Affirmation: I am only responsible for my own behavior.
In 2000 my husband and I attended a workshop at Canyon Ranch called Sex, Body and Soul. It was the year after I was treated for breast cancer and I asked him to go with me. I had been there several months earlier and heard Dr. Lana Holstein speak and decided it would be a good thing for us in which to participate. We’d been married more than 20 years by then and it seemed to me we could use a little more knowledge other than what we’d brought to the relationship when we were in our early 20’s. My husband Sandy is a kind and gracious man and he has spent most of our married life doing his best to make sure I’m happy. I am a lucky woman and I know it. In the case of accepting this invitation, it took a lot of courage and humility to go along with me and I was very grateful when he accepted. Dr. Holstein and her husband, Dr. David Taylor led the group and set up some ground rules right away and I never felt uncomfortable. Yes, we learned a great deal but as with many learning experiences the most important lesson had very little to do with the curriculum.
It was obvious from the beginning that one of the couples, there were about 15 in attendance, was a strange match. She was all bubbly and floaty and he was just plain grumpy. He did not want to be there and he told us right away but, he said, he was there because he loved her and this was what she wanted. We were there for four days and he complained the entire time. Watching her was my greatest learning experience at the workshop. She never paid any attention to his moaning. She just let him be himself and did whatever she wanted to do. She never grimaced or cringed when he would speak. She never, ever apologized for his behavior. After a short time, it was obvious she didn’t hold herself responsible for his behavior and because of her detachment no one in the group held her responsible for his behavior. For me, it was pure enlightenment.
I'd like to tell you that after that experience I never again acted embarrassed because someone I was with acted inappropriately, or acted in a way I judged reflected poor judgment. But, while I could grasp this lesson mentally, it will probably take me a lifetime to absorb it emotionally.
In the Al-Anon book One Day at a Time one of the readings tells a story about a woman who had just begun the program and after a short time decided the best way to deal with her alcoholic husband was to ignore him. Up until that time, she would find him after falling out of bed, asleep on the floor. She'd help him up, put him back in bed and then cover him up. Then she'd go to bed. After a couple of Al-Anon meetings, she decided she needed to take better care of herself. So, she decided she wouldn't help him. She'd leave him on the floor, step over him and just go to bed. She shared this at one of the meetings. Members explained that wasn't exactly what the program promoted. She then came up with a happy medium. She decided to cover him with a blanket and then step over him and go to bed.
One time my husband and I found ourselves having dinner with a couple we had just met. As the dinner progressed, the fellow kept ordering drinks. By the end of the dinner it was quite obvious that he was very drunk. I kept waiting for his wife to try to stop him from ordering. When that didn't happen, I began to wait for her to correct him. When that didn't happen, I thought maybe she'd get him away from the dinner and take him home. When that didn't happen, I thought she'd begin to look embarrassed. You guessed it. She never responded in any way. Once again, I saw myself completely absolve her of her husband's behavior. She simply allowed him to be responsible for himself. She was sober and elegant and classy and I was in awe.
I had a friend tell me once that if her husband ever fell asleep in church, she would be furious. I wondered why? Maybe he snored? Would his being asleep embarrass her? Why should it? She would still be awake. Would someone look over, or maybe the preacher looks out and sees him sleeping and says, “Look at that woman next to the sleeping man. I bet that’s his wife. She must be a terrible person to allow him to sleep during the service.”? If someone is judging you because of your companion's behavior, is that someone you care about? Is that someone who you even want to know?
I wonder if we learn this kind of reaction from being a parent. I think most people would agree that a parent is judged by their children's behavior. How many times have you been in a situation when a child behaved poorly and you just wanted the parent to "do something" to correct the problem? In Steven Covey's book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People he tells the story of a man on the subway with a couple of poorly behaved children. People were obviously annoyed. Finally, the father looked up and said, "My wife just died and I don't know what I should do." People were no longer annoyed but why did he have to share that? Why were people judging in the first place? Why, if they were, didn't they give him the benefit of the doubt?
Is this a control issue? Do we feel we should be able to shape the atmosphere and therefore influence the behavior of those to whom we are close? Once we recognize that we can't change anyone else; we can only change ourselves, perhaps then we can learn to just let go and let people be whoever they are, even if they're complete jerks.
Another story in the One Day at a Time Al-Anon book refers to a tombstone that reads, "Here lies 'Morty Mort' he's finally minding his own business." I hope by the time I'm laid to rest, I have finally absorbed the lesson that I am only responsible for my own behavior into not only my mind, but my heart and my spirit.