Many of us grew up in homes where there was a survival value in compliance: accommodating a toxic living situation by giving others multiple chances to come through for us. The popular psychology term co-dependence wades into this swampy territory of the dysfunctional family. Sadly, modern day living seems to be exacerbating the social conditions for unhealthy boundaries.
The legal maxim “He who fails to assert his rights has non”, is one key to changing the adult choice from co-dependence towards inter-dependence. In co-dependence we are emotional slaves to a relationship. By contrast, inter-dependence asserts the rights of both individuals to have their needs met in a way that respects and honors both parties. Emotional slavery honors no one, and if the “slave” objects he or she encounters the metaphorical “whip” of the overseer. My way, or the highway. The free man or woman knows he has rights, educates themselves about what is right and fair, and takes a stand against oppression. And yes, I do realize that taking a stand is usually dangerous. That’s our choice: playing it safe, or waking ourselves up from the sleep of social conditioning.
I use The Rule of Three to attempt to awaken myself from new relational situations. It is a tool to break free of habitual compliance to potentially dysfunctional relationships. It is also a way to exercise my awakening consciousness from my family and social conditioning. The three layers of this particular set of rules help me bookmark (i.e., bring attention to) where a relationship may potentially drain me of energy. Perhaps in the future I can reduce it to The Rule of Two, but currently this version is working well for me.
The Rule of Three consciously tracks incidents in relationships that produce a result that, although professing to be one thing, is actually the polar opposite. For instance, if I say to you that you are a good friend, and yet consistently arrive an hour late to meet you, I am not behaving as a good friend: I waste your time. Or, if I want to be an intimate, say a lover or potential life partner, and our conversations are all about my problems, and what I want, then I am wasting your time. A lover or a good friend cares about the needs of the other, as well as herself. Actions speak louder than words.
So, let’s break down The Rule of Three. Firstly, something happens in your newly-forming relationship that grabs your attention. Maybe, as I wrote above, he is late for a meeting, or only talks about himself. Perhaps there are gaps in her social graces … always answering her hand phone while out on a date with you, or not returning your calls until two days have passed. Whatever the pattern is, note it in your awareness. This is warning sign number #1
It’s a new relationship, so you graciously let warning sign #1 pass you by. But, unlike in your childhood, you do not have to numb out towards what is happening to you. Warning sign #1 is real information for you, as an adult seeking an adult (or mutual) relationship. So, you keep watching, you stay aware for any re-occurrence of the pattern. When it happens again you can choose to bring it to the person’s attention. For instance, you may say, “I notice that you are always late when we arrange to meet up”, or “I am aware that you only talk about your problems, about your life, when we meet … aren’t you interested in my life?”. An indirect approach also can work well. Try setting a healthy time limit to waiting for your friend, say thirty minutes, and then promptly leave at that time. Or, start to talk about your life even though not asked about it, and observe how your new friend responds. If nothing shifts in her actions after your intervention, or if your new friend is seemingly oblivious to a fair or mutual exchange with others, warning sign #2 is triggered.
Before you reach warning sign #3 you have the chance to do some important inner work on yourself. That’s right: on yourself, and not on the budding relationships. Sit down and write out all the times you have been here, in this situation, with others. Think back over your childhood, and see if you can spot ancient family patterns. Or, take your issue to your therapist, your healer, your best friend. Make your compliance to poor behavior, and it’s impact upon your life, totally conscious. Remember: “He who fails to assert his rights has non.”
If a third and identical incident happens, then warning sign #3 can sound out, loud and clear. You have become aware of a pattern. You have done your work by addressed it – directly or indirectly – with the other. When this third incident happens you can rest assured it says something vitally important about the quality of the relationship this person is offering you. However, unlike in your childhood, you now have a choice. You don’t need this person for your survival. There are many other people, healthy people, generous people, with who you can share yourself, and who will value you.
When warning sign #3 is triggered, then it is time for you to leave. Better for you to quit now, when there is little energetic investment in someone, than to leave later when there is significant investment.
© 2013 by Dean Ramsden. All rights reserved.