Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Problems with “Shoulds” in Romantic Adult Loving Relationships

Shoulds” indeed play an important role in romantic adult loving relationships. And should you be interested (no pun intended), the well-known Dr. Albert Ellis’ Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy talks at length about “shoulds, musts and have-tos.” An excellent read on this is: A Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis and Robert A. Harper. Dr. Ellis, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, once said, “Shoulds are like candy for the ego.”

Interestingly, in my first contemporary romance novel, My Sweetpea: Seven Years and Seven Days, Troy and Sheila argue frequently because one of them didn’t do something they “should have done.” Likewise, in Fear of Feeling Loved, Marcia occasionally felt frustrated because Jack wasn’t doing things he should have been doing, and in If Ever Again… It’ll be for Love, Diane struggled occasionally because she thought Michael was doing things he “shouldn’t have been doing.”

In partnership with a co-author, I currently am working on two self-help books focusing on adult loving relationships. In one of them, Our Adult Loving Relationship, Chapter Nine, “Boundaries and Control,” focuses on the functional and dysfunctional aspects of “shoulds.” The following is the current first draft of one of the sections of that chapter:


Only One “Should”

As a result of their escalating marital problems, Joy and her husband decided to separate for awhile. When she came to see me, she told me that her husband had moved into a one bedroom apartment and she was continuing to live in the house. She also told me that she and her husband were planning to come see me together for some marital counseling, but he unexpectedly had to go out of town the day that their first appointment had been scheduled. She decided to come by herself, however, just to have a chance to meet me and for us to have a chance to talk. Among some of the frustrations that Joy expressed, she said, “Roger should call me before coming over to the house,” and, “he should tell me when he has an out of town trip planned.”

I suggested to Joy that we take a moment or two to discuss the extent to which she utilizes the word should. I said to her, “Joy, the word should indicates an obligation, a duty, a propriety, a necessity and/or an expectation. Thus, when you believe and say that Roger should do anything, you are basically suggesting that you assume, first, that he knows your values, wants, desires, wishes, and preferences; secondly, that he feels a sense of obligation, duty, propriety or charge to tell you what such things are; and thirdly, you assume that he summarily agrees with your should(s).”

Joy pondered that consideration for quite some time, and then said, “In other words, Dr. Emener, you are suggesting that my should statements may not necessarily be universal – especially when it comes to Roger.”

“Yes, Joy,” I replied, “that is exactly what I am suggesting. If, based on your values, you prefer that Roger call you before coming over to the house, then maybe it would be important for you to tell him that instead of assuming that he knows it, that he agrees to it, and that he feels a sense of obligation to honor it.”

Two weeks later, I had the pleasure of again meeting with Joy and meeting Roger for the first time. Joy had shared with Roger our conversation regarding “shoulds” and she informed me that the two of them had had several discussions regarding their individual values, wants, desires, wishes and preferences with regard to how each of them behaved in their relationship. For example, Roger told me that until Joy mentioned it to him, it never crossed his mind to call her before going over to the house. I believed him. At that point, Joy turned to me and said, “We have a suggestion for you with regard to your book: In an adult loving relationship, there is only one should – there ‘should be’ no shoulds.”

Joy and Roger worked hard on eliminating “should” types of statements and interaction styles in their relationship. By eliminating should considerations from their relationship, they were able to improve many aspects of their relationship, and I found myself strongly agreeing with them in that: (1) should considerations can be very troublesome in an adult loving relationship; and (2) discussing and negotiating individual values, wants, desires, wishes, preferences, boundaries and limits are much more helpful.


Question: Have you ever had difficulties in a romantic adult loving relationship because of “shoulds?”



Anonymous said...

Great Post. One with which I readily can identify with... just too painful to talk about now.
Seeing a counselor-- she's very helpful. I will print out the Post and share it with her. Good stuff!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Jeri,
I am sorry to hear about your experience, yet pleased to hear that you are doing something positive about it -- seeing a counselor. Good for you!
Thanks for your very kind and gracious comments about the Post... I hope it is helpful to you.
With all best wishes and regards,

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

The shoulds come about in every aspect of my life! :) ;)

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Kelly,
Thanks for stopping by. Nothing wrong with a lot of shoulds as long as you control your shoulds and they don't control you. (Is that a should?)
Thanks again,