Hell in relationships comes from trying to change the behavior of anyone other than yourself. When we exercise self-control, beginning with becoming happy within ourselves, we have the ability to move the hearts of others. It is only when we stop trying to control others that we gain the power to actually influence them. For example, have you ever found yourself saying "You're making me angry – stop doing that" to people whose behavior disturbs or frustrates you? The implication of that statement, "You're making me angry", is that somehow you don't have control of your anger, they do. And since you have ceded them the control and power, it is their behavior that must change if your anger is to be eliminated. But, of course, you don't control their behavior, so the more you try to do so, the angrier you get.
Not that all anger is bad. There are, of course, real situations of injustice in which anger is appropriate. Even in such cases, however, self-control is the key to influencing change. Buddhism teaches us that in response to any situation, depending on the choices we make, we find ourselves in one of the Ten Worlds: Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Tranquility, Rapture, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva or Buddhahood. Recognizing that we are choosing and taking responsibility for those choices empowers us to choose our life state, It give us our control back.
The Downside of Expectations
Expectations are important. Research indicates that children develop only as far as the expectations of the adults around them. But expectations can also destroy good relationships. We have expectations of other people. We expect them to be good husbands, good wives, good children, good friends, good bosses and so on. These expectations are sometimes higher than our expectations of ourselves.
While every situations is unique, there is at least one common but subtle delusion at work here, a delusion that is a challenge to all of us in our relationships with significant others, family, friends. The problem is that although we are motivated by the best intentions, the other person often hears from us a steady stream of criticism and disappointment. This is not encouraging, and in spite of the love in our hearts, the other person becomes unresponsive, even rebellious. The problem here is that although the heart is in the right place, we lack wisdom. Motivated by love but lacking wisdom, we get a response to our efforts that is the opposite of what we expected. Once this downward trend begins, unfortunately, it is difficult to reverse.
People do not respond well to criticism and negativity. Does that mean we simply have to settle for something less? No, it means, once again, that we're trying to change the wrong person. If we want people to do more, we need to praise and appreciate what they are already doing for us. Pay attention to the positives, and not what you feel is missing. People love appreciation and will try very hard to get it. Making these two the basis of all your relationships can have a powerful and encouraging influence. For the gardener of relationships, they are like sunlight and water. People will strive and thrive when they are praised and appreciated.
Criticism and disappointment create a dark environment, a garden where relationships cannot thrive. It is a major delusion to think that others will be motivated by criticism. Nichiren wrote: "When praised, one does not consider his personal risk, and when criticized, he can recklessly cause his own ruin. Such is the way of common mortals."
In any relationship, we must keep our power, developing a strong self-identity and the ability to be happy on the inside. Standing alone upon the firm foundation of our own happiness, we can then seek out and nurture contributive, sharing relationships, relationships in which we give our love freely without attachments and expectations. We are not needy of the other. Nor are we addicted to the other. A relationship between two such people brings a deep and abiding love.
Before going out to look for a contributive partner, we must first strive to develop that ability within ourselves. Only then will it be possible to draw forth and nurture the same quality in others.
Happiness is not something that someone else can give us.