When we start to fall apart, it is so incredibly easy to point fingers; pin blame. Sure, we can see that we may have a hand in our circumstances, but so often we’re more concerned with what other people have done to contribute to our strife and unhappiness.
This rings particularly true with significant others. We allow ourselves to get so entangled in one another’s lives—any step our counterpart makes seems to have the power to destroy every shred of our wellbeing.
When I was in my trickiest relationship, and going to counseling once a week, I would analyze my boyfriend continually. I’d tally up his flaws and think about how I could fix him, help him become “more together.” I would tell my therapist how he was all over the place—talking marriage one minute and biting off my head the next. Insisting a certain photograph would make a good engagement announcement, then packing his bags to move out of my apartment. But he was the product of a bad divorce and he had a hard childhood and a broken spirit and on and on.
I was so mired in his mess I couldn’t see what was going on with ME. And then one day, my counselor dropped a line from AA on me.
Keep your own side of the street clean.
It immediately evoked Sesame Street-like images of a cute little sidewalk with my couch, scrapbooks, cats and home accessories strewn about it. And it wasn’t as spot-free as it could’ve been. But it was a lot cleaner than my boyfriend’s.
The problem, though, was that pointing out the trash and emotional debris on his side did me no good. It didn’t make my side suddenly tornado into order and tidy itself up. It was simply a deflection device.
The only way to make my life a better place to live was to stop pointing out his dust bunnies and start doing something about my own. Because the bottom line was: It wasn’t his fault my sidewalk looked the way it did. It was my fault. I made every decision that led me to my mess, and even assessment by comparison wouldn’t make that mess clean.
Now I find myself regularly taking stock of my side of the street. And I try to catch myself from complaining, “You stink!” when someone else’s garbage starts wafting my way. Instead, I walk over, light a scented candle and get back to sweeping out my gutter. Because nobody has to live in my filth except me.