You Never Know ‘Til You Try

Older couple sitting on beach dockAt one extreme among inflexible people is obsessive-compulsive disorder—people who must perform a ritual to be sure something is done “right,” whether it’s checking the locks or the bank balance—but there are gradations all along the way to the other extreme. Those gradations may include people who seem quite normal; they’re pleasant, fun, kind, and friendly—until you cross them. Then watch out.

Inflexible people are not that way because they enjoy being rigid and controlling. If you stop and think about it, the idea that someone is controlling because they enjoy it makes no sense. Who would enjoy antagonizing everyone? Who would enjoy causing others to have a meltdown? Who enjoys the loneliness of being the only one that got it “right”? I don’t think people operate that way. The explanation that makes more sense to me is that so-called controlling people are afraid of the unknown.

They are afraid of what is potentially different, so they try to keep things the way they are used to them being. They set up their lives in a way that makes sense to them and leaves no room for the unknown. Spontaneity? Forget it. Last minute jaunts to the cute little restaurant in that back street? Not happening. We have dinner at 6. Not 6:15, mind you. Changes to the vacation plans? No way. Planes that don’t arrive and don’t leave on time? That’s cause for outbursts at the ticket counter and complaints for the remainder of the trip.

So what happens when these people marry?

They will never find a carbon copy of themselves, and if they did, they’d freak out anyway. So given the recognition that their significant other has got to be different than they are in some ways, it would be best for them to take steps to be more flexible. By the way, the most interesting thing about inflexible people is that although they find change alien and scary, they often admire flexible people, and sometimes their significant other is a bit on the wild side! There’s a reason for this. Somewhere deep inside, they know that being flexible is absolutely necessary for life and that they lack it. So they find it in someone they love. Paradoxically, they can’t live with that person’s flexibility and there is no end to the fighting.

If this is your marriage, take the plunge and work on becoming flexible. That’s what Harold and Linda did. They followed my formula for eating olives.

You see, I never liked olives. I’d say I am a pretty flexible person in general, but that was a bottom line for me: Don’t put olives in my salad. I also didn’t like the taste of olive oil because, obviously, it had that obnoxious olive flavor. Well, I noticed once, that a drop of olive oil in salad dressing kind of blended in and went unnoticed. I kind of let that information settle in the back of my mind somewhere, and then I happened to read an article about omega -3 fatty acids. I have a cholesterol problem, and was taking active steps to get rid of it when I read that article. Wouldn’t you know, they suggested olive oil as a great source of those omega-3s? I was about to have a nice piece of salmon with a baked potato for lunch and the idea hit me that I could put some olive oil on my potato instead of sour cream. How would that taste? Olive-y, I imagined. How olive-y, I wondered. Really, really bad olive-y or just a little olive-y? You get where I’m coming from. I knew it would taste like olives. That was a foregone conclusion. But would it be awful, unmanageable, or just plain olive-y? In other words, I was willing to accept the alien taste if I could remotely handle it. I didn’t say I’d enjoy it. It would not be sour cream. But I was willing to accept something that was different.

I bought the olive oil. I put two drops on my baked potato with a generous sprinkle of salt. I didn’t taste it. I put on another drop. I didn’t notice the weirdness at all. I was looking for something really gross so I was willing to accept something not that bad. I poured on a considerable amount. Then I tasted that olive-y flavor. But at that point, I didn’t care. Yes, it tasted olive-y. But for some reason, it wasn’t bad any more. I thought of my cholesterol going down and it made me quite pleased with myself. I rather liked it. The thought of sour cream, on the other hand, made me see my arteries clog. Ugh.

So, the essence of becoming flexible is

  1. Expect the worst and the worst will never be as bad as you’re afraid it is.
  2. Visualize yourself in new scenes, ones that you would never have been in before but which could be enlightening, fun, interesting, different, good for you, etc., taking time to really get into the visualization.
  3. Take the plunge—try out the new things.
  4. Congratulate yourself and enjoy the whole process.
  5. Invite and encourage your significant other to have a say in things and use the visualization process to see yourself in agreement or at least trying out those ideas.
  6. Do these steps in as many areas as possible.

Harold and Linda took this to heart. Both of them were kind of rigid people. They’d learned years ago that if they got all their ducks neatly in a row, things would go better for them than if they gave in to the chaos in their homes. The problem was that when they married each other, Harold’s ducks did not line up the way Linda’s did.

For example, in the debate surrounding spending time doing something to save money, Harold favored saving the money and Linda favored saving the time. They both had logical reasons for their respective positions, so in any discussion, they were doomed to go round and round with no end. Each of them practiced the above steps to becoming flexible, and they decided to take turns doing things the other person’s way from time to time.

Several months later when they were asked what part of this process stood out for them, both Linda and Harold admitted that step 1 was more true than they ever could have realized—becoming flexible was not at all as scary as they had imagined.

What outsiders noticed was that neither Harold nor Linda seemed controlling any more.

Related articles:
Are You Controlling?
Meditation and the Flexible Mind

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deb Hirschhorn, PhD, therapist in Far Rockaway, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Barb


    May 3rd, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    I just had to respond to this article because my husband tells me all the time that I am the most inflexible person that he knows- so why did he marry me, is what I always retort back to him. I don’t know what’s so bad about being set in my ways- I know what I like and there is no room for trying something that I probably wouldn’t like anyway. I like me and the things that I like to do or eat for example, well, those are just a part of who I am. Take it or leave it. He knew all of this before we got married, and nothing that I did or said should have indicated to him that I was open to change sometime down the road. So why he thinks that now, after 30 years of marriage is a good time to bring this up is kind of beyond me. Thoughts?

  • zelly h

    zelly h

    May 3rd, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    Barb, I swear I don’t know how you could ever be truly happy in life without ever giving anything new a chance! I live for trying new things and new ways of doing things- you never know, it may be fun! If I were your husband I would have to tell you to loosen up a little, you don’t know what you’re missing!

  • Brent


    May 4th, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    Becoming flexible is a process for some, natural for others.
    You have to be able to find someone in your life who doesn’t care, takes you the way you are.
    I think that most of us will get to a point where we are at least intrigued to try something different.
    Hopefully this means that we are evolving as a person and becoming a little more mature, and maybe even enlightened.

  • georgina


    May 4th, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    If you are really in a devoted relationship then you will be willing to make a few changes in order to make your partner happy. That does not mean that you have to change who you are or that you even have to learn to love the enw thing. But I do think that you should at least be willing to give it a try. Someone who is that inflexible, I can’t even imagine being married to him! I want adventure and spirit, and eating at the same three restaurants all your life for example does not represent that to me! You have to know that getting the chance to try some new things is something that many people do not ever get the chance to do- so why turn something away that others would die to be a part of? I don’t know, I just don’t get the closed minded attitude of some people, it kind of baffles me if you want the honest truth. There is so much of life that we close ourselves off to and I just am not going to choose to live like that anymore.

  • Missy El

    Missy El

    May 6th, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    If someone is this unwilling to change then one article isn’t going to convince them that they need to.

  • ED


    May 6th, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    Marriage is a lot about give and take.
    The bad thing is that typically there is one partner who takes a lot more than he or she likes to give back.
    I heve been in a marriage like that before, and I don’t think that I need to spell out in black and white that I was the giver until I got a little bit of tired of feeling like I was being taken for granted.
    That’s what happens when one partner is so unwilling to change her ways.
    If they do stay together, then the giver must be a saint, because I could not take any more after a while.

  • Cindy


    May 7th, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    And I would like to add that a lot of it is that you have to learn to take the good with the bad.

    It’s not always like it was when you felt that first spark, it’s not meant to be like that.

    So you have to stay strong together to make it through those little down times too.

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