We Teach People How To Treat Us


One of my friends is regularly triggered by his wife. There’s one thing in particular that she does, which he habitually takes personally and then responds by acting as he’s been offended. She talks over him while he’s talking, especially in conversations with their friends.

His response is to blame her, because he believes that making her wrong will get him what he wants. It’s never true, but he follows through anyway.

They’ve been doing it for so long that they’re stuck in a pattern. He protests her behavior by saying, “I won’t put up with this! You can’t treat me like this!” Then he puts up with it, and she continues to treat him like that.

Sometimes, his wife feels resentful and looks for an opportunity to get back at him. And she knows how to do it because he’s shown her where his buttons are.

He has a button that says, “If you talk while I’m talking, I’ll get upset.” So if she wants him to get upset, she talks while he’s talking.

It isn’t rocket-science. It’s just everyday preventable relationship dysfunction.

We’re constantly training others.

When we show people that a certain word or look from them will get a consistent reaction from us, we’re training them to use that word or look whenever they want that reaction.

We’re saying, “If you want me to act this way, just activate this trigger. Just say this word that I’ve told you to never say, or take this action that I’ve told you to never take.”

And when we’ve shown people where our buttons are, and how they’re activated, and what our auto-response will be, it’s really not appropriate to blame them for pressing, “Push Here.”

What could my friend do that would work better? He could make himself unavailable. He doesn’t necessarily need to go away. He only needs to not provide the response his wife is seeking.

For now, his predictable response keeps his wife treating him in a predictable manner. And they’ll continue doing what they’re doing, until one of them decides to do something different. And divorce won’t help because they’ll continue the pattern with new partners.

Until we change, nothing will change.

We’re capable of creating positive change in our relationships at any time. But we can only do it through ourselves, not others. So, if we want people to act differently toward us, we’ll need to begin by acting differently ourselves.

We’ll need to make a conscious decision to stop being triggered by what people say and do, which will deactivate our buttons and give us back our power.

We’ll also need to examine whether our beliefs are valid. My friend needs to look at what he truly wants and whether making his wife wrong is getting it. He also needs to figure out how he can achieve what he wants without making her responsible for any part of it. First though, he needs to stop delivering his predictable response.

When people can’t trigger the reaction they want, they’ll stop looking for the buttons eventually. But first, they’ll try harder to find them.

So it may get noisy with my friend and his wife for a while. And he may need to leave the conversation, the room, even the building.

When he returns though, it’s important that he support every positive thing she does, because that’s how we coach people in a cooperative and constructive way to do what we want.

As my friend pays more attention to the consequences he sets in motion, instead of blaming his wife for them, all his communications will improve.

We’re teaching people how to treat us all the time. The people in our lives who treat us badly are doing it because we’ve given them permission. And those who treat us well are doing it because we showed them how.

When we feel triggered, if we will change our usual response, people will change their behavior. And when we no longer take what others say personally – or believe that we’re targets and we’re capable of being offended – we’ll feel more secure in our relationships.

If we won’t settle for less than that, all our relationships will grow healthier. And those that can’t transform will go away, which can also be healthy.

We get what we want by being an example of it – by creating the internal change that we want to see externally. So the best way to teach people to treat us the way we want is to be an example of what we want.

This article is featured on The Huffington Post, and also on The Good Men Project where it originally appeared.

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Author, Blogger, Contributor to Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, InspireMore and HuffPost