Today, we’re talking about the Top 5 Relationship Rules I have that have changed my life. This episode was inspired by a letter I wrote to all of you. For those of you who signed up for my newsletter, I give you tools and tips, and stories, and I tell you funny jokes sometimes. But I was writing the newsletter while I was in Australia just before I left when I was there in December, and I was reflecting on how beautiful my relationships are with my family now. And I was reflecting on why. Why are they so beautiful? Well, number one, they’re beautiful people. But number two, more importantly, I have learned these relationship rules, which have allowed me to have the most beautiful relationship with my family and the most beautiful relationship with my husband, my kids, my friends, and you guys.
Now, that doesn’t mean there are no bumps. That doesn’t mean there are no arguments. A few weeks ago, I wrote in the newsletter about how I had an argument with my husband. Of course, I was joking about how wrong he was and how right I was. But it doesn’t mean we don’t have conflict, but we get to coexist because of these relationship rules, and I want to share them with you.
Before we proceed, I want to say, these mightn’t work for you. I think they work well, but I don’t want you to feel guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, angry, or whatever the feelings are if you feel like these don’t match you. So take what you need here. Leave what isn’t helpful for you; if it’s useful for you, wonderful. If it doesn’t sit right, one of them doesn’t sit right, that is not a problem. It’s totally okay to use what helps you. When I’m talking on this podcast, I’m giving you ideas, so be curious and consider them, but it doesn’t mean that I’m always right, I think I’m right, or I know what’s right for you.
All right, here we go. I’m going to go through them quickly and then elaborate a little later once we get through, okay? But I want to remind you that these relationship rules help me stay solid in my relationships, and they’ve gotten me through some of the hardest periods and seasons of my life. So, let’s see if they’re helpful for you.
Their emotions are their responsibility, and it is their job to regulate their emotions when they’re upset with us. And it’s our job to regulate and manage our emotions when we are upset. Now, what does regulate mean? It means you’re allowed to have them. We’re not saying that no one’s allowed to be upset, but we have to communicate and share with them and regulate by not throwing things, lashing out, saying unkind things, saying things that aren’t true, saying ‘you’ statements like, “You’re so blah, blah, blah.” We want to use ‘I’ statements like, “I feel this way about that,” or “I would like this thing to happen.” So, we want to regulate as best as we can. Our job is to regulate what shows up for us, and their job is to regulate what shows up for them.
Now, they get to have expectations and they get to communicate with you on what their expectations are, and you get to have expectations and you get to communicate their expectations. Now, this is so important, then we can have a respectful conversation. A lot of the time these days, I see people in relationships or even online where somebody disagrees and they’re so hurt. They’re like, “You’ve harmed me by saying that. I’m so hurt by what you said.” But the person gets to have their thoughts and their feelings. It’s not our job to manage it, and it’s not our job to please them either. So you get to have your beliefs and thoughts and ideas, and you get to disagree with other people as well. It’s as long as we’re able to do it respectfully. And when I say respectful, I’m not saying it in a people-pleasing way either. It is not our job to please people. It’s just not.
Here’s a deeper one. Let me just jump into this a little: I’m still working on this and I get therapy. I have a lot of practice and I’ve read about the idea of my happiness. That’s my job. My happiness is my job. And I easily get caught up in, “No, if my partner would just do A, B, and C, then I can be happy,” or “If my kids just do A, B, and C, then I can be happy.” And that is true to a degree. But the problem with that rule, if you want to keep that rule, is you have no empowerment and no responsibility. It’s all up to them. Your life is in their hands. Your happiness is in their hands.
And so, I like to think about, yeah, people can’t always please me, like I just said, and people are going to upset me. And then it’s my job to decide what I want to do with that, and it’s my job to determine how I’m going to cope today with the fact that they may not be living up to the way I want them to. So that’s really important.
This is a big one for my husband and I. We say this to each other all the time. It’s like, “You’re allowed to have your feelings about that and so am I.” This one is so hard for me, especially in my marriage because if I upset him, I’d be like, “You shouldn’t be upset.” And he’s like, “I’m allowed to be upset. I’m allowed to have my feelings about it.” And I’m like, “No, but you shouldn’t.” And he’s like, “Yeah, but I am. I do.”
It is okay if they don’t like everything about us and if they disagree. It is our job to live according to our values, which doesn’t always align with their expectations of us. Our job is to go and live our lives and let them have their feelings about it. Then, we can communicate respectfully about our misalignment. “But that has been so beautiful for me.” To say, “You’re allowed to have your feelings about me, specifically me as a public person.” When I used to speak at a conference, or online or on Instagram, and someone would say something negative, I used to be like, “Oh, how dare they say something so mean? How could they disagree with me or not like me?” It was so painful because I had made this rule that they should only have good feelings about me.
And now I’m okay. You can have all your feelings about me. You might like me, or you might hate me. You might like me one day and not like me the next. You might agree or not agree, and you get to have your feelings about me. I give you permission. It is so freeing to say, “I’m going to let everyone have permission to have their feelings about me.” That’s okay. I’m not for everyone. That sentence literally has healed me on the deepest level, probably more than any sentence. You’re allowed to have your feelings about me. So important.
In fact, I encourage you to accept that they will not always understand us. Sometimes people won’t have the capacity to understand us, and that doesn’t make us wrong. And it also doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find a way to coexist and still love each other unconditionally. That’s so true.
I always tell my patients, let’s say I come in and I’m wearing my favorite boots, which are a bit sassy, and you come in, and you’re like, “I hate your boots. They’re the ugliest boots ever.” I could even say, “Ah, you’re supposed to love my boots.” Or I could say, “That’s cool. You don’t have to love my boots. You get to have your feelings about them. And it’s okay if you don’t understand how rocking my boots are.”
Now, this also goes for who you are. They get to have their feelings about who you are. They get to not like who we are, as long as they’re respectful, they don’t cross any boundaries, and they’re not abusive. They get to be upset, and it’s okay that they don’t understand us. As I said, some people can’t understand us. So important.
Again, this one was so hard for me. Now, for those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been married almost 20 years. It will be 20 years this year, which means my husband’s done a ton of changing, and so have my family, my friends, and so have you guys. There’s a lot of change. But they get to change. If somebody changes, we can’t go, “Wait, that’s not fair. I didn’t go into this relationship with you being this new version of you. You have to be the old version of you.” That’s not a real relationship. That’s saying you must stay the same and can’t express and be who you are.
We could say, “You’ve changed, and these are my feelings about it,” as long as I’m doing it, not in a judgmental way or not in a way that’s trying to change them back because people get to change. They get to change their mind. So that’s another big one for me, is if someone says, “I like this,” and then they come back and say, “I actually really don’t,” I have to remind myself they’re allowed to change their mind because they’re allowed to have their feelings. And it’s okay that they don’t understand us, and they’re going to manage their own emotions, and I’m going to manage mine.
We can’t hold ourselves to the expectation that will never change. As we go through different seasons in our life, we will change. And that might feel scary. But we can try using our mindfulness skills and our regulation skills to navigate the change and the emotions you have to feel.
So those are the five relationship rules that have changed my life. Now, here’s the kicker. None of it is fun. None of it. This is some hard work. I nearly said that S word, which is fine. I’m allowed to swear, but it’s some hard shit. This is some terrible stuff to work through, but with it comes stronger and more unconditionally loving relationships.
When I gave my husband permission to have his feelings about me, he was happier, and he loved me more because it meant that he didn’t have to pretend to be somebody else or he didn’t have to pretend to like something and get resentful because he actually didn’t like it. When I allowed myself to be different from my family, and I accepted that they might have feelings about that, and I gave them permission to have feelings about that, there wasn’t a problem anymore.
The biggest problem, the biggest pain, the most suffering came when I was like, “No, they shouldn’t feel this way about me. That’s not fair”! But, it is fair. They get to have their feelings based on their own personal and their upbringing and their own incapacities and their own limitations. They get to have their feelings. It mightn’t be perfect, but I’m not perfect.
You guys, I could add a fifth or sixth one here. I didn’t write this one in the email, but I’m not perfect, and neither are they, and that’s okay. Sometimes I would say, “No, but they need to be this way because that’s the right way. This is the right way to be.” And I get it. Yeah, there is sometimes real right and wrong, like you shouldn’t harm people or say horrible things or critical things or racist things or misogynist things. We get that, and I agree with all that. But at the end of the day, the people in our lives will be imperfect, and we have to get better about not being black and white and cutting them off because they did a “bad” thing.
I think cancel culture has taught us a lot in this idea of like, “You’re dead to me. You’re done. You’re canceled.” Relationships don’t work like that. We’re human beings. We make mistakes. I’ve made a million mistakes. I’ve actually-- okay, now I’m going on and on. But we also have to learn to accept that we make mistakes and be willing to apologize for it. It’s a humble thing to do. It’s not fun, not fun at all, but we can also say we’re sorry too.
So that’s it, you guys. There’s a humbling; there’s a humanity that we connect with when we can allow everyone to have their feelings, when we can allow ourselves to have our feelings when we can have limits and boundaries and clearly communicate that with our loved ones, but then also understand that sometimes they may not get it.
Now there will be situations if you say, “I don’t like that,” and they will not respect you. You may need to make a limit and a boundary with them where they don’t have as much access to you. That’s 100% valid. And again, I’m not here telling you to accept other people’s bad behavior. Absolutely not. But we can accept that they have some feelings about it, as long as they’re communicating respectfully, kindly, compassionately, or at least they’re trying. At least they’re trying.
So that’s it, folks. The five relationship rules that have literally changed my life and my relationships. I hope it’s helpful. It is a beautiful day to do hard things, and I will see you next week.