I may be dating myself but I vividly remember watching the original Let’s Make a Deal, as TV host Monty Hall presented colorfully costumed contestants with a challenge – to guess which one of three doors, when opened, would reveal the most lucrative prize, possibly a car, a pair of jet-skis or a luxury vacation. If the contestant chose the correct door, he or she won the coveted prize. But, if not, the contestant had to settle for the “booby” prize.
Choosing the Correct Door
I often use this “three-door” imagery in helping clients choose the correct door – the door that will bring them the greatest reward in terms of their challenging interpersonal relationships with partners, children, siblings, or work colleagues. Let me explain. In choosing how to manage these challenging relationships (and frankly most relationships are challenging in one way or another), we are all faced with three doors. The prize behind Door Number Three is that which all of us want, but very rarely win because this is the “fantasy” prize.
When we choose this door, the challenging person in our life magically changes in precisely the way we hoped he or she would and, on top of that, is profoundly grateful to us for pointing out the error of his or her ways. In this fantasy, our relationship continues on a smooth and happy path without any change on our part. We rarely win this prize because we cannot control another’s change process and, most often, our “challenging person” does not believe they actually need to change.
Choosing Door Number One is also unsatisfying, but this is the one we most often choose. When we choose this option, we continue to behave in the same way we always have in our relationship, believing erroneously that eventually the other person will change and all will be well. But in this scenario, or conflict, neither you nor the other person changes, and the same frustrating and destructive relationship patterns continue, which lead to unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and sometimes the end of the relationship.
So I suggest you consider choosing Door Number Two. Behind this door, you will find acceptance. Yes, acceptance. You will learn to accept that your “challenging” person will likely NOT change and you are then left with the only viable choice – what will YOU do to change the dynamic? This is not a passive option. In fact, it is quite empowering. When we can accept life, including the people in it, as it really is, not denying or resisting it, we are then free to make choices about how we can best navigate life and its challenging relationships.
In managing each relationship, we always have options. If this relationship is truly damaging, perhaps we need to remove it from our life, at least for the present time. Perhaps we need to establish healthier boundaries that provide us with some “space” to more effectively manage our emotions and our actions. Maybe we need to bring greater awareness to our relationship triggers and look more closely at the larger issues beneath them. Or perhaps we need to develop more effective communication skills so that others are able to hear us.
Once we truly accept “what is” in terms of our relationships, we can choose how to “respond” not “react” and are better able to alter the relationship dynamic by changing ourselves. And when we do so, often something surprising happens – the other person in the relationship also changes in response to our new way of being. The relationship can then assume a new, healthier dynamic – and that is the real prize!