Recently, I was working with a couple and was explaining how the ego works, or rather doesn’t work, as it relates to relationships. The ego mind is great at seeing problems, but horrible at solving them. And, in fact, tends to utilize problem-solving methods that make the problem worse. I explained the difference between the manipulation of the ego and the authenticity of the spirit. Ego pushes people away and triggers resistance, while authenticity triggers responsibility. Ego manipulates, Spirit inspires.
I explained that we need to notice what is actually our responsibility to solve or resolve, and what is not, and to allow others the opportunity to take responsibility for what is theirs to manage.
A quizzical look crossed the woman’s face and she asked, “So when I give my husband his jacket in the morning and tell him to take it with him, he always argues with me and says he doesn’t want it. I make him take it anyhow, explaining it is supposed to be cold or rainy, and we get in a fight. Am I being loving or controlling?”
I explained, “It is a loving wife to ask him if he wants to take his jacket with him, but it is his responsibility whether or not he takes it. It is also his consequence if he gets cold, not yours. If you insist or make him take it against his preference, it is controlling and he will resist you.” I could see her brain trying to wrap around the subtle difference between being kind, caring and controlling. “Even just the judgment that he should have listened to you, without even saying so, will energetically be felt as manipulative.”
Amused, I could recall the many times I crossed the line of control vs. caring in the earlier years of my own marriage (and occasionally still do). For example, the nights when my husband was staying up late watching a TV show and I reminded him he had to get up early and should get to sleep. I couldn’t understand when my suggestion was met with resistance when what I was requesting made perfect sense to me. Indeed, it made perfect sense, but it wasn’t my responsibility. Caring is inviting, “I’m going to bed, want to come, too?” Controlling is saying, or even just implying, “You should go to bed.” Controlling is judging when he says no; caring is saying, “Love you, sweet dreams…” and going to bed yourself.
When you are trying to get someone to comply, change or alter their course, notice if the responsibility is actually yours or theirs. Ask yourself, who will suffer the consequence of their choices? If the other person is the only one suffering from his or her choices, then it is their responsibility to change the behavior (or not). And it is your responsibility to offer your advice or input only if you are asked. Advice without the inquiry is insulting.
If the other person’s behavior impacts you, then it is your responsibility to change what you do, not what he or she does. That may include explaining to them what the problem is for you, authentically making a request for change, accepting what is, offering to assist, finding another creative solution or getting out of the relationship.
It is my observation that we have created a society of “sick and tired” because we are spending huge amounts of time and energy trying to change things that are not our responsibility. And, on the flip side, we spend too little time actually working on the things that are our responsibility. We complain to people who have no ability to fix the things we are upset about, vs. directly tackling the situation.
My invitation to you is to begin to notice what is actually your responsibility and what is not. Notice how much time you spend on things that are not your problem. When it comes to relationships, see what happens when you shift your efforts to what is yours to change—your behavior, your words, your thoughts, your beliefs, even whether you are in a relationship, if need be. This is when the difference between caring and controlling, and the consequences, will become obvious. Healthier relationships will be the result.