We all have a manual for life. According to your upbringing, convictions, and preferences, we have rules for how people should behave.
As a society, we have agreed upon rules of behavior. For example, you shouldn’t speed in a school zone, embezzle money, or murder people.
But we also carry individual rules of conduct that we unwittingly try to enforce on the people around us. People shouldn’t be late to meetings. Children should respect their elders. Mother-in-laws shouldn’t meddle.
There’s nothing wrong with having your own manual for life. However, we create a lot of suffering when we expect other people to follow our manuals. We can’t change people’s behavior. What we can do is decide what we will and won’t tolerate.
There’s a difference between boundaries and manuals. Boundaries are a healthy way to protect your own values. They’re meant to guard your emotional and physical well-being.
A boundary would be deciding that if your Mother-in-law continues to try and usurp your parenting, then you won’t let her babysit. Whereas, trying to enforce your manual would be to endlessly argue with her that what she’s doing is wrong and she needs to change.
I learned this concept for myself in my relationship with my own mother, whom I adore.
But for years we had an ongoing conflict and it wasn’t resolved until I dropped my manual, and enforced my boundary.
I live in a townhome and our garage is used as the main entry. My mother had my garage code and felt that it was her right to let herself in whenever she chose. Her manual read: I am family, therefore, I have the right to come in whenever I want.
I had a different manual.
I found myself resentful when time after time I would ask that she not let herself in without asking first, only to hear my garage door opening and her friendly, ‘Yoohoo!’ as she made her way into my home. I would immediately tense up and respond by giving her the cold shoulder, trying to let her know through my passive-aggressive behavior that she had crossed a line again.
She was not following my manual. And I wasn’t following hers. Hers stated that a good daughter would open her home to her mother at all times. Mine stated that one doesn’t let themselves in unannounced. We went back and forth, disappointed in each other for not playing by each other’s rules. It created a great deal of conflict and resentment. She felt unwelcome in my life, I felt disrespected and undervalued. No one was winning.
Then I dropped my manual. I realized we were never going to agree on this issue. So I drew a boundary. I let her know that I changed my garage code and had made the decision that I wouldn’t give her the new one. Then I let go of any expectation I had as to how she should respond. She was allowed to be hurt or angry or misunderstand me. I chose to live according to my manual while also respecting her manual. She was upset initially, but in the end she respected my autonomy and now when she’s in my house, we both know it’s because I want her there.
I stopped trying to change her and chose to accept her as she is. When I dropped my rules for her, while also enforcing my own boundary, our relationship entirely changed for the better.
Trying to get people to live according to our manuals leads to efforts to control, unmet expectations, and eventually frustration and disappointment. We don’t get to choose how everyone else lives, but we do get to choose how we respond.
If you want greater peace of mind and more connection in your relationships, drop your manuals, lovingly choose your boundaries and allow others the right to do the same.
Rebecca Stark Thornberry is a Mastery Certified Life Coach and the owner of Rebecca Stark Coaching. You can contact her at 720-412-6148 or visit rebeccastarkcoaching.com . If you have questions you would like answered in this article, or would like to inquire about coaching please submit to email@example.com.