I Think You Are the Problem

One of my favorite things is reading the funnies in the daily newspaper. Yes, I still love the old-fashioned hard copy paper that gets delivered to my driveway every day, and I can’t wait to open it to turn to the funnies. I especially like the ones that remind me of my own life – the working mothers, or the families with teenagers.

In this Sunday’s “Zits” column, one of my favorites, the son is texting his parents to tell them he will be home for dinner, he won’t be home, he’s bringing friends, he’s going out to eat. The parents are seen running around trying to accommodate the changes. When the son finally decides to just eat out, the parents text back asking him to just text next time when he knows for sure what he is doing. Not an outrageous request, in my opinion!

The last clip is the teenagers sitting around talking about how it’s not their imagination, but their parents are getting more and more nasty all the time. I loved this cartoon because it illustrates so much of what I write about in my “understanding other people” work. We are often unaware of how our behavior toward others brings about exactly the opposite response of what we really seek. I want you to be closer to me, but instead of looking for ways to connect with you, I get angry at you and push you away. I want you to share yourself and your secrets with me, but when you do I share your innermost thoughts with someone else and then you don’t trust me again. I want you to respect me, but I treat you with disrespect every chance I get.

I’m sure that anyone reading this column is thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me. I treat people the way I want to be treated!” And that may often be the case. But I challenge you to look closely at those relationships where things are not as you’d like them to be. Look at where you may be culpable. The truth is that in any relationship, there are two people engaging and two people participating. Unless one person is mentally incapable for some medical reason, there are always “two sides to a story.” This doesn’t mean that some people aren’t more self-aware and willing to work on a relationship than others. It doesn’t mean that some people just fundamentally don’t want to accept any blame in a relationship. I realize that many, many times the scales are tipped with one person trying harder.

But overall, when relationships suffer there is usually opportunity for both sides to look closely at their actions and reactions and determine if there is anything they could have done, or could do differently. I don’t advocate beating up on oneself because it is counter-productive. I advocate looking to see if we can learn anything about ourselves and how we are perceived by others.

We often have a tendency to get defensive or to think “not me” when someone criticizes our behavior. It’s easier to place blame outside ourselves and to want to wait for the other person to get their act together before we make any change. The cartoon was so illustrative of what happens a lot – the parents bent over backwards to accommodate the kids and ended up frustrated. Instead of saying “Thank you for trying,” the kids were irritated that the parents were frustrated with them!

See if you can find places this week to watch this dynamic in action. If there is an opportunity for you to just shift a little bit in a relationship, give it a try and see what happens. The other person may very well be “in the wrong,” but pretend you have something to learn, too.