When I asked, “What would you like for breakfast?” I heard the exclamation, “POPSICLES!!”
As any *good* mother “should” do, I said, “Ohhh, you know we can’t have popsicles for breakfast. How about some cinnamon toast, then a popsicle later for snack?”
Then I paused. And, I did what any bad mother would do…
I said, “Ok, sure. You can have your snack first, then cinnamon toast and oatmeal, ok?” In unison, they cheered, “YEAH!!”
Oh, what had I done? Was that the right decision?
In the very moment I heard myself say the words, “We can’t…” to my two toddlers, I also heard my mind ask, “Why not?” I had a flashback to a session I’d had with a client recently. She’d broken down in tears as we talked about expectations and rules in her marriage.
Like a good therapist, I asked, “Well, who wrote the rule on THAT?” “What if you changed your thoughts and perceptions about how you believe a husband ˜should’ be?” I asked that when she questioned what to do about her flailing marriage and the opinions she had of her spouse’s behavior. Those thoughts, perceptions and opinions were the expectations she’d created of her husband and her marriage. The expectations were the RULES of how she thought the marriage “should” be.
When I asked what it would be like for her to change her rules, her eyes welled with tears and she said, quite agitated, “So you’re telling me if I want to be happy in this marriage, I have to lower my expectations, and change what I think is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’?”
I entered cautiously. The answer was extremely important to her.
“No, you don’t have to lower your expectations. But, yes, you may have to change your definition of right and wrong.”
Compromise is NOT easy. Ask any married person – we know! But compromising isn’t about lowering your expectations, or giving up what is important to you. It *is*, sometimes, about making a choice on the thoughts, perceptions, judgments and opinions you choose to have about the various aspects of your marriage. Such as, who does the laundry? Who disciplines the kids? Do you both work, or is there a stay-at-home parent, and if there is, who stays and who goes?
In a family where your mother stayed home and your father worked, you may have learned that was the “right” way to do it. Having a mother that cooked all of your meals each evening, you may have learned that was the “right” way to have meals prepared for the family.
But what if you found yourself in a marriage where your husband wanted to stay home part time to watch the kids while you worked full time? What if your spouse didn’t cook and instead depended on you for dinner each evening? What if you wanted to have sex 3 times a week, but your spouse was content with sex 3 times a month? What if you perceived your spouse to be “weak” and unassertive, leaving you to make most of the household decisions?
Not all marriage problems are solvable, we know this. But some problems can be managed. Compromise is choosing to perceive a situation differently than how we’d previously believed it to be true. It’s bending your belief a bit, while keeping your high expectation – for your own life – intact.
There are no “rules” to marriage. And, there are no “rules” for life, either. There’s a tremendous amount of power when you realize you have the ability to think about a situation how you want to think about it.
Who says snack has to come after dinner? Where’s the rule that says that? What would happen if we changed it?
If you follow my TEA formula which states our thoughts create our emotions, and our emotions create our actions, you already know that what you think and perceive about a situation is what makes you feel the way you do.
So, when she asked, “Do I have to change what I think is right or wrong to be happy in this marriage?” my answer was a cautious, “Perhaps.” Sometimes, that may be the case.
Not only in marriage, but in all situations, if what you think about is not creating the emotion or action you want, then you may need to change your perception. In the case of my client, her decision will be in whether she is willing to examine a new belief or thought about the way her husband “should” be in this marriage. If she decides this is an unsolvable problem that she absolutely cannot compromise on, then she will have two choices: remain unhappy, or get out of the marriage.
Option three – change my spouse – is not an option. Sure, your spouse CAN change. But that’s not what you’re in control of. You only control your perception of your spouse’s behavior. You decide if this is a “rule” worth keeping.