Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control your reactions?” It’s said rather often. In fact, you may have read it somewhere on this website. I’m here today to elaborate, because there’s a very major point that is missed by that statement – there is much more than other people’s actions that you can’t control. A lot of things in life are out of your control, and yet you still have to deal with it!
This can be hard in a world where everyone is used to trying to control everyone else (openly or passively). But it’s important to note where you actually have no say. You can always choose things for yourself, which includes deciding whether or not to stay in contact with someone. However, you can’t change that person or their behaviors, traits, actions, etc. in order to have them mesh more smoothly with you. Beyond the basic, and more in depth, discussions you have with those in your partner (romantic partners, or otherwise), you are free to express your own wants and needs and feelings…but you can’t overstep your bounds and flat out tell someone to change for you. If, through discussion, they realize that that’s something they’d like to work on – great! But, ultimately, it isn’t up to you. You really have to think about who you’re trying to benefit when you go into a discussion like that, too. Are you just trying to get something out of it? Are you thinking about what would be best for them? Don’t be unreasonable in your requests if you don’t have to be.
So, what are the things about other people you can’t control? I’ve broken it down into 4 categories (within these categories there may be actions, behaviors, traits, interests, wants, needs, etc. of the individual…and it will be different for every single person – remember that you cannot change these things about someone else other than yourself; although, take note that this doesn’t mean these things will not change…only the other person has control over that). Okay – so here are the 4 categories of things you can’t control:
(including genetics – body shape/size/features/etc. & chosen – hairstyle/color/cut/piercings/tattoos/etc.)
(including feelings + expression + dynamics, etc.)
(including house setup, hobbies, passions, goals, etc.)
(including style – auditory/kinesthetic/etc. & what they learn from – the ways in which they learn a lesson + what they learn/what they take away from a conversation or experience, etc.)
These 4 categories cover a lot of ground so let’s look at each on individually. First, let’s cover Looks. If you’re dating, or friends, or related, or whatever, with someone…it doesn’t matter who you are or how close you are to that person…you do NOT get to decide how they look. Making comments to make them feel bad about themself is just plain cruel, and will not help them transition their look into something you “approve” of. Frankly, it doesn’t fucking matter if you approve or not. They look how they look – because of genetics, because of life choices, because of preference, etc. It’s their body and they get to decide what to do with it. You can’t force someone to start working out, to slim down, to fatten up, to change their hair color or style or cut. You don’t get a say in whether they have tattoos or piercings. And if any of these things about them is a deal breaker for you, well then, that sucks. But it is never okay to give someone an ultimatum of “Change the way you look or I’m breaking up with you.” If you didn’t like the way they looked and that was a problem from the start, then you shouldn’t have engaged with them to begin with. If they’re your parent, or sibling, or child, it still doesn’t matter. People don’t have to have the same set of standards that you do. They do not have the same preferences, and trying to force someone to look the way you want them to is flat out abuse. They are not a mannequin or a barbie doll for you to dress up and have your way with. They are a human being. Get your judgmental shit out of here and let them be.
Next up we have Love. As much as we’d like to sometimes, we just have no say in whether or not someone loves us…or whether or not they love someone else. Our emotions aren’t ones we can control. It isn’t like we computer program our brains to decide which person we want to have feelings for. And although there are ways in which you can work on building back positive feelings with someone you’re in a relationship with then there are problems (please don’t just jump shit at the first sign of rough water), ultimately you can’t make someone love you. If feelings arise and you don’t want them to – you can’t just tell them to go away. If feelings subside and you wanted them to stay – you can’t just tell them to come back. There are ways to work towards loving someone again, if you really want to. And there are ways of learning to let your love go for someone if you realize it isn’t an ideal situation. But you can’t just cut or create connections in the blink of an eye. It takes effort. Plus, this only goes for YOU making an effort to change your own emotions. You have absolutely no say in whether or not someone else puts effort in to try and change their emotions – and let me be frank, even if they DO try it may not change anything. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do.
Along those lines, we also cannot choose the way in which someone else expresses love or the dynamics in which they enjoy embracing love. Of course, love languages can be discussed and you can explain the ways in which you would like the other person to show love to you. But you can’t just tell them they have to start showing love to you in certain ways, or that they can’t show it in the ways that are most natural to them. If this is a big problem, then maybe you need to reconsider the relationship altogether. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you are compatible with them. Same goes for dynamics. If you want a closed relationship and they want an open one, or vice versa, it is unethical to force someone into a dynamic they are not happy with. Within polyamory, if you have multiple partners, you cannot force them all to hangout and like each other. Not everyone is into kitchen table polyamory, and that’s okay. There’s a difference between what you think about in your head and the reality of how things are. Often we dream up our ideal situation without taking into account that other people have ideal situations in their head, too, which are different from our own. It’s unfair to create an unconsensual dynamic just because you don’t want to give up any part of what your wanting. If you have hard limits, then those need to be discussed, but you can’t place those limits on other people.
Regardless of how you like to spend your time and how you envision your relationships going, it’s just a fact that you don’t get to choose what the other people in your life are into. Yes, sometimes it’s great to share hobbies with people and be able to go do things together…but it’s unlikely that every person you like (or that is in your life) will enjoy the exact same hobbies as you. Even if they like the same kinds of things they may enjoy them in different ways. Maybe you are both football fans, but you like different teams and your more into staying at home having a BBQ and their more into going to games and cheering with the crowds. Maybe you are both into biking, but you like mountain biking and they just like biking around town, or you’re into dirt bikes and they just like pedal bikes. There is a lot of variation within every interest. And it’s okay if you’re into knitting and they’re into martial arts. Or if you’re into the kink scene and they’re into synchronized swimming. It really doesn’t matter as long as you both respect the hobbies/interests of the other.
Let’s go a little deeper in, here, though, because we haven’t fully grasped the true sense of what a lifestyle is. Yes, it includes our hobbies and passions and goals. It includes the things you choose to do and the things you work towards and the things you care about the most. But it also has to do with the way you set up your home. Is it shoes on or off? Is it a mellow vibe with indie music or a chaotic mess with wild children running around? Are you focused more on politics or on nature? Is education important to you? GED or PHD? Artistic flow or business efficient? What is the way in which you get things done? How do you best focus? What makes you happy? What makes you feel calm? What excites you? Are you into binge watching vampire shows? Going out clubbing every night? Are you a burgers and pizza kind of person or a fan of more fancy cuisine? Do you enjoy lots of other cultures or are you dead set on surrounding yourself with the traditions and material possessions of the culture from which you were raised? What’s your religion – and is it important to you?
These are all tiny pieces of who you are that come together to create what you see as your lifestyle. Your lifestyle is the way you engage with the world, and to what extent. It can have a lot to do with whether you’re really extroverted or more introverted. There’s a lot at play there. And it is basically IMPOSSIBLE to find someone who matches you on every single thing about yourself to the same degree. Like, literally, impossible. So…what things are most important to you? Which things are mandatory for you to decide to engage with someone? What are your red flags (because they will be different than someone else’s)? And really, really think about where you can let things slide. About where you could open yourself up a little bit and allow yourself to learn from others, or at least appreciate the diversity. Lifestyle is a HUGE one. It often influences the things that determine how you choose to look and whom you choose to love. So this warrants a lot of thought and deep discussion with others. You cannot choose how others lives, even when you’re dying to. You can’t change them. You can only change you – but remember not to make changes for others, either. When you make changes to your lifestyle, make sure you’re doing it for yourself.
This one is a little bit trickier. It’s about the way your brain works, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do much with what you can physically see. You can see the way in which people choose to do things (whether listening to something, physically doing it themself, watching, etc.), and you can see What things they’re doing. But, unless you think about it, you probably won’t entirely realize what you’re looking at. I’d like to start off with learning style. There are multiple different learning styles, and we each have the main one or two that we feel is our best – the way from which we feel we are able to retain and understand the information the best. Some people aren’t auditory at all and will get extremely lost in conversation, and they need to be physically engaging in an activity to comprehend it. For some kinesthetic individuals, even just adding in a physical activity while discussing something can help them retain the information, even if the activity isn’t related to the discussion topic. This is good to remember when you’re trying to have an important discussion with a partner who is mainly kinesthetic – try walking while you talk, or something else they enjoy (that isn’t too mind engaging) to help them focus on your words.
Learning isn’t just about the style we learn best in (which, by the way, we can practice all the different styles to get better at them, just FYI), but it’s also about the way in which they interpret information. Perhaps you and your partner experience the exact the same thing. Maybe you’re standing at the same spot, seeing the same stuff, etc. But the way in which you interpret that experience could be extremely different. Variations in interpretation of an experience are caused by the differences in your brains. The way you are feeling in that exact moment can affect the way you interpret something (like when you’re feeling paranoid or insecure and you feel like someone is being mean or mad, but they didn’t feel that way or intend for it to come off that way). Also, all of your life experiences, coupled with all of your personality traits, goes into the way in which you perceive something. Since you and your partner have very diverse past experiences, childhoods, values, self-talk, coping mechanisms, outlooks on life, etc. you will tend to interpret a situation at least slightly different from one another. This can be confusing and frustrating sometimes, but if you keep this fact in mind it can be helpful to get you through conversation about it. Allowing for variation instead of pressing exact perfection is a necessity, as pushing one perspective too hard is likely to cause problems. Everyone needs to feel like their feelings are being heard and that they are valid for having them – even if they don’t coincide with what you think makes sense. Accepting all sides is the only way to move forward and make progress.
I’d like to make one more point here…people won’t always learn what you hoped they’d learn from an experience. A lot of people push their kids into certain types of experiences hoping it’ll teach them something useful. They’ll push them into sports hoping their kid will become more social, or coordinated, or strong, or become a team player. Or they push them into public speaking hoping their child will become more confident. The problem with this is that since everyone interprets things differently, they won’t necessarily get out of it what you’re wanting them to. Perhaps your child isn’t much into sports and instead of becoming stronger and more social they pull inside themself and become more antisocial or insecure because they felt out of their eliminate and clumsy and people made fun of them and now they just don’t see the point in trying, or they feel like they just aren’t ever good enough because you keep pushing them to do things they don’t like and they don’t feel like they can succeed at. Maybe it trains them not to be confident, but that they need to just do what other people say they should because they feel like they won’t be accepted unless they do – that they aren’t loved for themselves, and their traits aren’t appreciated. Same goes for a partner, or friend, or anyone else, who you push into a situation they aren’t wanting to go into. If someone doesn’t want to go to therapy and you force them to go…perhaps they’ll learn something useful and open up…but maybe they’ll just be upset about it and loath you for making them go.
It’s like watching a movie. There are so many variables. So many people and ideas being thrown around. Take kids shows for example. There is always a “valuable lesson” being taught. What happens when the child watches the kid in the movie/TV show do all the bad things and then doesn’t stay around to witness their aha moment that makes them turn things around? What if they are more drawn to the cool look and the quick wit of the villains? Just because you WANT something to be beneficial, or teach something specific, doesn’t mean that’s the way it will come out on the other end for the child. This also applies to adults. To Everyone. Intention is one thing, but it isn’t the same as what actually happens. It isn’t just intention and action. It’s intention vs. reality. Intention can be at 100%, but when someone isn’t interpreting it that way…more discussion needs to be done to reach a better understanding of one another. You can’t change the way people learn things, or the things that they learn, but you can take these things into account when interacting with others. Maybe it’ll encourage you to take that extra step and dive deeper with someone to figure out what’s really going on, instead of jumping the gun and making assumptions based off of your disappointment.
It isn’t all about you!
There are lots of things you can’t control in life. You are only in control of yourself (and sometimes it barely even feels like that’s true), but you always need to remember you are not on control of others. Life can be quite beautiful if you allow it to be. Diversity is wonderful. As the saying goes “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”