Last week we talked about keeping our own side of the street clean. I know that sent some people over the edge. “But Edwin, you just don’t know my husband,” or “But Edwin, you just don’t know my wife.” Some folks went ballistic because they simply cannot see past their own victim mentality to ever notice their own wrong. “Oh, sure, I mean I mess up sometimes. I’m only human. But my spouse (kids, parents, friends, neighbors, co-workers, whatever) is so awful. Let me tell you the thousand ways my _________ is a jerk. How dare you suggest I should clean up my side of the street.”
And thus, the vicious cycle continues until the relationship is absolutely destroyed. Your marriage ends in divorce. Your parents ostracize you. Your kids abandon you. Your friends avoid you. Your boss fires you. No doubt, you continue to live in the absolute certainty that all of this is everyone else’s fault. It never occurs to you the only common denominator in your failed relationships is you.
Let me ask you, would you like to continue living in the certain miserable knowledge that you are the victim, that everyone else has done wrong, that you are not to blame for your failed relationships OR would you like to have some peace, serenity, and joy in your relationships and have your relationships continue to grow despite even hard times?
I know which one I want.
Please, allow me to share with you…
4 Steps to Cleaning Up Your Side of the Street
1. Disregard the wrong others have done to you.
“Aaaaaaggggghhhh! What? How can you possibly say this? My spouse (parent, child, etc.) have done me so wrong I can hardly stand it.”
I have no doubt that is the case. We are all human. We live among humans. We have all wronged and been wronged. I’m sure you have been terribly wronged by others. Here is the question. Do two wrongs make a right? Does the fact that others have wronged you mean you now have the right to wrong them back? Are you really going to live your life like a 5-year-old screaming, “He hit me first”?
I have four children; a 12-year-old daughter, a 9-year-old son, a 7-year-old son, and an 18-month-old daughter. Do you know what drives me crazy with these kids the most? The picking at each other. “Dad, Tessa said it was my fault that _________” “Well, Dad, Ethan did _________, so I did __________, and I said ______________.” “Well, yeah, that was because Ryan did ________________.” “Dad, that’s not fair, Ethan and Tessa did ______________________.” Just thinking about it drives me nuts.
Then it hits me. Why do these kids act like this? Some of it is because they are kids. But then again, some of it is because they see adults acting this way. I hate to admit it, but I have a terrible tendency of figuring out how everything is everyone else’s fault in the world. I hate to say that my kids have actually got to witness me acting the exact same way towards my wife, my brothers, my parents. I have to ask, am I 5 or 35?
Don’t spend time blaming everyone else, “If they hadn’t done such and such, I wouldn’t have done such and such.” Is your wrong excused because of theirs? Do you ever stop to think that they are telling their friends the same things about you?
Even if you really can fathom all the way back to the beginning of this rotten relationship cycle and do know the other person started it, are you really convinced the bitterness, resentment, and malice eating on your heart and soul are helping you be a better person or have a better relationship with them? Is that really where you want to spend the rest of your emotional days?
If you really want to break this cycle and start having better relationships, you need to disregard the wrong others have done to you.
1 1/2. Three caveats
First, since many of my readers are Christians, let me make something abundantly clear. This post is not about helping people grow in Christ or overcome sin and go to heaven. I’m talking about us working on us before we start working on others. Clearly, when others have sinned, we cannot simply dismiss it. We are to help others grow. However, please do not justify your personal blame and victim games as if what you are really concerned about is the other person being forgiven and going to heaven.
Second, I’m also not suggesting you be a doormat. I’m not saying if someone really has hurt you don’t ever say anything to them about it. Clearly, for relationships to work well we not only have to clean up our side of the street, but we have to learn how to express our feelings when we’ve really been hurt so we won’t harbor resentments. What I am saying is it is much easier and far more effective to talk to someone who has hurt you when you’ve gone the extra mile to clean up your side of the street in the relationship first.
Third, in some cases folks really have been truly innocent victims. While I believe victims of child abuse, rape, or other extreme crimes can benefit from what I’m sharing here, I am not about to set myself up as some kind of post-trauma specialist who can give you psychological advice. I encourage you to look for professional help to guide you through the emotional landmines of overcoming such treatment.
2. Make a list of the wrongs you have done.
Do this on two levels. The first level is simply to remind yourself you have done your fair share of wrong in the history of the world. Let’s face it, there was only one perfect person in the history of mankind and you aren’t Him. Count your many sins and be reminded that you really don’t get to play the role of innocent victim in society.
The second level is to do this in context of very specific relationships. Think about your relationship with your parents. Instead of remembering all the bad things they did to you, think about the wrong you did. Make a list of the resentments, disobedience, disrespect, etc. that you did in the relationship. Think about your relationship with your spouse, with your kids, with your friends, etc. List what you did wrong.
Don’t discount things by saying, “Yeah, but I would never have done that if they hadn’t done such and such.” Remember, we are disregarding what they did. If what you did was wrong, the motivation that stemmed from the other person doesn’t matter. You are striving to purge the guilt and shame you feel and the only way to do that is to get to the bottom of what you did.
Of course, that last statement hits at the heart of our problem. You do feel guilt and shame, but you don’t like to. Therefore, your natural reaction is to deflect that guilt and shame. You want to put that on someone else. That is often why you build up your victim status. You may sedate the shame and guilt for a time, but it will always come back. Something inside you knows something is unresolved.
The only way to overcome the guilt and shame is to face it head on. Sit in those feelings and figure out why you’ve got them. You never will as long as you keep deflecting it to others. Yes, sometimes you’ll figure out you feel guilt and shame when you’ve done nothing wrong and shouldn’t feel those things. In many cases, however, you’ll figure out you were not the victim you like to think. you are guilty, and there is room for healthy shame.
Finally, a great big reason to take this step is because having listed these things, you still don’t think anyone else was justified for the wrong they did to you. You want them to judge you based on your intentions. You want them to realize that you have been spiritually, emotionally, or mentally unhealthy and instead of responding in kind, you wanted them to be patient with you and help you overcome. Shouldn’t you offer that same treatment to others. This can help you go back to step one and treat others the way you want to be treated. You can see them as people who are also growing emotionally, mentally, spiritually. They may have messed up royally, but you should offer them the same patience and compassion you have wanted when you messed up royally.
3. Apologize and make amends for your wrongs.
“No way! Apologize? Not on your life! Not until they apologize first!”
Wait, you’re forgetting something. You’re disregarding what they have done. This is about cleaning up your side of the street. If their side of the street stays junky, that is their problem. You are working to make sure that as much as it depends on you, you are at peace with others.
Don’t justify your wrongs. Don’t minimize your wrongs. Don’t explain away your wrongs. Apologize for your wrongs. This means explain that what you did was wrong. Explain why it was wrong. Explain how it harmed the relationship. Offer a sincere apology with an explanation that you are working to overcome whatever it was about you that led you to commit the wrong.
Don’t make promises that you can’t keep like, “I promise, I’ll never, ever do it again.” Instead, let the other person know that you are committed to overcoming the wrong, that you are working on overcoming it, and you don’t plan to do it again.
Now, here is the key. Cap it all off with a request for forgiveness. This is absolutely important. If they forgive you, it goes a long way to helping you forgive yourself. Granted, keep in mind you are asking for forgiveness. All the theological debates beside, if you are asking for forgiveness, you are asking for something you don’t deserve and they are not obligated to give you. However, if you have made the amends and asked for the forgiveness, you can take comfort you have now done all you can do to be at peace. Even if they refuse forgiveness, you can know you have recognized your wrongs and made amends as best you can.
If they don’t forgive you, don’t think you have done all this in vain. Taking these steps has helped you clear out a lot of your own mental, emotional, and spiritual junk. Even if the other person doesn’t let you have a relationship with them, you know you have cleaned up your side of the street and you can have serenity about it. Especially don’t revert back to old behavior. If you do, you are simply reinforcing to them why they shouldn’t have forgiven you. They were certain it was just a manipulation ploy, now they know they were right.
4. Pursue actions of love.
Now that you have cleaned up your side of the street, keep it clean by pursuing actions of love. I don’t want to say too much here because I am going to delve into this more in next Tuesday’s post. However, pursuing actions of love means doing those things you would do if you actually loved them. This is not holding out until they grant you forgiveness. This is not holding out until they start pursuing actions of love toward you. This means serving them because you love them, not because you are repaying them or because you owe them or because you are manipulating them. This means bestowing compassion when they continue to harm you. This means being patient when they don’t behave exactly right. This means treating them the way you want to be treated, even when they mess up (as they most certainly will).
By the way, since this is all about cleaning up your side of the street and not about trying to get others to clean up theirs, if they don’t forgive you and they continue to mistreat you, you must continue to pursue the actions of love. Remember that two wrong don’t make a right. Their wrong is between them and God. Your job is to clean up your side of the street so your connection to God can be improved.
Understand, none of this is about getting what you want out of the relationship. None of this is about fixing the other person in the relationship. I do believe if you pursue these four steps the general response will be a great improvement in all your relationships. However, other people are involved. There is no accounting for those who refuse to pursue healthy relationships. When you have followed these four steps you may improve the relationship or you may not. What I guarantee you is as you pursue this course with more and more people in your life, your peace in your relationships will increase. You will grow. You will be a better person in all your relationships. You will face life more positively.
Start today. Pick a relationship and start cleaning up your side of the street. I suggest you start with your spouse.