By Walter E. Jacobson, MD
It is the irony of many relationships that we often treat our loved ones worse than strangers and business acquaintances.
We seem to operate under the premise that the closer we are to someone, the greater license we have to be insensitive and cruel. We take for granted those close to us, we let go of the politeness that we use with others, and we fall into thoughtless habits of inconsideration and disrespect.
The end result is a breakdown of communication, a damaged relationship fractured by rage and resentments, and a regressed, fragmented sense of self. To say the least, this is not good. If we can’t cherish and nurture the people we live with under one roof, how can we ever hope to liberate our world and free it of greed, self-interest and war?
We have to make a conscious effort to be kind and caring, forgiving and accepting, avoiding judgment and grievance against those we hold dear. This involves not being critical, sarcastic, and belittling. This involves being generous, and self-less, focusing less on “what’s in it for me” and more on “what can I do to help others feel better.”
It is this getting out of ourselves and our self-centeredness that leads to greater appreciation, generosity, kindness and love in return. When we give because we want to give rather than give in order to get, a new universe of possibilities evolves into existence. When we give because we feel the joy that giving brings to others, we begin to understand that paradise is a state of mind.
When we see the results of giving: better communication, healthier connections and stronger bonds with others, and greater self-esteem, we begin to understand the importance of humility and gratitude. Rather than resenting what’s wrong with our relationships, we should be grateful for what’s right, we should appreciate what we have and count our blessings.
It’s a matter of changing our perspectives. We need to remind ourselves that in every situation that stimulates anger and resentment in us: “There is another way to look at it.” When we see our loved ones acting badly towards us, when we see our partners full of rage, resentment, grievance, judgment and attack, seemingly trying to hurt and humiliate us, we can choose to see them in another light.
We can choose to see them as people who are in pain, full of fear and confusion, who are calling out for love in the most inappropriate of ways. They want love, but they don’t know how to ask for it in a healthy way. So they “ask for love” by screaming, attacking, blaming, judging and hurting.
If we can see that what looks like attack is really a call for love and help, and if we can then respond with what is really being asked for and needed in the situation — understanding, compassion, forgiveness and love — then we have a chance to transform the relationship. Instead of responding to an “attack” with anger, defensiveness, and a counter-attack, we can choose to not see it as an attack. We can choose to see it as a “call for love” and respond with love instead. Easier said than done? Of course. What isn’t? Fortunately, people get better with practice.
When we fight with our partners, we lose sight of the bigger picture: that we love and care for each other, that we shouldn’t be keeping scorecards of who’s done what, that we should be overlooking the other person’s flaws, that we should give each other the benefit of the doubt, that we should share and cooperate unconditionally.
The point is: “Would you rather be right or happy?” When we’re fighting, accusing, yelling, we’re not really communicating, we’re not listening, we’re not processing. We’re attacking. Insisting that we’re right and they’re wrong. We’re smart and they’re stupid. We’re loving and they’re thoughtless and inconsiderate. Some battles aren’t worth fighting. Usually our efforts to prove that we’re right leave us feeling angry, demoralized and unhappy.
If we want to be happy, we shouldn’t carry on about being right when it falls on deaf ears. If we know in our hearts that we’re right and the other person’s wrong, we don’t need to correct them. We don’t need to insist they acknowledge their mistake. We don’t need to insist on an apology. We need to stop dwelling on our differences. We need to stop focusing on the petty and the pointless. And if, perhaps, we eventually get good at being loving to each other “at all costs,” “by whatever means necessary,” the end result is: we get happier. More content. More at peace.
The bottom line is we can’t change others. We can change ourselves. With vigilance over our thoughts and with our practicing these principles, we can release habitual perceptions and prejudices. And, in so doing, we can transform ALL the relationships in our lives.
Walter E. Jacobson, M.D. is a Board Certified Psychiatrist who has been in private practice in the Los Angeles area since 1999. Dr. Jacobson specializes in insight oriented psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, marriage counseling, medication management and spiritual psychotherapy. He was Editor of the The Southern California Psychiatrist, the monthly newsletter of the Southern California Psychiatric Society for two years and has written dozens of articles about psychiatry and mental health. Dr. Jacobson currently teaches The Art of Forgiveness as part of the Northridge Hospital Integrative Medicine program, and he is also Chairman of the Northridge Hospital Physician Well-Being Committee.