Love People As They Are, Not How You Want Them to Be: Or, Don’t Make Your Jacket Be a Raincoat

JacketThis post is about improving your relationships with the people you love. But first, take a look at this photo of a jacket. I bought it at Target 10 years ago. It’s cute, no?

While I appreciated its aesthetics, for nine of those years I felt disappointed in this olive green topper. Why? Because I had it in my head that this was my raincoat. And as a raincoat, it kinda stinks.

For one thing, it doesn’t have a hood, so your head gets wet. It’s also short, so your thighs quickly get soaked. Most egregiously, it’s mildly water-resistant at best. Anything above a sprinkle and your upper body is wet.

Honestly, a garbage bag would have done a better job of keeping me dry!

You would think I would have figured out that this was really not an acceptable raincoat earlier. But I had it in my head that it was, in fact, a raincoat, and a cute one to boot. Plus, it rained so sporadically that I always forgot how annoyed I got while wearing it in the actual rain.

I honestly am not sure what triggered my epiphany, but sometime in my 45th year I developed the wisdom to be able to recognize that I was trying to force my jacket into playing the role of raincoat, and this wasn’t serving anyone—least of all me.

That Christmas, I scoured for a proper raincoat that I adore and sent my husband the link so he could give me a gift that I wanted, needed, and loved. And I do love it. It has a huge hood, is knee-length, and has sealed seams so water doesn’t penetrate. Plus, cute.

Kate - rainAnd now, this green coat no longer has to pretend that it’s something it’s not. It can just be a jacket.

So, what changed? Not the jacket! It was my thinking that had to shift. I created an expectation in my mind that this jacket had to be my raincoat, end of story, and I had to see that expectation and then let go of it before I could find an arrangement that worked better for everyone.

What does this have to do with relationships?? Well, this is the kind of thing we do with people too—we try to force to match our expectations of them.

Maybe you expect your husband to be the person you can break down your emotional upsets with, but he’s really just not equipped to be able to really go there with you. I mean, absolutely, you want to be able to talk with and feel heard by your husband, but if he can’t be the person who helps you reach a new insight, that’s OK. He’s got other roles to play. You may turn to a trusted friend for that, or a therapist or coach. Then you get your needs met, you don’t have to get frustrated with your husband and he doesn’t have to feel that he’s letting you down.  Everybody wins.

Or, you may want your child to be your friend and keep you company when you’re lonely, but that is likely a better job for a peer so your kid can just be a kid. Again, yes, ideally you want to have a relationship with your child where you both enjoy spending time together, but you don’t want to over-rely on them to the point that it muddies the parent-child dynamic. If you get that need for companionship met with someone else, your kid doesn’t have to carry that weight of being responsible for your happiness. When you do spend time together, there won’t be a heaviness to it. Again, win-win.

Or perhaps you want your friend to be your therapist or coach. You repeatedly ask her advice to the point that maybe she starts to feel taken advantage of and your friendship suffers. Of course friends want to support each other and offer their help when it’s needed, but if that’s the main component of your relationship it’s imbalanced and neither of you will feel uplifted by each other’s company. It might be time to hire someone and let your friend just be your friend.

If there’s a particular relationship that’s feeling wonky to you, ask yourself, am I trying to make this person be a raincoat when really she’s a jacket? It just may help you see a way to change your thinking that creates a possibility for a win-win.


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