Check Your Motives

Am I trying to change myself for the right reasons?

I was speaking to a friend, Nora, who told me that her husband, Joe, can be ruthlessly hostile and critical at times. She has tried every which way to tell him that his words are very hurtful but she can’t get him to stop exploding.

Her therapist suggested that since she can’t get him to change, maybe she can look at herself and change the behavior that might trigger his fury.

It is wonderful to look at ourselves and improve certain behaviors. But we also need to check our motives. If I’m changing myself to stop someone else’s annoying behavior, or to get someone else to do something differently, then I’m engaged in nothing more than manipulation.

I have to check my motives.

I know that sometimes I think that if I do something thing differently then someone I love might react differently, too. But I have to remind myself that I really have no control over others.

“What should I do if he gets so upset and stops speaking to me for a week?” Nora asked. “He does that. Then I don’t know whether to stay in the room with him, whether to make him coffee, whether to kiss him even when he turns his head.”

“Would you stay in the room with someone who’s sulking?” I asked. “I wouldn’t. I’d try to be pleasant and then say good-bye to them and go find something else to do.”

My friend, Ursula, always reminds me that “we are responsible for our own happiness.” That means that no matter what kind of bad mood someone I love is in, I am responsible for making myself happy. No matter if the people around me are miserable.

Nora said that Joe’s mother can also be very nasty and insulting. So, it’s just a habit he grew up with that he picked up. A lifelong habit that is hard to break unless he wants to break it. Joe owns the habit; Nora doesn’t. And Joe is the only one that can stop it.

If someone doesn’t want to talk to me, I can’t force them. If someone doesn’t want to change a negative behavior, I can’t force them, either. All I can do when someone is acting funky with me is wish him well but then let him go…

It’s great if I want to change and improve me—but not if I’m doing it to try to change someone else.

The recipe for living today is to check my motives. Am I trying to change to change myself—or to change someone else?

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About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is a writer living in northern Israel whose novel, A Remarkable Kindness, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in August. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, and other publications. Her first book, The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker) was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.
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