Understanding Unenforceable Rules Will Change Your Life
An unenforceable rule is an expectation that we have no control over. Without being mindful of these things, we create unnecessary anger or stress over situations all the time. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have standards or that people aren’t asshats sometimes, but we need to reexamine what we have control over. Applying the exercises later is a guarantee for more peace in life.
Unenforceable rules are at the heart of all grievances and complaints. Trying to change what can’t be changed only creates unnecessary stress and trying to change others that don’t want change will also be met with stress, failure, anger, disappointment…etc. Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have expectations or standards, this is just to put things into perspective. Sometimes our standards are too high because people are inherently flawed.
What do you think are some of the most common demands? I feel that a few main ones are, people should treat me how I want to be treated, my partner shouldn’t cheat on me, life should be fair…etc. If we had control over these things, everyone would be happy all the time and the word “disappointment” would be among many that wouldn’t exist. You only have control over the fact that you can accept it things as they are, change your expectations, come to an understanding with someone shift their expectations or move on.
Why are divorces less successful with each attempt? A first marriage results in divorce around half the time, whereas 2nd marriages have a rate of 67% and 3rd marriages 74% because our expectations and problems follow us around, regardless of who your partner is. The changes we need to make are in us and if they go untreated, they’ll continue to do so. I once had a porn addiction that ruined several relationships. Initially, I had just thought my habit was normal and none of those partners ever talked to me about it, they just left or we had fights. This was until one partner set a boundary and helped me. Since she couldn’t enforce the rule that I couldn’t watch porn, we had 3 options: A) She could adjust her expectations B) I could meet her expectations C) We could break up. I went with B and made some lifestyle changes. We went to therapy (together and separate), I installed Net Nanny on my devices, I read books, deleted my saved files…etc. It was clear in the beginning that she felt disrespected and I learned that my habit wasn’t normal, it was an addiction. I also enjoyed that relationship a lot, so it was important for me to adjust the expectations of myself.
Something not so extreme was when I used to get irritated and stressed every time my wife or family were late for things, which was all the time, but I realized that I had no control over when they’d be ready. My military background set an expectation in me that isn’t realistic with most people. I’ve gotten used to just being on time, but it was a habit for many years that if I wasn’t ten minutes early, I was late. For a while, I definitely complained and got mad (not outwardly), but did my complaining about their being late turn back time? No and I couldn’t force them to be ready either, so I adjusted my expectations. Now, I just keep living my life knowing that we’ll do things at least 30 minutes after the set time. I do something around the planned time that I can easily stop and come back to. I no longer feel any stress or anger during these situations.
A key part of transforming our unenforceable rules is to have hopes for what will happen, but keep in mind that what you want may not happen. Keep a neutral mindset and do what you can to achieve your goals, controlling what you can.
Do you have any unenforceable rules?
Here are some steps to make peace:
1. Acknowledge that you’re angry. Now, could you stop them from doing something?
2. Be mindful if your anger is coming from an unenforceable rule
3. Challenge how you think, not the other person for not living up to your expectations
4. What do you desire from this rule being followed? The biggest mistake you can make is trying to enforce the rule even harder
5. Re-frame your rules and expectations as “hopes”: I hope everyone is on time. I wish that everyone finishes this article (see below for more on this)
6. Be mindful of how you feel when you don’t make demands and have hopes instead. This doesn’t mean that you don’t pursue your goals and take action.
YOU CAN’T WIN WHEN TRYING TO ENFORCE AN UNENFORCEABLE RULE: Your rules will seem normal for you, like it seems normal for me to be on time for things. Other people will see it a different way, especially if it’s a cultural difference. If you can’t agree on the same rules and follow them, you need to do one of two things…
Adjust your rules — I did this and I read or play a game while waiting for my family now.
Move on — You have the power to end a relationship if both parties are unwilling to change or adjust.
An example I heard that might be easier to visualize is to think of someone who fell over a ship and is drowning and they’re still complaining that the anchor was supposed to be tied up.
I want you to think of this things that get your angry or bother you. Think about those things in terms of what you hope will happen in your life. Start with “I” because it’s all about you! For example:
DON’T SAY: I hope my partner doesn’t cheat on me.
SAY: I hope I have a strong relationship with my partner.
Acceptance and understanding are vital here too because things sometimes turn out worse than we expect, but they also turn out as we expect or better sometimes too. Here’s where you’re going to focus on what’s beyond your control. “Even though” is going to be your friend here.
For example: Even though I thought my first book was awesome, not every book or author gets great recognition or sales.
I appreciate you reading to the end and I hope this helps you find more peace.