July is Social Wellness Month—a reminder that relationships are key to a healthy lifestyle. Humans have a need for connection; some of us have a stronger need than others. If you are someone with a lower need for connection, you might be satisfied with a beloved pet and few people in your life. Those with a high need for connection have many close personal relationships and like to be friendly with most people they meet. When your need for connection is moderate, you fall somewhere between those two extremes. It doesn’t matter how strong your need is as long as you have the proper amount of connection to match it. When you do, you experience social wellness; when you don’t, you will likely feel unhappy.
Those of us who study Choice Theory understand there is one main thing that hurts relationships: external control. Dr. William Glasser spoke of four types of external control:
- You’re trying to make someone do something they don’t want to do.
- Someone else is trying to make you do something you don’t want to do.
- Two people are trying to make each other do things they don’t want to do.
- You are trying to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do, mainly to please someone else.
When you work to do something another person wants you to do, you lack the internal motivation to do it. This means you might be able to do it for a short period of time, but at some point, you will revert to the behavior you are internally motivated to do.
Since you can’t control what other people do, let’s take a closer look at numbers one and four since they involve things you might be doing that contribute to a compromised sense of social wellness.
If you are spending your energy trying to make another person do something they don’t want to do, it likely means that you have either decided you know what’s best for them better than they do or you believe you cannot be happy unless they change.
If you are striving for social wellness, then you want to rethink these positions. In the first, you are being judgmental, and that isn’t something people share in healthy relationships. In the second, you are being controlling and needy—again, traits that aren’t generally high on the list of preferences for positive social relationships.
It is not your place to decide that you know what’s best for anyone. Everyone has their own autonomy, except possibly small children. (There may be times you need to make an unpopular decision to keep children safe.) Most people want to make their own decisions; they don’t like when other people decide they know best. We each have the responsibility for making our own decisions and living with the consequences. When you take this position, it is impossible for you to know what’s best for someone else. Everyone is an individual with different wants, needs and perceptions. When you think you know what’s best for someone else, you are really thinking of what would be best for you in the situation. You can’t know what would be best for the other person because you are not them. When you control others to do things your way, they get the definitive message that you think they are wrong and need to be fixed or corrected. This provides a strong reason for them to avoid you.
When you decide you can’t be happy until someone else changes, it’s like you’ve given them the keys to your car and told them to just drive you around for a while. To have healthy social wellness, you want to be in control of your own emotions. Other people do not make you sad, anxious, angry or happy. You are in charge of your emotions. When you decide you want to be happier, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to improve my level of happiness?” and then go do it. Stop relying on other people to change so you can be happy. If you aren’t getting what you want, you can change what you are doing, change what you want or change how you look at the situation. When you do, you have the key to your happiness and your social wellbeing.
If you are in a relationship with someone who continually tries to get you to do things you don’t want to do, then you may want to reevaluate that relationship. You can accept the person exactly as they are, draw boundaries for the relationship, limit the time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely. You decide, but please, stop externally controlling the people you care about if you are interested in having better relationships and upping your level of social wellness.