This last week I had an epiphany. I was using “victim mentality” in an area of my life. I actually laughed when I figured it out. After all, I teach this shit to my clients all week, and yet I was doing it myself in my own relationship. And because all life is learning, I’m going to share the story.
Jim and I have an ongoing “issue.” It’s small but here it is, in a nutshell. Jim brings the mail in each day. I don’t get the mail because I’m super busy and I don’t especially like the mail. Then Jim sorts the mail and puts a pile on the kitchen counter so he can see the things that still need his attention; the bills, tax forms, expense accounts, magazines to read and correspondences. His pile sits on the kitchen island. It expands and contracts like a living organism.
I do not like this pile on the kitchen island. I love a clean kitchen island. I want the white marble to shine and create a warm, wonderful feel when I come down to cook for the family. I never like seeing the piles of paperwork on the counter as I prep meals.
For four years, our dialogue has gone something like this. “Hey Babe, can you move this pile of stuff from the kitchen island? I really don’t like it there.” His response, “Well I need to follow up on several issues and pay these bills, so the pile will be here a bit longer.” I hate it. He likes it. It works for him. It doesn’t work for me.
Over the years a pattern of behavior followed this pet peeve of mine. Jim’s pile would grow on the island. When he left town for work, I would take the pile and put it in our computer room. Oftentimes, as this pattern repeated, there were numerous piles in the computer room, making it a sort of “junk room.” I had taken to closing the door and hiding the piles while feeling resentful that he wouldn’t do what I wanted him to!
I have literally been repeating this pattern, unsuccessfully and without change, for over four years! Until last week when I had an aha moment. I am engaging in shitty “victim mentality.” By victim mentality, I mean that I was giving away my happiness by letting Jim’s behavior dictate my mood. If he did as I wished, I was happy. If he didn’t, I was annoyed.
Once I recognized that I was engaging in this ridiculous loop, I laughed. The universe is funny. Sometimes I think I have it all figured out, but I don’t. The good news is, we all have the opportunity to grow constantly.
Let’s dig in and analyze this issue. Jim and I weren’t really “fighting” and it wasn’t a big deal, right? Wrong. It was a big deal because I expected him to “fix” MY PROBLEM! Even though it was minor, I was giving my power away and that is never ok.
I hope you get this on a deep level. Jim had no issues with his system. He like having the bills and forms in his view so that he could pay things on time and be reminded of his “to do” list. He was not bothered at all by the visual of a small stack of papers on the kitchen counter.
I had the problem. I didn’t like the visual and I didn’t like the fact that we have an office that he “should have” been using for the bills. I expected Jim to share my belief system. I wanted him to accept that I was right! You should not have shit on the kitchen counter unless it is related to cooking. I’m pretty sure I’m entirely right, right? EXCEPT, fighting about right and wrong in these issues is an absolute waste of your time. I mean it. If you expect your partner to take on all of your beliefs, you will end up disappointed.
You might think that your spouse should be more responsible, or more laid back. You might think they should step up to the plate or chill the F out! You might want more sex because it’s been too long, or understand that kids and a job make you tired! You might want more help with housework, or crave that your partner relaxes on the housework now that you have kids! See my point? Who is right and who is wrong is a matter of opinion and a totally waste of your time.
Here is the key and it might not be fair. If you have the problem, you have to fix it. In this case, I disliked the pile so it was my job to find a solution that worked for Jim. The solution involved consulting with my friend Kathryn Stieneker, who is an organizational wizard. She showed me how to address the varied parts of Jim’s pile.
First off, I had to sort through the entire junk room office to get a fresh start. I recycled outdated paper, formed a bill pile, made a file drawer for Jim’s regular paperwork so that I can file when he doesn’t have the time or desire to do so. I got a basket for his magazines that I put in the living room. I got rid of books and technology we didn’t need and created a beautiful office space that makes me feel good. I got creative and filled the cleared out spaces with family photos.
Once I was done, I showed Jim my new system. I told him that bills would never get lost because I created a designated space for them. I showed him how organized his life could be with the file drawer I’d created for him. I just move the magazines myself if they are on the counter.
It took a lot of my weekend. I flirted with being annoyed but decided to focus on the excitement that I took control of my issue and creatively solved the problem. I hope it works. It may take some modifications or new tactics if it doesn’t work the way I hope it does.
Here are the really important points. I had a problem. Jim did not share my vision even though I wanted him to. Attempting force him to share my vision failed for years. My new tactic felt powerful and satisfying instead of whiney and resentful. I’m hopeful it will work, but ready to adapt if it doesn’t.
Here’s what happened as I worked over the weekend. Instead of being annoyed by my constant requests to deal with the pile, Jim appreciated all the work I did to solve the problem. He got on board as he realized I was doing work to support the relationship and I was owning my own shit. The pay off is that I love the way the kitchen and office look. I engaged in creativity, hard work, and problem solving; none of which are victim mentality. It was a lot of work over my weekend, but now I hope to avoid the weekly annoyance of that pesky little pile on my kitchen counter.
Think about your own ongoing fights. How can you use the concept of taking full responsibility for your happiness to solve the problem? Drop the need to be right, dig in and fix it. I promise you won’t regret it!
You can listen to me talk through this in the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below or in the following places: