If you are trying to get someone to change, you should read this article…right now.
In last month’s issue, Jesse’s article was based on his difficulty in changing an old habit he developed since he was 12 years old. It was a habit he did not break until we had been married for 20 years. 20 years! That is one half of our married life together.
Jesse’s example was about how difficult it was for him to stop smoking, even though it did not seem like a simple change to me. I was aware of his conscious effort to support our sons and me by not smoking in the house. We were not indirectly consumed by the fumes that affected our health, which contributed to a healthier home environment.
I was also aware that I was being affected by his choice. His choice had an impact on our family that he was not entirely aware of. Three areas of that impact included:
- The feelings that were activated within me
- The thoughts that ran rampant in my head
- Beneath the surface of all the ways I tried to convince him to stop
So how did my Emotional Intelligence benefit our marriage and why is it important for me to share this with you?
The answer to my first question was due, in part, because my approach wasn’t working. My reaching out for Jesse to change was clouded by how overwhelmed I was by my feelings of fear, hopelessness, and powerlessness to convince him to choose to stop smoking. I also had “catastrophe thoughts” about the worst thing that could happen to our family, if he didn’t stop.
Those thoughts were based on painful memories of long-term illnesses his father and my mother suffered before their deaths. Both were long-term smokers and died too young. I didn’t want that to happen to him. My feelings and thoughts were the drivers behind my intense and ineffective efforts to convince him to change.
What I thought was a loving way of trying to convince, coax and support him to stop led me to feel more frustration. It was experienced by him as complaining, nagging, manipulating and controlling – OMG! Those were not the results I was looking for from him. Those were not the qualities I experienced in myself. How could I? After all, I was only trying to help. So, based on my self-awareness that “the message sent was not the message received,” and in the way I intended, I decided to take the next step, to explore my options.
I knew how Jesse’s decision to continue smoking affected me. However, I did not see how all of my efforts affected him – no matter how nicely or sweetly I thought I conveyed my message. And, at the same time, he didn’t know how I was affected by the scary thoughts and feelings that were activated within me.
We both had tunnel vision, and we focused on what was happening within us. Therefore, we had blind spots about what was going on beneath the surface of how we were reacting to each other. My awareness about this impacted me was my Emotional Intelligence about what was going on within me.
Furthermore (even though I didn’t like it), this was the reality, and this is why I am sharing my story with you. I have talked to so many men and women, personally and professionally, who are dealing with a reality where there is tunnel vision as well as blind spots on both sides.
I realized that:
 Jesse might not change, and I would have to live with it.
 If he did change, he would have to decide to change and on his terms and on his time schedule, NOT MINE.
How I dealt with my dilemma – which was stressful, but not a “deal breaker.”
Since Jesse perceived me completely differently than I perceived myself, and he was still smoking, I asked myself a question I learned from Michael Beckwith, “If Jesse never changed this habit, what quality would I have to develop within me to have peace of mind?”
I had to think about that. Over time, I discovered that the first quality I needed to develop within me was to gain more compassion for him and his struggle. In addition, I had to develop more compassion for myself. This decision was critically important. Based on what I was experiencing about the effect of his choices, the reality of my scary feelings and thoughts were painful, especially when I couldn’t do anything about it. I had to let go and “let God,” knowing it was Jesse’s choice and his right to decide.
I also asked myself, “What if……” questions. What if the worse happened? How would I need to be and what did I need to do? I didn’t give up wanting Jesse to change and stop smoking. I gave up my attachment to it.
Part of giving up my attachment was to apply the concept of “Emotional Intelligence” to the “Five Stages of Grief” developed by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying. Thank God, I wasn’t dealing with physical death. However, I was experiencing a loss – my dream of having a husband who chose to stop a bad habit that was detrimental to his well-being, and possibly his life. The stages of denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and hopelessness were real for me. Over time, I arrived at the stage of acceptance – the reality that change was Jesse’s decision.
I also had a decision to make about whether I was going to change my mindset and my approach. I said “yes.” That meant yes to me, yes to Jesse, and yes to us. Along the way, I did develop more compassion for both of us and our different struggles.
I’m not saying that navigating through this process was easy. I kept changing my mind back and forth until arrived at the destination of different degrees of compassion, acceptance, and nonattachment. It was more difficult than I had anticipated. However, the time and energy I invested paid off. I did eventually let go to the point that my feelings of fear, hopelessness, and powerlessness shifted from intense to neutral.
Good news! 20 years later, he stopped on his own. By the time he did, I wasn’t a wreck because I did my inner work.
Why I think it is important to share my story with you
You (or someone you know) may be facing the dilemma of living with a person you love who has a bad habit that is detrimental to their well-being; and, at the same time, activates uncomfortable feelings within you.
If this is the case, then, the first question becomes whether or not their behavior is a “deal breaker.” Is their behavior so distasteful, dishonest, or disrespectful, that you just can’t tolerate it? If so, what do you do?
That is an answer we cannot provide in this article because it deserves a more extended conversation to peel away the layers that need to be addressed.
However, if your dilemma is similar to mine, we’d like to explore ways we can support you to apply the tool of using the concept of “Emotional Intelligence,” as it relates to managing feelings when the person you love has a bad habit they won’t change.
We have prepared a short survey to discover your dilemma living with someone whose bad habit(s) activates feelings within you. Our objective is to begin an interaction with you that will prove to be supportive for you.
You can access the survey here: Emotional Intelligence – How are You Managing Your Upset Feelings?
To Your Relationship Success,
Melva and Jesse
Learn more about them by visiting their website, www.jesseandme