Take Full Responsibility for Your Role in Relationships

Take Full Responsibility for Your Role in Relationships


Chapter 30/53: In this Stoic breakdown we look at the best way to think about our own role in relationships so we can maximize our wellbeing and effectiveness.

Have you ever noticed that our relationships with others can be a great source of joy, but they can also be a great source of pain?

There are many reasons that contribute to where we find ourselves along the joy-pain spectrum, but a major factor is our own expectations about our role in the relationship.

Different types of relationships require different duties. For example, the social role of a father is different from that of a son, and the social role of a husband is different from a business partner.

To maximize our satisfaction in any given relationship and live in accordance with nature (to live wisely and with reason), we should look at what our role is and take full responsibility for our duties while at the same time not becoming too attached to the expression of the role in the other person (which is outside of our control).

So we can, for example, ask what are the duties of a good son or daughter, and use that for guidance in determining how we ought to act when with our parents.  

Even if we have a "bad" parent, so what? The universe has given us a parent, not necessarily a good one. While they may not be fulfilling their role perfectly, it doesn't mean we should abandon our own.

Maybe you are co-parenting with a difficult ex. Their behavior is not within your control, but your own is, so focus on that. What must you do to act properly? What would be the reasonable, measured way to think and behave?

focus on your own role in relationships

Remember that nobody can possibly hurt you without your own cooperation (conscious judgment).

If you met someone who had a mental illness that made them insult you as a way of expressing great admiration and love for you, you would struggle to feel harmed by them. Why? Because you would disregard the harm. We can do this under ordinary circumstances too. 

Epictetus writes:

Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it is easier to maintain control.
Taken from the post Only Our Beliefs Can Harm Us

If we want to improve our relationships, paradoxically, we should stop trying to change the other person (outside of our control) and instead determine our own best actions based on our social role.

This is within our control, and this will lead to both more well-being and will increase the probability that the other person will follow your lead and act properly too.