Do you have manuals for the people in your life? 

Hi All and Happy Monday! 

My personal coach taught a concept called the manual.  It is similar to an operational manual, but it is written (in our mind) for other people to follow. This manual is a self-imposed rule book on how the other person in our life is supposed to act. It’s an instruction book that we’ve written for someone else. 

The manual is one of my favorite concepts to refer to when I am working with clients – as a family lawyer or a life coach. For example, a client will call me up and go on about how her ex-husband did this or didn’t do that. Sarcastically, I might say, “I know, it’s horrible that your ex lost the manual you put together for him on how he is required to act as your ex.” 

The problem with the manual is that we often tie our own emotional life to whether or not it is being followed. Even though it may seem justified to have certain expectations of people, it can also be quite damaging and frustrating. 

It’s not our fault, though. We are taught from a young age that if other people act in certain ways we will be happy. Did you ever hear, “If you clean up your room, Mommy will be so happy!” But it doesn’t work that way. 

Another issue is that many of us haven’t shared the manual we for our significant other, yet we somehow expect them to follow it. How can they follow something they never saw, let alone never read? 

Everything we think we want, as to how others behave, is a direct correlation to how we think we will feel if they act or do this thing.  But remember, it’s our thinking that causes our feelings, not another person’s behavior. Thoughts = feelings = actions = results

When someone follows our manual, we make a decision to think that they care, love, and or respect us because they did this thing we wanted. And, when they don’t do the act we want, we choose to think they don’t care, dislike us, and or disrespect us. The choice to think about what someone does or doesn’t do is always our own. Make sense?

Many times, we do not realize we have these manuals in place. We have reasonable expectations of how the people in our life should act and we expect that they know what to do. But what we think is reasonable and what someone else thinks is reasonable is often very different. 

One of the first things we need to understand about the manual is, like it or not, adults have the freedom to behave however they like. That includes you. There is nothing you have to ever do and there is nothing that anyone else has to do for you. We get to make a decision on what we do and many times we have to live with the consequences of the choices we make. 

If you cheat on your spouse, the result could likely be a divorce. If you chose not to work out and overeat, you will be unhealthy. If you choose to not work on your business goal, your business may stagnate. It’s your choice.

Manuals can lead to relationship issues. If we are responsible for our own needs and happiness and we have a spouse that also expects us to fulfill his or her needs (or vice versa) it can be exhausting, at best. It will likely be a relationship filled with a lot of unhealthy tug of war and control issues in which neither person wins.

This doesn’t mean you don’t get to ask for what you want. In fact, this is a common exercise that many marriage counselors explore with couples. Letting someone know what you want is different from expecting perfection and relying on it to make you happy.

It takes tremendous energy to control another person. What if we instead focused on creating manuals for ourselves? 

Truth be told, many of us would be well served in asserting all this energy and time on trying to manage ourselves instead of another person.  

I’ve wasted so much time in my own life trying to get other people to behave the way that I want them to behave.  Life would just be so freaking amazing if everyone just followed my plan for them – ha. But seriously, it doesn’t work and never will unless you have a robot as a spouse, child or friend.  

This doesn’t mean that you stay in relationships with people who don’t have values in line with your values, or don’t live in the way that you want to live or are acting in ways that you take issue with. Trying to change someone to be more like you want them to be, rarely ever works. In fact, it can make you a bit “cray-cray”. 

You get to decide to stay and accept people or make a change. But do it from a place of knowing what you can control and what you can’t control. 

I have a dear friend who is always late. No matter what, she runs 15-30 minutes behind schedule every time. I used to get frustrated with her. I would interpret her lateness to mean that she had no respect for the things I have going on. But,I love her and decided to be honest. 

I told her, “Hey, I love our time together, but when you’re late it makes it hard for me to keep on schedule with the other things I have planned.”

I set a boundary (will be speaking about boundaries soon) with her instead. I explained that moving forward, I will wait for 15 minutes and then I might leave. The decision had nothing to do with her or me but that 15-minute window of time is all that I will wait. 

I shifted the control to what I can do if she is late – I can leave, or I can stay. But what I can’t do is be upset if she shows up after the 15-minute window. 

It has changed our relationship.  She said that she felt the tension and thought I was mad at her. That was over 10 years ago. She has been on time ever since. 

This situation set us up to have better, long-lasting, and conflict-free relationships. 

There are some instances when a manual is ok and in fact, expected. For example, a manual for a child is crucial.  It is your responsibility as a parent to help your child and in essence write her operation manual for the things she should be doing (i.e. chores, homework, keeping to a bedtime). If you’re a boss, like me, there are expectations of your employees. These are not the manuals I am referring too. These are expected and necessary manuals. 

I can hear some of you saying things like, “Are you suggesting that I shouldn’t tell my husband that he should be home on time or my wife that she shouldn’t spend so much on Amazon?”  Of course, you should have these conversations and make requests of the people in your life. 

You need to ensure that your emotional happiness is not dependent on the other person doing or not doing what you ask for and that you are not manipulating people to behave the way you want them to behave so that you feel better. That’s when you’re going to get yourself into a spiral of negativity. That’s the manual

Your happiness comes from you. In fact, it doesn’t matter who your husband, wife, or friend does or doesn’t do when it comes to your our own emotional happiness. People that we are compatible with, just make it easier.

I will leave you with a few questions: 
  • Are you willing to give up your manuals? 
  • Are you willing to let go of trying to control people and instead focus the time and energy on yourself and creating the best life for you? 
  • Are you willing to create this best life independent from what others do or do not do?
  • Are you going to decide to be around people that enhance your life?

Finally, are you around people who are doing things because they want to and not because you are emotionally manipulating them or requiring them to behave in a certain way? Think about it. It is amazing stuff and it is a game-changer. I promise. 

As always, if you want to discuss, reach out. Until next time, stay healthy in mind and body.

Doreen Yaffa
Board Certified Marital & Family Attorney, Life Coach

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