My best friend in high school was a brilliant sportswoman. She could play any sport well, but she was incredibly humble. I was appalling at sport and I was in awe of her ability. I knew whenever she had an important race or match coming up and I wished her well and congratulated her profusely after a win. But while I thought I was being incredibly supportive, I later learned that all she felt was pressure.
Looking back, I can see that she had every reason to feel frustrated by my behaviour. Whenever she did well in the school swimming or athletics carnival, I would be enthusing about the inter-school competition coming up. When she did well against other schools, I was already assuring her that she would do well at state level. In other words, I didn’t allow her to feel pleased with what she had achieved, because I was pushing her to do better and go further. In the end, she stopped telling me how she performed and I learned to stop asking. I’m sorry that I didn’t know how to be a more supportive friend, but I’m glad it happened because it has helped me to be a more supportive mum.
When our children do well at school or on the sports field or on the stage, we need to congratulate them and let them bask in the glory of the day. We don’t need to talk about their capacity to do more or go further. We don’t need to get them a super coach or enrol them in extra courses so that they will reach their full potential. Our job is to help them find what they’re passionate about and if we accidentally put too much pressure on them, we may be destroying that passion. If they ask for added help or extra challenges, we can decide if we’re able to give them more. But in the meantime, a win’s a win and there’s a lot to be learned from a loss and that’s about it.
When a friend or family member seems upset or angry, do you worry that you might somehow be the cause of their pain? What have I done to upset them? Did I say the wrong thing?
How often do you actually ask the person if you’ve done anything wrong? If a friend is a little cold on the phone, do you worry that they are angry with you about something? Do you try to find another excuse to ring or text them in an attempt to make sure you’re in the clear? What happens to your self-esteem with all this worry about causing offence? Does it plummet until you get some kind of reassurance that they are not mad at you?
In more cases than not, your partner, friend or family member is not upset with you at all. They are simply having a bad day or they have something quite serious going on and you are the furthest thing from their mind. If you ask if you’ve done anything to upset them, then they have to reassure you that it’s nothing to do with you and explain what’s on their mind. Think about this for a moment … They are stressed and they have to make sure that you’re okay – so it’s not great for them. Even worse, it’s not good for you. That’s because the reassurance you get is addictive and you’ll find that you have to always check to see if you’ve done anything wrong. Constantly seeking reassurance is detrimental to your self-esteem.
What’s the answer? Take yourself out of the equation completely. Assume you’re innocent unless proven guilty. Have empathy for your friend. Ask them if they’re okay. Offer to listen if they feel like talking. Make it about them instead of you and not only will you be a better friend or partner, but you will also protect your self-esteem.
The sad truth about people who try to please everyone is that they often end up letting others down. So the thing they fear the most ends up happening. Sadly, the most important people in their lives are often the ones who are rarely pleased. Tearful women tell me that their partners put everyone else’s needs before their own and men pretend not to be hurt when their partners seem to care more about others.
People pleasers are always feeling torn. They feel like they have everyone’s happiness in their hands. They fear any form of criticism and are often defensive when empathy is needed. They are terribly sensitive – both to the needs of their friends and workmates and to being hurt themselves. They just don’t realise that their partners also have needs and don’t appreciate being last on the priority list.
How is a people pleaser created? Some have parents who have taught them that the opinions of others matter most in life. So they learn to fear negative evaluation of any sort. Others were brought up in a household full of conflict and the consequences of making mistakes were abusive or violent. So they learn to avoid conflict at all costs.
People pleasers have a strong incentive to change. Their significant relationships are at risk if they don’t learn to prioritise. If you are a people pleaser, it’s possible to continue being the lovely person you are and still maintain the trust and love of your partner. How? By:
- learning to tolerate criticism
- practicing showing empathy
- learning to say no without having to explain why
- putting your partner first when appropriate
- accepting that you won’t be liked by everyone
- practicing decision-making without relying on others’ opinions
- and understanding that avoiding conflict often makes the fear worse
And for those parents of young children, be careful not to make them worry too much about what others think of them. Teach them strong values so they know the difference between right and wrong, but stress the importance of prioritising close relationships and reminding them that they matter too.
Most families these days have dual incomes at some stage and rarely are these incomes equal. In the couples I see, the money is most commonly managed by the higher income earner. Sometimes, the money is kept in separate personal accounts with the couple agreeing on who pays what. But more often, the money is pooled and used to pay for all expenses. Rarely is there complete harmony when it comes to how the money is spent. That’s because there’s usually a spender and a saver in any one relationship and the different attitudes can cause arguments.
You don’t have to have a spending problem to be the spender. Nor do you have to be very tight with money to be the saver. Many generous people are savers and many discerning shoppers are spenders. We are all on a continuum and rarely are we on the same point on that line as our partner.
In the couples I see, the spender is often resentful of the control the saver tries to have over their spending and the saver is resentful about the money the spender spends. Following me? In other words, it’s hard for both parties. As usual, a pinch of empathy for the other person’s position will go a long way and after that, here are some strategies to minimise the issues that can arise from different attitudes towards money:
- Have insight – know whether you are a saver or a spender and why
- Understand why your partner thinks the way they do – it’s usually related to their upbringing
- Draw up a household budget with all income and expenses – a horrible, but necessary task
- Agree on an amount that both can use at their discretion – no questions asked
- Work out who is going to manage the budget – I often suggest that it’s the spender, so they are forced to be aware of the consequences of overspending
- Agree that you will both check with the other person before overspending – too often, the manager of the budget doesn’t consult with the other because they know when it’s okay to spend, which just leaves the other person feeling a sense of inequality if they are always asked to justify any spending over the allotted amount
- Be good role models for your children – it’s hard to teach them how to manage money if you’re constantly arguing over finances
- Don’t link pocket money to chores – many people will disagree with me on this, but I believe that unless you are going to follow through with threats to hold back their allowance if they don’t do their chores, it’s not helpful to keep nagging them to hold up their end of the bargain but still dishing out the money. Children need to be constantly asked to help around the house and be given responsibilities to prepare them for adulthood. And giving them an allowance is a good way to teach them how to save and spend responsibly. By keeping the two issues separate, the messages of money management and being part of a household are clearer.
Life as I know it has changed. My youngest has finished school and has turned 18. She and her brother are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing – living life as young adults. I’m happy for them and proud of them and I feel so lucky to have had them to myself for the past 20 years. There have been many days recently when I have cried because I miss them so much. Not because they have officially left home, but because they are no longer dependent on us. They still need to be loved and advised and supported, but they have started the next chapter of their lives. We have done our best to prepare them for life.
I don’t feel old, but I feel older. I’m not lonely, but I’m lonelier. It’s time for my new chapter. It feels wonderful to be free of school terms, school lunches, and school uniforms. I can now dedicate my extra free time to nurturing the other relationships in my life – with my husband, my friends and extended family.
But my mind has not drifted far past the children. How can I maintain close relationships with my adult son and daughter without stifling their independence? How can I make sure I never guilt them into spending time with us? How can I make them look forward to coming home? Surely the answer is to keep living my life and to continue to advertise the next stage for them. If they see their parents living meaningful lives, then hopefully they will want to remain part of those lives. Who knows? This is new to me ….
When are you going to have kids? Are you going to have another child? Have you thought about adoption? What about IVF? Are you going to get married? Did your house sell? Did you get the job? Why do we insist on asking questions that are highly likely to trigger embarrassment? We may think that it’s just friendly concern or polite interest in other people’s lives to ask such personal questions. But the couple trying to conceive or stuck in the adoption pool dread these questions and can even start to withdraw socially to avoid being put on the spot once again.
I am often asked by clients how to respond to these intrusions into their private lives. They want to say None of your business, but they don’t want to cause offence. So here you have people who are worried about upsetting the ones who are being pretty thoughtless. No wonder they start to keep to themselves.
Surely it would be better to have a general policy not to ask personal questions, even if they are a close friend. We can all assume that if there was news they wanted to share, we would hear about it. They wouldn’t be waiting patiently for us to ask the question before they tell us that they are pregnant, have finally sold the house, are engaged, or have been told that there is a child for them to adopt.
We may have the best intentions – to be supportive and enthusiastic, but an even better person keeps their interest and curiosity in check until someone has something they want us to know.
It’s perfectly normal to be frustrated by our partner’s behaviour or that of a colleague or friend. Many of us believe that we understand why the other person behaves the way they do and know what they have to do to change. But as the saying goes, we can only change ourselves so it might be time to focus on what you can do to change their behaviour.
Perhaps your partner is a poor communicator and you wish that he or she would tell you why they are looking so unhappy or at least whether they will be home for dinner or not. But what if your reactions are making it harder for your partner to open up? What if they are worried that if they tell you the truth, it will start an argument that they would rather avoid? In other words, what can you do to make it easier for your partner to be a better communicator?
Maybe a colleague is driving you crazy because they are disorganised and approach everything in a chaotic way. It might be obvious to you that they should slow down, think through things carefully and work as part of a team. But what if your attitude towards them is very negative? What if they feel like you’re a giant handbrake, which is making them want to push harder or be unrealistically positive? When we zoom out and look at the dynamic within our relationships, it can be empowering. We can feel less helpless if we work out what we can do to improve that dynamic. Instead of complaining that your workmate is all over the place, why not allow some of their enthusiasm to rub off on you and resist the urge to point out the problems straight away. Try to praise their efforts and then suggest what you could do to address the gaping holes that you can see.
You might have a friend who seems to always want things to go their way. You see the movie they want to see or go to the restaurant they way to try. Over time, the resentment builds up and you start to feel the power imbalance. Instead of waiting until the resentment destroys the friendship, consider what role you’re playing in this dynamic. Maybe you hesitate to make suggestions yourself. Perhaps you are a little passive-aggressive and wait to be asked for your opinion or give subtle hints that go unnoticed. Your friend may be oblivious to the fact that you have a clear idea about what you want to eat or what movie you want to see. Even if you do speak up and your friend still tries to overrule you, be assertive and insist that next time it’s your choice. Once you change the dance steps, the other person can’t help but follow.
How often have you felt annoyed that your efforts to please another person weren’t appreciated? Perhaps you offered to help someone move house only to receive little thanks at the end of the day. Maybe you spend hours dreaming up fabulous meals to cook for a partner who’d be happier eating meat and three veg. Or perhaps you go above and beyond your role as a parent by driving your children and their friends all over town, buying presents for their friends when they earn their own money, or volunteering to tutor your child for their upcoming exams while trying to ignore their glazed eyes..
When we feel unappreciated, resentment builds up. In an argument, out comes the list of things we have done for the other person without any thanks. It can be infuriating when our partner or child points out that they didn’t ask for help in the first place. Hold on a second?? What?? Oh yes, that’s right – I offered. But shouldn’t we still receive thanks when we do a good deed? Shouldn’t our efforts be rewarded? Most people say that they don’t help others to get the thanks, but it’s amazing how often we forget this fact.
For everybody’s sake it would be good if we all tried to:
- Give without the need for thanks
- Consider who we’re giving what to – does this person really want what I’m offering?
- And remember to thank others for their effort even if we didn’t ask them for it
Altruism increases our own level of happiness by giving us a sense of meaning and purpose. We don’t need thanks to feel good about being charitable. But we shouldn’t martyr ourselves by being everything to everyone only to end up feeling used.
It’s not long until TheCarousel.com presents the Moral Maze at The Vitality Show in Sydney. The themes of the Vitality Show are health, wellness and beauty and the aim is to give women the tools to look and feel their best. The show runs over three days from Friday 10 October to Sunday 12 October at the Royal Hall of Industries, Moore Park, Sydney.
On Saturday 11 October, I will be hosting some fascinating conversations we at The Carousel like to call The Moral Maze. I will be chatting with Chris Bath from Channel 7, Karen Lawson from CareerOne, and Nedahl Stelio from The Carousel. The sessions will start on the Canon Main Stage at 10.30am.
Come along and hear us discuss:
- Improving your relationships will improve your health and wellbeing
- The impact of stroke on young Australians
- Getting ahead in Australia’s hottest new industries
- Getting your mojo back after motherhood
With such a wide range of topics, there’s sure to be something to tempt you to join us. More information on the Vitality Show can be found at www.vitalityshow.com.au and visit TheCarousel.com to watch previous Moral Mazes.
My daughter is finishing school this year. She has enjoyed school, but like most 18 year olds, she is more than ready to leave. She has a clear idea of what she wants to do next. Her dad and I are right behind her and will support and encourage her dream. The trouble is, she is receiving minimal support from anywhere else because shock, horror – she doesn’t have any interest in going to university. Why is this such a problem? Her friends, her friends’ parents, her aunts and uncles all seem to struggle with the idea of her not wanting to get a degree.
When did this happen – this insistence that the only way to success and happiness is via university? Is this the case everywhere, or just where we live? In the past, you needed a degree to be able to do certain careers. The current attitude is that it doesn’t matter what it is, just get a degree. No wonder the drop out rate is so high. No wonder university graduates are no longer guaranteed a job when they finish.
My daughter is constantly being asked about her back-up plan. She is being told over and over again to at least apply to go to uni and defer for a year. And although she can see the path she wants to take, that’s not good enough for people around her. University is not free. It is not easy to get a degree if you are not interested in the course you’re studying and it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll walk straight into a well paying job. So her dad and I will continue to help her defend her right not to attend university, just as we will support her if she changes her mind down the track.