Take It or Leave It: Meet People Where They Are At

By Joeel A. Rivera, M.Ed.

Am I psychic? I received a phone call from a childhood friend whom I had not heard from in about a year and a half. He called several times and sent several messages, all within a few hours. However, at the time I could not call him back. Before I called him back, I was talking to someone else, who asked if everything was okay with my friend, since he had called several times. I stated that, “he must be having relationship problems.” I was asked how I was so sure, and I said that it was a pattern. Sure enough, when I did have a chance to return his call, our conversation was about his relationship and a negative pattern he was experiencing with his significant other, whom he had been with for almost a year.

His situation was that he had moved out of the house that he was staying in with his girlfriend because she has a tendency of screaming at him and belittling him in public, over little things. He stated that, “she does not care who is around or where they are at, if she gets angry over something she will unleash her furry.” He felt this behavior was a non-negotiable and that he was not going to put up with it. He had also mentioned that her mom and dad lived with them and that her mom is the same way with her husband, and even with him. As he talked about it, I asked him if he could see that she was following the pattern of her mom, repeating what she had been taught. It was part of her family culture. He agreed and continued to vent. He then asked me the question that, to me, was already clear. “Should I get back together with her?”

I have learned not to judge people. I realize that some people are more comfortable living with drama, while others are more comfortable in laid back relationships. It truly comes down to how we each define love, and life, at a deeper level. I know it sounds weird because you would think that everyone at their core wants a loving, peaceful, mutually respectful relationship, but the reality is that if you grew up with parents screaming and fighting and then showing love while making up, then you may start associating the screaming and fighting as part of the process to feeling and expressing love.

Consciously you may say that you don’t want the drama, but programming can be hard to change.

I told him that the answer was simple in my eyes; he had two choices. He could decide to change his non-negotiable by accepting that this IS how she will react, and deciding to stop driving himself crazy by trying to change her pattern, attacking it, and spending his the time and energy talking about it. Alternatively, he could decide to stick to his feeling that this behavior is non-negotiable, and leave.

Just like many people who face a decision point about a relationship, or other important life situation, he was experiencing the classic stages of the grieving process. At first he was in DENIAL and tried to pretend her behavior wasn’t happening or that he wasn’t bothered by it. Then, he eventually became ANGRY enough to leave. This is when he called me. While we talked, he started the BARGAINING stage. As we discussed his options, he proceeded to negotiate with himself, telling me all the good things about her and all the good memories they shared. He talked about how he had developed a bond with her child, and how he saw glimpses of hope that she may change, as she had told him that she would. He also acknowledged the problems that he brought to the table—which is great for him to recognize because if he is co-creating the problems he will just create them in a new relationship. He considered just give it two more months, to see if he could help her change the behavior.  I pointed out that all of the positives were irrelevant and that spinning around in circles, finding ways to make her change, is also pointless.

If you go into a relationship with the mind state of changing someone else, it will never work.

First, no matter how good the person’s good qualities are, they are irrelevant if he or she breaks one of your non-negotiables. They are NON-negotiable! Second, the only person you can change is you. The other person has to be the one that initiates the change within them self. Your only option is to accept people for who they are—where they are—and decide whether you can truly, unconditionally accept them. In order to know this, you first must know YOURSELF and what your non-negotiables are in the relationship. He argued that it would be hard to find someone with her positive qualities because… You can fill in the blank. However, this is something we all do. We start believing that we don’t have options and that what options we do have may be worse. But realistically, any option that does not go against our true self by allowing ourselves to break our own non-negotiables is a better option.

You have to give yourself a chance and take the risk of changing. This is true to any relationship, whether it’s a significant other, parent, sibling, coworker or friend. It also applies to many aspects of life. For example, if you hate your job, you have three choices. You can:

1) Find another one.

2) Accept it for what it is and find a way to see the positives.

3) Stay in it and be miserable and spend your time off complaining to other people about how you hate your job.

If you choose the last one then you will find that a 40 hour work week can turn into an 80 hour work week because if you are still talking about it after you leave, then mentally you are still there. The same thing happens in negative relationships.

If you truly want to be happy, you must decide what kind of quality of life you want, what is non-negotiable, and not settle for anything else.

We have been taught not to burn bridges. However, sometimes in life we do have to burn bridges for the sake of our own wellbeing. By leaving the path open, we may be tempted to retreat back to something that is comfortable—because we’re used it it—but that is depriving us of what we want and how we want to live. Life is always expanding and it’s up to us to decide whether we’re growing in the direction of what we want or perpetuating drama and compromised dreams.

It is up to you to grab the wheel of life and guide it to what will truly make you happy.

You’re worth it, aren’t you?

Joeel A Rivera, M.Ed., is a visionary, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker. From an early age, Joeel faced adversity, including immigrating to the United States, failing his freshman year of college, losing his brother, and being in a nearly fatal car accident. These experiences inspired him to return to college, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Education and is currently completing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Psychology, with an emphasis on happiness. Joeel opened a non-profit teen center in honor of his brother and developed curriculums for the Juvenile Justice System. In almost a decade, Joeel has reached over ten thousand people as an educator, entrepreneur, speaker, and consultant. Visit www.ignitelife.me.

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