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November 23, 2016

The 2nd Worst Piece of Relationship Advice Ever Given

The 2nd worst piece of relationship advice I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard it in various forms all my life) is this: “Always focus on your family, and put your family first.”

You’ve heard this preached so many times, and maybe you’ve preached it to others as well. I know I used to.

But whenever I tried to apply this piece of iconic wisdom in practical life, I found myself with three ongoing problems:

  • a steadily-growing resentment toward all these family members (wife, kids, parents) who had no idea, or appreciation, for all the sacrifices I was making for their benefit
  • a steadily-growing loss of self-control as I focused on “influencing” (read: controlling) these loved ones for the better
  • a steadily-declining sense of self, as I let go of personal preferences, hobbies, and friends

Now, you could say these were simply the effects me never letting go of my selfishness, and I thought that for a while, also. Then I traveled on an airplane with a toddler and a baby, and heard a life-saving message:

“If you’re traveling with an infant, or someone in need of assistance, be sure to put on your own oxygen mask first.”

In other words, Hal, if you’re out of breath, you won’t be able to help anyone else. And when you’re constantly trying to serve others before yourself, you are definitely out of breath.

So, if I really want to serve those closest to me, I need to focus on myself first. That way instead of trying to control their behaviors, I can concentrate on controlling my own reactions. Instead of resenting those I’m sacrificing for, I can free them up from my quid pro quo expectations—when I take care of myself, they don’t have to take care of me in return.

Peace begins with pause,

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