Monday, April 16, 2007

Evolution Example: Taking Responsibility

I think the primary evolutionary law for all people regardless of their life, relationships, or situation is to take or accept responsibility for their surroundings. If you want to evolve, its difficult to change or re-direct your life if you are not in control of it. Well, when you absolve yourself of responsibility, you also relinquish your control and place yourself at the mercy of external forces.

Now, this is pretty standard human behavior - so if you currently do this (and you probably do), don't feel odd or awkward about it. There are no judgments here. The great thing about evolution is that it is an ongoing, continuous process with no end. No one ever stops and says "I'm all evolved out.", right? The important this, however, is to recognize when you are accepting responsibility for your actions, and when you are absolving yourself of it.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not quite. I have the following exercise I recommend for everyone to take part in. The exercise requires that you document a list of responsible statements specific to a given situation or outcome in your life. Here are the rules:

  • Define scope for the exercise. Before you begin with statements, you need to define a tight/narrow scope for which the statements will apply. The tighter the scope, the more specific you can be with your statements. Good examples of this include "Why my marriage failed", "Why I am unhappy at work", "Why my relationships always end quickly", etc. Bad examples include "Why my life sucks", "Why people hate me", and "Why is life so hard". Remember -- the more specific the better.
  • No put downs or judgemental statements are allowed. Remember that these statements need to be empowering, and provide real, honest, vulnerable insight into a given situation. Saying "My marriage failed because I suck." is not empowering. Saying "My marriage failed because I was afraid to be vulnerable with my feelings and emotions", however, is because it gives you something to work with for the future.
  • Focus on quality vs. quantity. It's better to have a handful of honest, vulnerable, and revealing statements than to have a large list of filler that do not give you any new insight or visibility into your life. The key, here, is to be honest and reflective about what really happened. If you need to involve friends or other people to gain this clarity then do it; the more help and support you have, the better off you will be. The more insightful the statement, the more powerful you will feel -- and that power can then be harnessed to change the direction of your life.

Here is an example from my life. Please feel free to model yours after mine, and I am open to receiving any feedback from people regarding my list. I don't pretend that my list is complete, but I do know that it is honest and a reflection of what I have learned about myself:

Why my marriage failed,and my role in the failure.
by Guy Getting Divorced (

  1. I failed to articulate what my needs were in our relationship.
  2. I did not define boundaries between my wife and I to help describe what was acceptable to me, and what was not regarding her behavior and participation in our relationship.
  3. I did not attempt to meet her needs, and shunned them when I felt violated or abused.
  4. I chose the wrong person to marry.
  5. I reacted without thinking to her, allowing myself to be manipulated by my wife's unhappiness.
  6. I took responsibility for my wife's unhappiness, instead of recognizing that her feelings and emotions were her responsibility and while I could trigger them, she was ultimately in control of them.
  7. I did not pay attention to the subtext of my wife's communication with me. I did not read her body language, mannerisms, or her verbal communication and use this as an indicator of where our relationship was.
  8. I felt obligated to shoulder the blame for our relationship falling apart.
  9. I avoided interactions with my wife as a way to avoid the stress, anger, and anxiety that existed between us.
  10. I over-worked, thinking that money could be used as a way to seek the approval or acceptance of my wife given the strife that existed between us.
  11. I focused too much on my wife's happiness, and neglected my own.
  12. I neglected my health and well being, especially towards the end of my marriage.
  13. I neglected my self image, and purposely lost the will to groom and be impeccable with my looks and appearance. I did this as a reaction to how I felt inside, and this helped push my wife further from me.
  14. I based my feelings of self-worth on my wife and her negative perception of me.
  15. I failed to lead our relationship, and instead was happy maintaining the status quo as long as we did not have any visible conflict between us.
What I learned, through this exercise, was that I basically gave my power away. I allowed the events outside of my life to define how I felt about myself and who I was. Hindsight being what it is, this explained allot to me about why things failed. It also shed light on what I can do to evolve out of this unhealthy, demeaning, and subversive condition.

So now its your turn. Do this on your own. If you want, post your lists to this thread. Seek feedback from other people, and be open to their comments and statements. You don't have to like what they say, or even honor it for that matter. But being open to it, however, is a symbol of evolution in itself. It shows that you are looking for change, but not without purpose, merit, or value.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm one of the anonymous writers from your other posts. I did the empowerment exercise you've suggested on your blog.

I thought I would share why my relationship failed, in case there are others reading this out there.

Before I do that though, thank you for having this blog; I am learning alot about myself that I wouldn't normally have.

My story may be rather unusual. I met my ex-fiance 10 years ago, in Canada. 5 years ago we broke up and I moved to the United Kingdom, where I lived until January of this year. Shortly I had moved we got back together and started a long-distance relationship. She even came over and lived me for 1 year in London - and in August 2005, I proposed and she accepted to get married.

We made plans that I would return to Canada in Jan, 2007. Unfortunately between 2005 and 2007 our relationship deterioated due to, I think, the long-distance of 5,000 miles, and a 5 hour time difference. In August of last year, I called off our engagement, and in November, I broke up with my fiance. This was because I no longer knew if I loved her, and it was also cemented by the uncertainty if I wanted to move back to Canada. Unfortunately during this period of time (before I broke up with her) I also was unfaithful to her (emotionally not physically).

I did come back to Canada in January, and have tried for the last 3 1/2 months to fix my relationship with my ex-partner. However, we have just argued, and just a few days ago I finally accepted that my relationship with her was over.

Anyway, without further adieu, here's the 'Evolution' exercise statements that I wrote:

1. With the long distance relationship, I forgot what my partner meant to me

2. I was unsure I wanted to move back to Canada, and used that as an excuse to further distance myself from her

3. I was not mature with regards to attitude, and regularly thought there may be someone better for me.

4. I was led by attraction to others over my love of my partner, because she was 5,000 miles away, and it was hard to ignore the people in my life in immediate vicinity.

5. I took my partner for granted, and believed she would always love me. This was because we had broken up twice before, and also because after 10 years together I never thought we would ever be apart.

6. I drank too much, due to the cultural differences in the UK. And due to this was out of control at times, and misbehaved on the phone with her. I was mean to her and didn't realise how badly I was hurting her.

7. I failed to value the plans my partner and I had made together.

8. I made a commitment to my partner by getting engaged. But by breaking it off, I lost her trust, and broke her heart.

9. I cheated on her, if not in a physical sense, in an emotional way, by starting and attempting to pursue new relationships with others while we were "officially" still together.

These are all pretty hard things to admit to myself, but taking responsibility for them, is as your blog says, the start of making myself a better person.

- trying to be a better person, in Canada

Guy Getting Divorced said...


I applaud your strength, courage, and humility. It's not easy to take responsibility for these events, but doing so offers us opportunities to grow.

I am sorry to hear about how your relationship deteriorated, since it is so clear that you still have feelings for your partner. While it may not be what you want right now, you still have a relationship with her. Don't take it for granted. Let her see you evolve. Give her time and space. Do not seek her approval, or look to "make up" for past mistakes. One thing I have learned is that going "backwards" will only bring up in her the last set of feelings she experienced with you. If you want to win her back, it will have to be by redifining yourself and having her see the new value in you.

Over time, things can be different between you two; taking responsibility is the first step in making that happen. Thank you for your heartfelt post. I'll have good thoughts for you and your future.

canada said...

guy getting divorced:

Do you think there is value in admitting these things to my ex-partner? Perhaps it might make her see that I understand the situation from her point of view, and also that I am becoming a better person for that reason?


Guy Getting Divorced said...


Personally, I think there is value in sharing this with your partner, but it really depends on where you are coming from. Do you want to admit this to her to seek her approval or forgiveness? Or do you want to share this with her so that she can see that you are on your own journey of self improvement?

Personally, I think men give their power away when they seek approval from women. I know that for me, I did not share my thoughts about our relationship with my wife until I was in a place where her response did not matter to me. Supplication, in any form, will not bring you closer together. Whatever you decide to do, remember to come from a place of respect, strength, honor, and responsibility to yourself.

Good luck to you, and stay strong.

canada said...

Dear Guy,

Thanks for your replies.

Is there any hope when the other person no longer even wants to try? She has said to me that she doesn't, and wants to get on with her life. She has begun to date someone else.

I am a believer in love. But presently, I find it so hard to believe. I feel if I give up hope, then even the love I still feel for her will die.

When do you know to give up, or keep believing?

- canada

Guy Getting Divorced said...


This is something everyone needs to come to grips with on their own terms. On that note, I think that everyone "knows" when its time to move on. Whether they decide to heed and acknowledge their instincts, though, is a separate matter.

Ask yourself and be frank, what do you believe in? Get clear on that before you do anything else.