Have you heard of the 80/20 Rule? The theory is that 80% of consequences are a direct result of 20% of causes. Have you ever applied it to your relationships?
When you think of your friends and family members, which 20% create 80% of your desired outcomes and happiness? These are your peeps. These are the people with whom you want to spend your time and, if it’s a healthy relationship, these are the people with whom you should spend your time. Take a moment after you’ve finished reading this and make time to get together with them.
Now, think of your friends and family members again. Which 20% create 80% of your problems and unhappiness?
Here is the harder question. Why are you sacrificing so much of your happiness to them?
Here are some of the answers I have heard: “She’s my mother.” “It’s not his fault.” “I have nowhere else to go.” “I’m married. I made a commitment.” “My (adult) son needs me.” “I’m a rescuer at heart.” “I’m Superman.” “Who will take care of her if I don’t?” “I’m too old to change now.” “I couldn’t live with myself if I weren’t there for him.” “He’s my brother.” “I can’t afford to leave.”
Here are things that people often think but don’t say: “I’m afraid no one else will love me.” “I don’t think I deserve to be treated any better than this.” “I’m so ashamed that it has gotten to this point.” “I need to be needed.” “I don’t know how to have a relationship where my needs are met, too.” “I’m afraid of what will happen if I stick up for myself.” “I’m afraid of change.”
Here is the part that can be too scary to even think: “I don’t know how to put my needs first (in this instance or maybe in life).”
Here’s the reality: First, let’s talk about the extent of problems and unhappiness you suffer as a result of the person. Not all unhappiness is equal.
When you have contact with this person, how do you feel on a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being minor irritation and 10 being high level anxiety or anger, often resulting in a need to medicate yourself with food, alcohol, cigarettes, or other substances?
How often do you currently have contact with this person? How often do you really need to have contact with this person? Could you decrease your time with this person?
Is the person causing you unhappiness because the person is emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive to you? Has anyone told you the person has been abusive toward you, even if you would not describe the person as abusive?
Can you take a step back from the person to better evaluate the relationship? Often, we don’t even know the reactions our bodies are having until we step away from the relationship.
There is a difference between someone creating 80% of your unhappiness intentionally versus unintentionally. There is also a difference between someone creating 80% of your problems on a temporary basis versus on a permanent basis.
For example, if a loved one has cancer, you are likely to feel a great deal of unhappiness as a result. You may be worried, angry that this person is suffering, sad, anxious, and more. If you are married and there are medical bills piling up as a result, you may also feel anxious, worried, distressed, angry, and more. Still, it is perfectly healthy to be there for the person as much as possible, to love the person and to also feel great pain. You may experience caregiver fatigue and look to find ways to support yourself emotionally as a result. You may experience caregiver fatigue and decide that you cannot do anymore.
In the alternative, if you love someone who rejects you, puts you down, always has to ensure that his/her needs are met (and yours are not), then it could be time to take stock of the relationship. You know that it is not working for you – that is why you have listed it in with the relationships causing 80% of your unhappiness.
Can the relationship be fixed? Is the person willing to work on the relationship to meet your needs, too? Is the person willing and able to talk with you, to meet in counseling or mediation to discuss it and put together a plan to get things back on track?
If it can’t be fixed, and you still want to maintain the relationship, then can it be contained? Can you limit the amount of time that you spend with the person, spend less hours together, have a buffer present, opt for telephone contact, email, text, or Facebook instead of in person contact?
If it can’t be fixed, you know it’s not healthy, and it’s causing you a great deal of distress, it’s time to really look at why you are investing so much of your time in this person. We have a finite amount of time on this earth. Think of what you could do with all of that time that you currently spend unhappy. Why is it more important to be there for that person than to be there for yourself?
Meredith Richardson, Esq., CPC, helps people and organizations to successfully navigate conflict through mediation, conflict coaching, and training. Though she was trained and worked as an attorney in ME, NH, and MA, she no longer self-identifies as a lawyer. She helps people to have difficult conversations successfully.
Meredith is well-respected by her peers, and has served on both the Maine Association of Mediators Board and the NH Conflict Resolution Association Board. With an office in Maine, she is readily available for work in Maine, NH, and Massachusetts.