If you haven’t heard the term, “upcycling,” it’s where items that are used up or no longer needed are repurposed and used for something else. For example, I have on my Christmas wish list (for anyone who wants to get it for me) a used exhaust pipe from a Formula One car that has been turned into a desk lamp. These are items that either would’ve been thrown in the trash or broken down and used to make something else. Instead, they are getting a second life to be used for a different purpose. It got me thinking about what happens to relationships my clients have and the dilemma they have about what to do with them when a client begins to change. As a psychologist, the Orange County clients I see don’t usually come to me to tell me about how wonderful they’re life is and how great their relationships are working. So, when our work together begins to change no way the client engages in life, it begins to put a strain on life and relationships as they currently exist for the client.
When a client of mine begins to make changes, it throws off the balance of all their existing work and personal relationships. Picture a mobile, like the kind that often hang over a baby crib, and what happens when you move one item to a new location. The balance of everything else is thrown off and needs to be re-adjusted. The same is true for relationships when one person moves to a new “balance point” for themselves. The relationships that used to be”functionally dysfunctional” no longer work the same when one person begins to do something different. But what to do about these relationships? Does a person pull away and find new healthier relationships, or do they “upcycle” the relationships they already have?
Now a special word to the couples who may be reading this article. In any growing and lasting relationship, there will be an ongoing need to adjust and “upcycle” the relationship into what it now needs to be. People don’t grow out of love in relationships, they stop imagining how to reinvent and renovate the relationship they already have. A lot of time in couples counseling is spent on just this very thing: declaring the old relationship as no longer adequate and reorganizing the couple into something new and amazing again that fits their growing needs and awareness for themselves and the relational connection.
To stay in existing relationships can be doubly difficult. It’s a painful reminder what you used to be and don’t want for yourself anymore, and any change in a relationship will usually cause the other person to double down on their efforts to restore the balance back to “normal.” But the reality is, change is possible and discarding your current relationships may be unnecessary. So here are a few things to consider if you are considering “upcycling” your relationships.
You must also be willing to actually put into words what you need and any concerns about the relationship the way it is. Unless you know how to do a Star Trek type Vulcan mind-meld, they don’t know what you’re thinking or want. Yes, you do have to use your words and communicate in a way that the other person is able to hear you. It may take multiple conversations and lots of description if what you’re asking me is something new for them. This is where an Orange County psychologist can help with getting a person clear and specific with what they need, and helping to say it in a way that the other person could best hear.
Check your attitude:
Your attitude is everything. When you approach relationships to speak about the change that you wouldn’t like, it absolutely must be based upon love and concern for the other person. Any judgment or condemnation in your heart will come through loud and clear to the other person and usually close down the conversation. While they may have growing and changing to do, speak to them as an equal, not some poor lost soul. As the saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
The power of a second:
If a relationship is difficult and the person discounts what you have to say, consider finding one or more people to bring with you to lovingly confront the person. As a psychologist in Orange County, I will sometimes have clients bring in a partner or friend to help them confront relationship patterns that need changing. It can be helpful, but never as powerful as that person hearing it from others who know them well. It’s easier to discount one individual’s concerns, but hearing the same from several people just may get their attention and open a door to listen.
Consider whether what you’re asking from the other person it is really the only way a person can do life and relationships. Is what you’re asking for the only way to be or just what you would like? Is the other person actually harmful to you or just not the way that you hoped for? This is where you need to decide whether are you can grieve your unmet hopes and expectations and enjoy the person as they are. Like the car exhaust pipe I mentioned earlier that had been turned into a desk lamp: the value is in its history and uniqueness, not in it being the ideal desk lamp. It’s always helpful to remember that you also may have issues that the other person is having to live with.
Be patient with the process of change. If someone is willing to listen to you and open to doing something different, the process can take a long time. Focus more on the willingness to be involved in a process of change more than whether they have succeeded in making the entire change you hope for. Remember, you process and change have taken time. Be willing to offer the same opportunity to others in the process.
If you have followed through with the efforts listed above and still are unable to move forward with the person, you may need to separate from them. To stay in a relationship that requires unhealthy patterns is not sustainable or healthy. If you must separate and end the relationship, make sure that they understand what you need to re-engage and that you would be willing to do so in the future when they change. This is not an ultimatum, just a description of what is necessary for you to stay well in the relationship so that you could continue.