Recently, a former coaching client of mine from, oh, maybe seven years ago was reminiscing about our work together.
“Your advice that I needed to step back in my relationship with my daughter – in order to make room for her to step forward – this completely changed my life. It completely changed our relationship. When I stepped back a little bit, she totally stepped up”.
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea: what I recommended to this client was not that she turn her back on her daughter or cut off contact.
Nor did I encourage her to deliver an ultimatum, make a long-winded speech about why she was going to step back, or stop speaking to her child.
However, there are times when the ONE thing that can move your relationship forward is stepping back with love.
This is absolutely, positively NOT the same as turning your back on someone, throwing up your hands in a dramatic gesture, or trying to manipulate someone into doing what you want by threatening to dissolve your relationship.
The problem in a situation like this is two-fold:
1) a daughter is struggling
2) the relationship between mother and daughter is STUCK in a push-pull dynamic they can’t seem to get out of – one that is characterized by a loving, worried mom trying to help her daughter who resists, rejects or runs away from suggestions for change.
To be clear, everyone in this dynamic was in a lot of pain.
The daughter was in distress because of the challenges she was experiencing. But mom, too, was in tremendous pain because she was watching her daughter struggle while unsuccessfully attempting to alleviate her daughter’s suffering.
What I suggested to my client was this: she would continue to spend time with her daughter whenever she could.
But, while they were together, I invited my client to quietly shift this key dynamic: avoid offering advice, suggestions, or other thoughts about what her daughter could do to create more stability in her life.
If asked, mom could offer insight, wisdom, or knowledge – but only then.
Otherwise, mom’s task was to listen, to witness, and to just be there, loving her kid like crazy.
I suggested that by stepping back from offering helpful advice – advice her daughter didn’t or couldn’t (yet) welcome – she might open up some space between them.
This space might allow something new to enter their relationship.
In particular, this new space could create an opportunity for her daughter to step forward and step up.
Here’s the thing: my client knew her advice was really on point.
She’s as loving and wise a mom as any of us could wish for. And she knew deeply that her daughter could experience her life in a completely new way if she made some different decisions.
But whether it’s your relationship with your child, partner, or best friend…there are times when stepping back with love is the only thing that can get you unstuck – beyond a cycle of push-and-pull that’s giving you both whiplash.
If any of this sounds at all familiar, I want to ask you this:
- Are you trying to fix, rescue, or save another person?
- Are you trying to carry the other person (or your relationship) on your back toward a finish line only you can see?
- Do you feel like you continually reach out – only to have the other person pull further away (and as a result, you’re walking on eggshells trying to avoid conflict)?
No question, this is a tough place to be.
However, sometimes, our loved ones become so unconscious to their own knee-jerk rejection of our reaching out to them…that our attempts to offer really thoughtful, loving support can actually push them further away.
If you continue in this way, you run the risk that the other person may become entirely alienated from you – and from the support you genuinely wish to offer them.
So, how do you know it’s time to step back with love?
When you experience the subtle, uncomfortable feeling that your advice is being actively disregarded, dismissed, or declined…NOTICE your urge to lobby harder for your point of view – and quietly, gently step back from it.
Other tell tale signs that it might be time to step back with love include:
- Your spouse, partner, or child is often impatient, abrupt, or has a short fuse whenever you switch into here’s-what-I-think-you-should-do mode.
- They look away from you pointedly when you’re offering advice.
- They turn the tables on you, pointing out mistakes you’ve made in a reactive counter-attack to what they perceive as criticism from you.
And this is the golden key to stepping back with love: it’s not the other person you’re stepping back from.
You remain available to share support, connection, and insight if it is asked for clearly and directly – e.g. “Mom, what do you think I should do?”.
However, when you step back with love, you gently distance yourself from your own conviction that you know what the other person needs, what would serve them, what they should do…even better than they do.
THIS is what you’re stepping back from – and here’s why: when someone is struggling with their shame demons, their mistakes, or their pain, they are very susceptible to feeling criticized, blamed, or even attacked.
In a situation like this, you can sometimes serve them best by being a soft place for them to land: a place where they know they’ll feel heard and seen, a place where they are understood and held in a loving gaze that silently mirrors to them their innate goodness – and your belief that they will come to know this in themselves again when the storms have passed.
Lest you worry you’re abandoning the other person, remember: it’s your love that permeates the space you’ve created for the other person to step forward into.
If and when they do step forward, it’s your love that will meet them there, in the space you’ve created by stepping back with love.
Because you may be right about what they need – but you may as well be wrong if they’re pushing back against your help. The result is the same.
They stay in the difficult, painful place you desperately want to see them leave far, far behind.
And as painful as it is to watch, a person you love may need to struggle, to flail, even to hit bottom.
Sometimes it’s when we hit bottom…that we finally find our feet after months or years of free fall.
If you find yourself in a situation like this one – but you’re not sure if it’s time to step back with love – I’d like to help.
If you’re curious about how Total Relationship Coaching can transform your relationships – whether you’re single, content in your relationship, or struggling through a rough patch – I’m offering you a chance to get me one-on-one for a complimentary, 45-minute Relationship Reboot Strategy Session.
Note: I only offer two of these Relationship Reboot Strategy Sessions per week and exclusively to professionals who are serious about creating loving, lasting, healthy relationships. If that is you, shoot me an email right now so we can get you scheduled in. Talk to you soon!