Consider the idea that we co-create the dynamics of our relationships. This implies that when a problem is showing up in a relationship, each person in the relationship has helped create that problem and each person has a role to play in responding to the problem. I find this premise leads to an empowering way of approaching relationship issues.
Discuss the Problem—Respectfully!
If there’s a problem in our relationship, it’s likely that I will have ideas about how I helped create the problem and what I could do to resolve it. I will also have ideas about how you helped create the problem and what you could do to resolve it. The same is likely true for you—you have your own ideas about your part and my part in creating and solving the problem.
If we are able to enter into a respectful dialogue and discuss these things, it is likely we will both learn something. (Discussing relationship problems respectfully requires avoiding blame and criticism!)
Own Your Part
Here’s one way to identify your part in the problem (and the solution). Think of something you could do differently the next time around, that you believe will be more beneficial—regardless of whether the other person changes anything about what they do. You have just identified one aspect of what your response could be—your part of the problem (and the solution).
Let’s say you find yourself thinking, “I could do (this) to make things better, but it’s so hard because s/he doesn’t do (that)!” When you get to this point, you’re halfway there, but you’re still mixing up your part with their part. The goal here is to think of something you could do differently to improve things, regardless of whether or not the other person does anything differently. (Your response may not have anything to do with how you interact with the other person. It might have to do with, for example, getting more sleep so that you are more resourced to deal with challenges that come up in the relationship.)
Transcend Blame and Shame
If you find yourself thinking, “There’s nothing I could do differently to help solve this problem,” this is a very safe position, in one sense: if there is nothing you can do differently, then you are immune from blame and shame. Unfortunately, you’re also setting yourself up as a powerless victim; you’re actually disempowering yourself.
Fully loving and accepting yourself can empower you—making it safe for you to own what you could do differently the next time around. If you can own your part, it makes it more likely the other person will be able to own their part, too—and this makes it more likely that the problem will be resolved.