlling others, and we use it every day. We control them with our expectations.
What happens when a loved one doesn’t do exactly what we want? We sigh and change our facial expression, tone of voice, and body language to communicate we’re disappointed in their performance. We’ve seen this particular patterns of expectations, disappointments and manipulation from the time we were very young. When you and I failed to meet the demands of our parents, teachers, coaches, friends and others, they unconsciously used their expression of disappointment as a way to change our behavior. Now we use the same unconscious manipulation with others when our own expectations are not met. We use anger in a similar way. If I express irritation at you for the way you’re acting, I know that your fear of my disapproval may motivate you to behave in the way I expect.
The Law of Anger
Perhaps the most destructive choice we make on a regular basis is anger, which makes our own happiness impossible and causes incalculable damage to our relationships. We’ve been blaming other people for our anger so long, we truly believe it when we say, “He makes me so mad.” As long as we believe that lie, we cannot give up our anger.
Have you ever noticed that when people behave a certain way, you become irritated on some occasions but not on others? That proves that anger is a choice. If it were not a choice, we’d respond the same way on all occasions to that same behavior.
In World War II, millions of people were imprisoned and killed in concentration camps. We have many oral and written accounts from survivors of those camps. Many of them understandably became angry and bitter because of the unspeakably hateful treatment of their captors. But some of the inmates chose NOT to become angry. They saw the terrible effects of hate and rage and refused to give in to them. Victor Frankl spoke of such people in Man’s Search for Meaning and Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place.
Some people get angry when people do terrible things to them; others do not. Clearly, the problem is not the people who do terrible things. Anger is a choice. Some people choose to become angry and some do not.
The Law of Responsibility
Accepting responsibility for our choices is obviously frightening – look at how adamantly we avoid it. We make excuses, blame others, rationalize our behaviors, and lie about our part in mistakes, all to avoid responsibility for our flaws, happiness, and misery.
Our fear is understandable. We’ve learned from an abundance of past experiences that mistakes lead to criticism, ridicule, and painful withdrawal of approval and love. When the team is losing, we publicly flog the coach. When company profits are down, we find someone to fire. When milk at the table is spilled, we say something unkind to the child who spilled it.
Mistakes are unavoidable in the process of learning. To succeed we need to have the freedom to fail. Our mistakes will frequently inconvenience other people. As we learn, we will get in each other’s way. There is no other way for growth! To keep from hurting another person, we’d have to make no choices at all, and then we’d be nothing.
Most mistakes are small and unintentional. People don’t usually intend to harm us. They’re simply empty and afraid, and they inconvenience and hurt us only as they try to get love and protect themselves. And so it is with us!
The Law of Victimhood
Victimhood is the belief that other people have an obligation to make us happy. A victim sees other people as objects which will either serve him or hurt him. He sees everything being done to him or for him ~ there is no neutral.
Whine and Fine are two men who both wait in line for an hour at the Department of Motor Vehicles. When they get home, their wives each ask them about their experience.
Fine says, “It wasn’t bad. I had to wait in line for an hour, but I read a magazine I brought with me. There was a problem with the registration but it’s all done now.”
Whine says, “Those stupid people made me wait in line all day!! Nobody down there knows what they’re doing….as usual! Idiots….all idiots!”
After lunch on Friday, Fine and Whine are each given difficult assignments at work that need to be accomplished before the end of the day. When they get home that evening, they talk to their wives:
Fine says, “Long day. Sorry I’m late but I had to finish that one project. At least now I won’t have any work to do over the weekend.”
Whine yells, “They’re always doing this to me!!! They never plan ahead and then they dump stuff on me last minute!! And did anybody at work offer to help me out on a Friday afternoon, Noooo! There I was in the office all by myself doing their work. Do you think anybody appreciates it? Hah!”
The favorite tools of the victim are:
· Look what you did to me?
· Look at what you should have done for me?
· It’s not my fault!!!
Victims behave as they do because it frees them from responsibility. Victims are never wrong…..everyone is responsible for their problems and pain. Once we believe that other people owe us something, that is a very difficult belief to unlearn. It may actually be easier to recover from cocaine addiction than victimhood.
The key to relationship health is to allow yourself to be loved, be loving and be responsible.