What to Do When Someone You Love Keeps Letting You Down
In my weekly men’s group last night, one man, Adam, came in clearly fired up. His ex-wife, once again, was unable to meet and talk at the time they agreed upon; she then grew angry when Adam was unable to stay late and accommodate her, as he had to leave for Men’s Group—his weekly commitment. He felt frustrated and hurt, once again not being considered the way he insists he would have considered her. Another man, Yoram, related to Adam’s frustration. Yoram’s business partner apparently does that every week—they have a weekly meeting scheduled, and without fail, Yoram’s partner is either late or reschedules at the last minute. This makes Yoram feel underappreciated, not considerate, and of course very bitter.
So, what is wrong with these people? Not considering their feelings or time? How dare they?!
Well, as hard as it is to confront the men when they’re steaming, I suggest: Nothing is wrong with them. You’re not frustrated with their lack of communication or standards or thoughtfulness. You’re frustrated and triggered by your own expectations of those things, and your expectations are not fair to them. Those are YOURS!
Often, we expect others to think, feel, say, and do things the way we would do them. “How could she feel like that? I wouldn’t! How could he say that?! I would never say that.” So you have particular standards for how you live your life, but why does that then authorize you to expect the same of others?
Instead of expecting particular standards, then judging and resenting individuals when they don’t live up to your expectations, would you be willing to make requests of them and drop the expectations? I call this “Learning to Speak Each Other’s Language.”
When someone just can’t seem to live up to your expectations and standards, there are some key communication techniques that will be important in smoothing out the relationship. I’ll give you the same 3 tools I gave to the men last night:
Make a Request
First, help the other person speak your “language” by making a request of them. This has to be actionable, not abstract. In other words, a request is not: “Show me more respect.” That doesn’t tell the other person what you’d like to see, and is rather a set-up for failure. Instead, a request sounds like: “I would so much appreciate it if you could call me when you are running late. Would you be willing to do that?” Ask them if they are able to meet your request. Do not tell them or command the request be met.
Learn Their Language
If they’re unable to meet your request or if making a request is simply inapplicable, then perhaps you could learn to speak their “language.” In other words, figure out how to move strategically within the parameters of who that person is. Do not expect things from them that they are not capable of or inconsistent at. If your ex-wife never shows up on time, accept that and be okay with last-minute alterations of your time. This will relieve the constant emotional triggering left by her failure to meet your standards.
Let Go & Set Your Personal Terms
If neither option is available—if they can’t meet your requests and you cannot adjust your style to meet theirs—then perhaps it’s time to simply let go of all expectations. This means doing so without judgment or resentment toward the other person. However, it will also be important to set your personal terms around the problem area, drawing your lines in the sand and living by those lines without apology. So, you can tell your business partner: “I will show up on time to our meetings. If you are not there within 15-minutes of the schedule time, that’s okay, but I will move on to the next activity of the day, and we’ll just have to reschedule for another time.” If you set a term like this, stick to it without fail.
Letting go of expectations, setting your own terms, requesting actionable behaviors of others, and learning to speak other people’s “languages,” puts you back in the driver’s seat of your own life. You will not feel disempowered, hurt, and resentful when others fail to meet your expectations and standards. Give others the benefit of the doubt, but do not become attached to a particular outcome. The more accepting you are of WHO they are, the easier your life and emotional state will be. Trust me.