“It’s true we can’t always control the outcome of our efforts, and wishing won’t take us back to how things were before…I focus not on what could have been, but what can be.”
- Gabby Giffords (op ed on gun violence, responding to threats to democracy, and creating change)
Not in Control
While Giffords here is talking about gun violence, the idea of looking towards today and tomorrow’s potential carries great wisdom. We may feel regret: that we didn’t know about ADHD sooner; that we made certain decisions in the past we wouldn’t make today…whatever you might regret. But that does little for us because it is in the past and we cannot change the past. But Gifford points out we can’t control the outcome of today’s efforts, either. We can hope that our partner will hear our ideas or complaints but not whether they will be adopted. We can try to press our partner to use medication, for example, but our partner’s body is not ours to control and we must respect his or her decisions and autonomy.
I think it’s not just about focusing on what could be, but actually acting on what could be. Behavioral psychology suggests that if we act in ways that reflect what we want, we are more likely to move in that direction. So even though you can’t control or guarantee an outcome, you can still influence it. If you want compassion in your relationship, practice it yourself. If you want respectful behavior, be respectful (and put up firm boundaries for what happens if your partner is not respectful).
Do you have a (realistic) vision of what you would like your relationship to be, and are you focused on making that your goal today and tomorrow through your own actions? Yep, you know me and you know I’ll tell you that you both have to be involved to make it happen. But, remember that while you don’t have control, you may well be able to influence.
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