We humans are really good at holding on to the past, even if the past wasn’t so savory. It often feels very difficult and uncomfortable to break old habits and move beyond past relationships of all kinds. If you are considering moving on from or redefining your current relationships with significant others, colleagues and/or jobs, family members or friends, clearly things were, at least in recent times, “not going so well”. And yet, despite things not going so swimmingly, human nature often has us clinging to our former expectations and desires to see the potential of those relationships come to fruition. Also, the known negative is most often less daunting than the unknown which could be a much better fitting job or relationship.
There’s only one problem with holding onto the past: it tends to create more of the same! And that doesn’t mean that either party isn’t capable of change. What it means, however, is that, if either party is to change, it can’t continue on the way it has been, it can’t remain in a perpetual chokehold.
As you are reading this, if that static state of non-changing, stranglehold just described is resonating for you, take 15 seconds, close your eyes and visualize yourself releasing your figurative grasp on “the other”, breathe deeply, and divorce yourself from one expectation you have from this “other”.
Congratulations, you’ve just changed the only factor in the relationship that you have any power over: that’s you and your view of the relationship!
Now you can sit back in a more relaxed state and allow the relationship to be how it will be in light of your changed expectations. How you relate to the other, and the intensity and frequency of relating are now all “subject to change”. You may still very much hold the desire to have your “other” be or act in a certain way, but now, you have dropped the expectation that your current “other” will or even can show up in that way for you.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say a wife wants her husband to be more verbally attentive to her emotional state of being. For their whole marriage, he has essentially not been that way. If this causes the wife distress, she can instead choose to “divorce herself” from the expectation that he will be the way she wants him to be. The wife can now even begin to look for other healthy avenues to find attention for her emotional state. In fact, in the very act of releasing this expectation, she is beginning to attend more fully to her own emotional state instead of making that her husband’s responsibility. This can be very freeing for both the wife and the husband.
Let’s summarize what is and what is not happening in this dynamic:
- The wife is empowering herself by changing her expectations, but not her desires.
- This is acceptance, not resignation. Resignation would mean that the desire to receive attention for her emotional state of being would have been dropped. Acceptance, on the other hand, still honors her desire but means she’s accepting that she can’t get blood from a stone or olive oil at a shoe store. (It may help here to visualize someone stopping the act of banging her head off the wall.)
Some may ask, “Well, won’t this end up in 1 or 2 unhappy people in the relationship or potentially a divorce?”
The answer is this: When the tension in the relationship is lessened, even by 1 of the 2 people in a relationship changing one’s expectations, there is less of that stranglehold previously discussed and more of a relaxed flow that occurs. Typically you’ll see a couple of things happen here:
- The person with the “now-dropped” expectation(s) is able to see more of what she does actually get in the relationship and not what she wasn't getting.
- The “other” doesn’t feel the tension as much as when the expectations(s) were held firmly in place, and therefore naturally may begin to act more in a way in alignment with the person’s desires, e.g., the wife could begin to see her husband acting more verbally attentive to her emotions.
- The relationship is redefined naturally and continues on in this new state of being.
- Or, the relationship is free to end itself more quickly and less painfully than it would have otherwise.
Ultimately the results are less tension and more clarity which will strengthen the relationship , strengthen the original desire or both. When the original desire is strengthened, then that allows for more of the “push” to end the relationship or a “push” to get one’s needs met in other healthy ways while maintaining the relationship.
Less tension, more clarity, and more emotional freedom all may come from letting go of one’s expectations.
Is this easier said than done? Yes and no. Sometimes people are really ready to take this step. Other times, they aren’t. There’s no “right timing”, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t just easily“divorce yourself from a part of another person or from aspects of a job”.
When you think of climbing across the monkey bars as a kid, remember that you have to put one hand forward before you release the other hand. One hand has to be somewhere on the bars or else you’ll be on the ground. But, you have to put one hand forward to make any progress! You also have to eventually let go of the other bar if you are to move forward and not just hang in one place forever.
Thankfully there is psychotherapy and EFT “tapping” and other energy therapies that help people with the “letting go” process and allows for a smoother “moving forward”. So, meanwhile, hang in there, but don’t hang in one spot too long without getting the assistance you deserve. Otherwise, you’ll never know what treasures await you in that vast “unknown”!
-Written by Lauren Sonnenberg, LMHC, D.PSc, CAP, psychotherapist, wellness consultant and founder of LifeCore. Call 305-396-6360 to schedule a complementary 15 minute phone consultation and free yourself from your past!