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Relationship Manuals

The manual is an instruction guide we have for someone in our lives about how we would like them to behave so we can feel good and be happy. We generally don’t even tell the other person about this manual, and we often don’t realize or see the pain it causes. We feel that, if the other person loved us, then they would just know how to treat us to make us feel better. While it may seem reasonable to have expectations of other people, it can be very damaging when our emotional health and happiness is tied to their behavior.

Our story about other people - who they are and who they should be - can cause us great misery. We can be so sure that we know how other people should act (or respond to our actions) that we become quite upset when they do not live up to our expectations. Just to be clear, nobody needs to give up their expectations. Just know that it is not the other person that is hurting you, but the list of unfulfilled expectations. Your feelings for that person have now become conditional on their compliance with your expectations. If you want to get rid of the hurt feelings, then get rid of the expectations. Only then can your feelings for them be unconditional.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t make requests of people. We can, and should, express our needs, wants, and desires to other people, especially those we care about. However, if we stake our emotional well-being on their compliance, then we set up the relationship for potential strife. Early on both partners in a relationship - whether it be romantic, work related, or friends - tend to be attuned to the needs of the other. As the relationship matures, there will be times when we are not happy. If we have a manual for the other person, then it becomes natural to blame the other person for that unhappiness. For example, if we come home from work and have to wash a sink-full of dishes, and we think ‘My partner should have done these dishes already’, then we’ll likely be unhappy about doing the dishes and may believe our unhappiness is our partner’s fault. The thought that our partner should do the dishes while we are at work is a part of our manual. If we become upset or unhappy, it’s only because we had an expectation that wasn’t met. It has nothing to do with our partner. This concept is simple once it is completely grasped and practiced, but taking control of our emotional life can be a challenge. Breaking out of old patterns is uncomfortable, and the temptation to slip back into them can be alluring. 

Wait, won’t everyone just walk all over me if I have no expectations of them? The short answer is no. If you learn how to set proper boundaries, and take responsibility for your own emotional well-being, then you will not allow people to take advantage of you. You can respect the sovereignty of others while protecting your physical and mental space, your time, and your efforts.

Giving up manuals for others can be incredibly freeing, but it takes some courage. You can be free from the burden of trying to follow the manuals of others or relying on others to make you feel better. However, you will have to look into the manual you have for yourself and resolve the expectations you find there. Overall, the realization that we are in control of our own emotional well-being is quite empowering. It is from this state that we can develop incredibly strong and durable relationships. We can also choose to end relationships without resentment or blame.

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