New Year is a time when a lot of us think about changing things in our lives that have been stuck for a long time. Often, when we’re suffering and we want to change something about ourselves, we imagine that we’re the only person with this problem and our pain is unique. The one thing I’ve learned, from three years of the Dear Viv podcast at The Pool, is that many of the problems we think are ours alone are, in fact, shared by many. There are two problems in particular that are shared, I think, by almost everyone and feature frequently in letters and emails: one, sudden changes in friendships and, two, mismatched expectations in relationships. We all encounter these two things repeatedly over the course of our lives and both cause a lot of suffering. My great wish for 2019 is that more people can find a way to get around these two situations. Recognise the patterns. Know you’re not alone. Change what you can change. Accept what you can’t.
Pattern No. 1: Failing to recognise when a friendship has run its course
Solution? Accept that this is normal and no one’s fault and move on.
When we first started asking for problems for Dear Viv, my guess was that most of them would be romantic or marital. In fact, one of the most common subjects has to do with platonic friendships. The same themes come up time after time. Life has moved on and one of you hasn’t. One of you has had a baby, the other hasn’t; one is getting married, the other is single; one has moved away, the other is still in the home town. Or some event has occurred (usually connected to life moving on) and one person in the friendship has navigated it badly. A forgotten new-baby card. A late Christmas present. An unsolicited piece of advice.
There is always a lot of pain around these changing relationships and, generally, the person writing in to me blames themselves. Or they want to confirm that the other person is seriously at fault and deserves a confrontation. But imagine how free you would feel in 2019 if you only spent time with the people who treated you the way you wanted to be treated and who made you feel good about yourself? The way to break this pattern of “Are we still friends or not?” is to give the situation some space, have a long hard think about whether the two of you are still compatible and learn to accept that certain friendships are for certain times in our lives and that it’s OK to move on. Without drama. Without stress. Without blame.
Pattern No. 2: Expecting someone else to change just because you want them to
Solution? Accept that the only person whose behaviour you can change is your own.
The second most common recurring issue is The Partner Who Doesn’t Do What I Want Them To Do. This could be an ex who doesn’t want to maintain communication when you do. This could be a husband or a wife who is too immersed in their work or has recurring problems with depression, stress or anxiety. What it’s really about is a mismatch. You are in one frame of mind and have one set of priorities. They are somewhere else. Maybe the other person needs help and you’re frustrated that they won’t take it. Usually, the person writing in wants to know this: “How do I make them want the same thing I want?” (Whether that’s “to get better”, “to get back together” or “to spend more time together”. Or, often, “to have more (or less) sex”).
The one piece of advice I repeat the most often on Dear Viv? People don’t change. You can change and they might alter their behaviour when they see the changes you’ve made. But you can’t make them change first. So, think about yourself. What can you change in your life to make this situation more bearable? What can you do to accept things as they are? What are you not prepared to accept? If you can answer these questions honestly and make the changes that need to be made, something will shift. But you are the only one who can shift it. Summary: different results only come from doing things differently.