I was sweaty and hoarse from a screaming fight with my boyfriend. I had started the discussion expressing the rational health benefits of quitting smoking, but it quickly devolved into me screaming at the top of my lungs “how could you do this to me?!”
I felt hopeless and powerless. I was determined to get him to quit smoking but he wasn’t budging.
I tried all the common techniques we all use when trying to get someone to change their behavior — begging, negotiating, screaming, crying and nagging. None of those did anything except drain me of my energy and build resentment.
One night I was literally on my knees begging him to stop smoking and it hit me, I had really lost it. Smoking was dangerous for his health but this behavior was certainly not healthy for me.
I realized in that moment that I needed to back up and ask myself how I got here.
How did I end up being obsessed with getting someone else to change?
Once I stepped back I knew that I had been unsure about the relationship for a while but couldn’t face my doubts. I was convinced he was the “one” so I pushed away my doubts and focused fully on getting him to change his behavior. If he changed then I would know it was worth staying.
I had set him up with a challenge he never consented to. I wasn’t honest or clear.
After the prostration/begging incident I decided to stop asking him to quit smoking. I called a therapist and started looking at my feelings in the relationship. It was painful turning the focus on myself and seeing that I was actually wanting to leave the relationship. However, once I stopped focusing on changing his behavior it became clearer to me what I needed.
SO HERE IS THE KEY: your obsession with fixing someone else is a way to avoid what you need to fix in you. They are easier to look at and judge.
EXPERT TIP: The next time you find yourself trying to change someone’s behavior ask yourself: “If I wasn’t focusing on them what would I be working on in myself?”
Usually the answer comes quickly and it’s something we have avoided.
Now write down your answer somewhere you can access easily. Whenever you have the desire to change the other person, read your answer, take a deep breath and ask yourself what one step you can take to heal that part of you.
Since sharing our struggles is the key to ridding ourselves of shame, please share in the comments a time when you felt driven to fix someone else and focused on their problem more than your own. If you feel brave (which I know you are) please add what you think you might have actually been avoiding dealing with yourself?
If you try the suggestion I gave above, let us know in the comments how it worked!