Reality Check: Can’t, Won’t, Don’t? or Can, Will, Do?

I can’t, I won’t, I don’t want! There’s always something that we can’t do, won’t do, or don’t want. And, there are things that we can do, will do, and do want. Which is most helpful to focus on?

Elyssa has been concentrating on what she can’t have in her relationship with Henry. They had a rough financial patch; then Henry was finally offered a job that involves lots of travel. Neither he nor Elyssa was keen on being apart so much, but given the circumstances, they agreed that having Henry take the job was the best option.

Now, all Elyssa focuses on is “can’t,” “won’t”, or “doesn’t want.” She sees everything that can’t be done around the house without Henry. She won’t go out and socialize alone. She doesn’t want Henry away so much.

Elyssa is miserable even when Henry is home, as she chooses to fill the few hours that they have together with complaints and accusations. “I can’t handle the house by myself. You’re enjoying restaurants while I won’t go out with friends without you. I don’t want to have to stay awake till you find it convenient to call me.”

The joy that Elyssa and Henry used to share in their relationship is rapidly deteriorating. Elyssa realizes they are in a downhill slide, and already knows the answer to the choice theory question, “Are the behaviours that you are choosing getting you closer to what you want?”

No, they are not. And, Elyssa declares, “Henry should do something about it!”

Well, maybe that would be helpful, but all Elyssa can control is what she does, not Henry. What can Elyssa do to change the direction of this relationship? How about if Elyssa shifts her focus to what she can do, will do, and does want?

When asked, “What can you do?” Elyssa realizes that with the help of a local handywoman, she can learn to do many of the things that Henry used to do around the house.  That frees up Henry’s time when he is home, and provides companionship and a new sense of self-reliance for Elyssa.

What will she do about waiting for Henry’s calls? Elyssa decided that she will negotiate with Henry to choose a time for their evening phone call. She will stay up till then. If he doesn’t call, she will go to bed but choose not to be angry.

Finally, what does Elyssa want? From that perspective, she acknowledges that Henry’s income is helping to bring their lives closer to what they both ultimately want.

Focusing on what she wants also helped motivate Elyssa to change her behaviour away from reciting a litany of complaints and self-pity when Henry is home. Coincidentally, Henry now seems more inclined to make the effort to come home even though it’s inconvenient

Rather than finding fault with all we can’t, don’t, and won’t do, focusing on what we can do brings with it the possibility of actual achievement and a more satisfied life.

Which do you think is more effective: focusing on what you can do? Or can’t do? Let me know…

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