Once upon a time in a place not so far away, a man named Jason had a house with a lawn that he loved.
The only thing Jason didn’t like about his home was that his yard was too small for his taste.
Every time he mowed the lawn, Jason would enjoy himself so much that he would mow a little of his neighbors’ lawns, too.
Happy and unaware that his neighbors did not like this, he kept at it. Every time he mowed the lawn he mowed just a little more of his neighbor’s lawns than last time – about half the width of his lawnmower.
Nancy who lived on the left side of Jason was busy with her job, so she rarely saw him. Each time this happened, she did make a point to leave a polite note on Jason’s door asking him to please not mow her lawn.
Then, seeing Jason had some problems remembering, she got several trellises for her tomato plants and set them up right at the edge of where her yard met Jason’s property.
Her persistent small reminders and the visual cues from the trellises worked. Jason began mowing only his lawn on that side, and with only an occasional reminder it was not a problem again for Nancy.
Mike lived on the other side of Jason. The whole thing made him furious. Every time Jason mowed some of his yard, he would feel the tension in his stomach and have trouble sleeping.
This was not the neighborhood he’d hoped for!
Unlike Nancy, Mike never said anything to Jason.
He just looked out his kitchen window and fumed. Everyone at Mike’s job knew all about the problem.
From time to time Mike would let all his built up anger out in a big explosion.
Unfortunately, this was often directed at the person who happened to be near Mike at the time – a person who had little to do with the cause of his anger.
After several years of this, Jason’s yard was much bigger. Since Mike didn’t mow as often it looked like his yard had significantly shrunk. Everyone in the neighborhood began to assume Mike had a small yard and Jason a big one. Worse, when Jason sold his home the new owner got in a dispute with Mike over the boundary line between them based on the long tradition of how far Jason had mowed.
Unfortunately, the maps in the government land records office had been lost. Neighbors brought in to testify about where the property line was all pointed to the edge of Jason’s mowing for many years. Suddenly Mike’s home was worth a lot less.
However, Nancy had been polite and persistent with Jason about what was not OK, and there were no issues on her side.
The little actions added up over the year to a big result with big financial implications.
Do you act like Mike or Nancy?
When it comes to your family, partner and friends are you more like Mike or Nancy?
The top problem prevention muscle you need in relationships is to speak up for your needs and desires.
Besides, no one can read your mind.
Someone I dated once had an elegant way to say this: We train the people in our lives how to treat us.
It’s true. Your consistent actions and requests (like Nancy) or your lack of them (like Mike) teach people how they should treat you.
The best way to get people to treat you the way you like is to start small and be consistent.
When someone does something that is not OK with you, speak up. Let them know the behavior that is appropriate.
Maybe they didn’t show up for a meeting and never called to warn you they were cancelling. Maybe they didn’t wash the dishes when it was their turn. Maybe they raised their voice and spoke to you in an angry way that was unkind.
In each of these cases, let them know what behavior is a problem, what behavior you want instead and find acceptable.
If you can’t make a meeting with me, please call to let me know as soon as you know.
In order for us to live happily together, I need for you to do the chores you’ve agreed to
I am willing to listen to your concerns, but only if you speak to me calmly without raising your voice.
Even for small things, you can let them know that it’s OK this time but please don’t let it become a habit.
When you start small and don’t wait to do this, you can tell them politely and calmly.
This keeps you on friendly terms with them which is hard to do if you’ve wait to say something until you explode with built up resentment.
Then, keep doing it
It may take that person a while, but people who care even a little bit, about getting along with you, will usually come around.
This is one of those things that is simple but not necessarily easy to do.
Make it a regular practice
It’s helpful to make it a practice of asking the people you are in relationships with for something, however small. To speak up for your desires and boundaries on a regular basis.
I once knew someone who only did laundry once a month even though a washing machine was only a few feet from his bedroom. Every month he would go into overwhelm and massive discouragement about how much work it was going to be to wash, dry and fold all those clothes. Once he changed his ways and starting washing a few clothes 2 or 3 times a week his life got easier.
If you are in a relationship with someone who is causing you problems and you have not asked them for the behavior you want, then starting to do this will probably feel like catching up on that big stack of laundry.
It may take some time and effort. Make small requests. Stay calm. Be polite, but be clear. Be persistent. This will likely get you a lot further for the long term than having a big angry outburst.
Your actions teach people how to treat you
Whether you do it consciously or not, your actions (or lack of them) are already teaching the people around you how they should treat you.
If there are any difficult people in your life, the way to make dealing with them much easier is to start asking them for what you want especially the specific behaviors that are important to you.