My client Sandy recently shared how she was tired of listening to and solving her friend Andrew’s problems. A pattern had been created in the friendship where Andrew would regularly vent to Sandy, and she would go into fixing mode. Sandy knew her part in the ongoing scenario—she took responsibility for her need to care-take Andrew; she understood that she was creating expectations in the relationship that she would solve his problems, and that it was okay for him to keep acting like a victim with her.
Sandy and I spoke about how helping through fixing and advising was generally futile. It so often served to enable rather than empower. For Andrew to create lasting positive change in his life, the solutions to his problems had to come from him, not her. Understanding this, Sandy was determined to change her way of relating to him. She decided that instead of telling him what to do, she would now ask him what he thought he needed to do; she would ask more and advise less. If the solutions came from him, he’d be more motivated to act on them.
For Sandy, making the switch from fixing to empowering Andrew required a transitory step: A quick redesign of the relationship—of needs and expectations—was in order starting with the words “Up until now.”
Up until now, I have tended to fix or solve your problems by offering you solutions. It is how I thought I could best support you. This isn’t working for me anymore, nor do I believe it is truly serving you. I believe that if you are going to create the change you want, the answers have to come from you, not me. Therefore from this point on instead of offering advice, I will ask a lot more questions to support you to find your own solutions. This does not mean that I will not offer suggestions here and there, but for the most part I will ask more and tell less. How does this feel to you?
“Up until now…” is a simple yet powerful place to redesign a relationship from. It opens a dialogue for us to state how we feel and ask for what we want, and it creates new and necessary boundaries around our time and energy. It honors what has been in the relationship, and also prepares people in advance for what is to come—the new way of relating, for how we want to be with the other. It also creates a level of permission and safety for us to act with greater integrity.
Other things to consider…
- If you are feeling tired, angry or resentful for the way a relationship is unfolding, this may be a signal that a redesign is in order. Listen to your feelings/body, and act on the signals courageously.
- Make it clear in your “Up until now” statement that you care about the other, and that your redesign is meant to serve
- You can also state how the redesign serves you as well, and thus the relationship. If Sandy can ask more questions, and fix less, she too will feel more empowered; she will feel better in the relationship.
Where in your life are you ready to say, “Up until now…”? What relationships deserve a redesign?