Let ’em Run Their Own Business

Each relationship we have is paradoxically all-important and completely unnecessary. Understanding that paradox can save a world of heartache for us and our loved ones. 

First, I want to acknowledge that relationships are the most important human experience available to us. I realized in my twenties that the meaning of life is not about what happens to people; it’s about what happens between people. Learning to connect with each other, to experience empathy, to step outside our own experience, and to experience love in all its forms — these, I believe, are the experiences for which we became human. One thing I have always told clients is that it’s worth throwing away ten great things if it helps create one great relationship.
 
As our first crop of Relationship coaches are nearing the end of their training, I’ve been impressed once again by the way relationships open us up to growth and healing in every area of our lives. That said, I also believe that our culture makes us attach to relationships that are destructive at both a personal and inter-personal level. Whenever we believe that our happiness comes from some other person, we are in grave danger of turning that person into a demigod and losing ourselves, or trying to force our loved ones to do more than any other human being has the power to do for us. We think that the people we love should make us happy, make us feel loved, help us face the world, take away our loneliness, and in a thousand other ways, do for us the emotional work that we can only do for ourselves. I’ve watched so many clients discard one relationship after another because their continued unhappiness was “proof” that they had not yet found the right person.
 
During one of our Relationship coaching calls, Master Coach Terry DeMeo mentioned that when she was trained at Byron Katie’s nine day school, she kept insisting to her husband that “it can’t all be about your business and my business. There’s got to be an our business” If this were true, relationships would be almost hopelessly fallible. But the fact, as Terry finally concluded, is that if we always tend to all our own business, and allow other people to deal with their business, relationships thrive. If you commit this month to meeting all your own needs, and that you cannot force your loved ones to be anything but what they are, you will find your own life becoming much more peaceful and your relationships finding their optimal pattern, whether that means increased intimacy or the acceptance of distance. Not all relationships can “work” in the way we think they should, but all your relationships are happening for you, not to you, and no matter what the other person does, you can be sure the relationship will get you where you need to go.

14 replies
  1. Stephanie Goddard
    Stephanie Goddard says:

    Wonderful information. I am currently working on loving myself (it’s taken 47 years to begin this relationship) and I am seeing that I did this very thing: trying to make others responsible for my happiness. Thank you for this article to clarify the futility of making someone else responsible for your peace.

    Reply
  2. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Love to hear more from you on relationships!
    Also – when you say “commit this month to meeting all your own needs” I assume that includes asking for what you need from someone, knowing that they are allowed to say no and that you may need to take care of that need on your own or maybe another relationship can provide that need.

    Reply
  3. Anna
    Anna says:

    OK, I get the message we’re responsible for our own happiness…I get that…and I appreciate Jenny’s comments, but I’m playing devil’s advocate here…I’m pretty self sufficient and may be a good example of being able to find my own peace and happiness. .What do I need a monogamous relationship for? Don’t we need to work on connecting with others; isn’t it “work” sometimes for future benefit? Laughing with someone is always better than laughing alone. I seem to see all around me that if two people do not pay attention to their relationship, make it a priority, it’s a downhill slope to separation.

    Isn’t the ego always involved in a committed relationship? I want him to stay with me and he wants me to stay with him. If we take love to want the best for ourselves and the best for our partner, then I would be loving and letting them all go….life is short who would want to stifle someone’s own growth? So is our ego helpful in saying let’s make this one a priority, let’s make it our business to stick together even when it may slow down personal growth to some extent?

    Reply
  4. Jo
    Jo says:

    This is actually a thank-you for the emotional muggers article on Oprah’s online magazine. It provided the insight into personality patterns involved in some flare-ups within a group I serve as president.

    Reply
  5. Jane Lee Logan
    Jane Lee Logan says:

    What I hear Martha saying here and what I’ve come to realize myself, is that to tend to my business is to listen to our inner direction and guidance and in so doing, we find that what we thought we needed to get from outside of ourself, was always already within us quietly awaiting recognition. When we do this, all of our relationship take on a completely different purpose and become one of sharing without attachment.

    We actually don’t need anyone to fulfill what appears as our needs. What we most need is to develop a relationship with the inner Voice within that knows that all of are needs are fulfilled and knows the way to prove this to us in our actual experience. To do this is to be minding MY business.

    Reply
  6. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I learned the hard way that the more I “helped” my daughter, the more it seemed to hurt her situation. Now, I have learned to step away and say to myself, “She can handle it without my help.” And, guess what? She has and she is. The bonus is now I can enjoy my life, unencumbered by the constant burden of having to figure her stuff out.

    Reply
  7. Molly
    Molly says:

    Martha, Thankyou for your insight. This is very timely as my husband and I are in couples therapy. Here is my question: Is ‘our business’ and the potential pressure of fake it till you make it ‘forced intimacy’ why couples therapy is starting to seem so wrong headed? The assignment: What do you want your relationship to look like? Ask me that question 35, 25, or even 15 years ago and you might have a very different answer than today. Today I just want to be OK as me. Of course, that means I must continue to figure out who I am and what I want.
    I want to trust myself to be able to stand on my own.
    I want a relationship that is honest. I do not want to be in a relationship because I am needed or because I complete the other person. It is ok for my life to be a ‘compliment the other person’s life’ out of our uniqueness, but not out of our neediness. This seems like a fine line, but I think it is really two quite different things. Intimacy (physical or not) needs to be a joyous outpouring of I am wonderful, you are wonderful, and isn’t it great that we can celebrate and be wonderful together. I want you, I need you or, I need touch, I want sex – whether you do or not, just does not feel right to me. It is one side of the equation. This sort of worked at first…I so needed to be needed that I gave and gave to fill that need. I began to grow up and ask ‘what about what I need/want?’ ‘Why am I giving so much and not feeling any sense of fulfillment?’ I began to think I am selfish if I have my own opinions/preferences (my husband helped teach me that) and then guilty – then resentful. As I pulled away – he pushed for more – and I pulled further away. The arguments, yelling, blaming and shaming were just too much. I wanted to die. I almost did.
    Our childhood traumas caused us to become broken, needy adults. Our pain came out in different ways, but they fit together in an imperfectly perfect way. I am deeply saddened by the ways in which my dysfunction added to his dysfunction and worked to ruin our relationship. If I had known better, I would have done better. Now I know better. Now what?
    I still love him, but in a – we have known each other for 37 years and shared so much, both good and bad – sort of way. I think we could be friends, or at least friendly. I want us both to be happy. I just don’t know if it can be together.
    I keep thinking of the Carol King song lyric “Something inside has died and I can’t hide it and I just can’t fake it.”
    I want to be happy.

    Reply
    • Wendy
      Wendy says:

      Dear Molly, I really get where you are as it is where I have been and where I return to at times. My sense 18 months down the line and on the cusp of moving into my own place after 9 months of camping in my room in the family home as I retreated and retreated and retreated, is that the upset and shaming are so damaging, a wise friend said to me “Wendy, many women die rather than leave, don’t be one of those.” and I chose not to, I chose me.

      After 2 marriages, 4 children and long-time monogamous relationships that have spanned all of my adult life until now I need to taste the fear, joy and excitement of being responsible for my own business. I had no idea of what that meant when I married, and I see now that I couldn’t have, I didn’t see it modelled in my parents relationship so how could I? For a while I hoped I could do that in our marriage, I couldn’t believe that it couldn’t be solved by hard work and commitment and boy did I work hard at that. But in the end I was just empty and I couldn’t do it. It has been hard coming to terms with that but I see the process as one of healing.

      I realise now that I am a baby when it comes to relationships, but actually the healthiest way to respond to that is to build myself. I have a number of good tools now which I found online. If you would like links my mail is wendyjoy1 at hotmail.com.

      I wish you well, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as Martha says, follow that, it is where ease and joy lives.

      Reply
  8. Mano
    Mano says:

    Thank you. Thank you Martha.This came at the right time in my life. You might have saved my sanity. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    Reply

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