It is okay NOT to teach people how to treat you. Unless they were raised by wolves. Then Cold Play or a quick exit is in order. Your call.

Do NOT teach people how to treat you.

Dr. Phil is lying. You don’t teach people how to treat you, because most of us were not raised by wolves and therefore we do know how to properly treat each other.

I was a self-appointed teacher for a long time.

When someone did something off, or wrong, or lacking, I would explain/lecture/harangue and just generally need to talk it out. To fix the offender. To set him (and it was always a him – I don’t bother trying to fix my girl friends or my sisters) straight. To teach him how to treat me.

How condescending. I assumed that he didn’t know how to treat me correctly and that I could teach him.

Of course he knew how to behave properly. He just didn’t. No amount of teaching can fix that.

(I say “he” but there is a whole string of he’s.)

I suspect that attempting to teach someone how to treat you actually teaches them that you don’t know how to treat yourself.

Let’s be clear: I am not talking about walking away or going thermonuclear every time someone accidentally slights you or steps over a line. Absolutely have boundaries. Just don’t appoint yourself the border guard and the rehab/vocational counsellor.

I have a friend, Z. He and I used to be A Thing. When we were A Thing, he drove me off the freaking edge. He’d do something that upset me, I’d explain to him in heated detail what was wrong, and all the multiple, minute and cosmic ways he was wrong, and he’d say “okay.”

Bastard. Just. Refused. To. Engage.

(Hi sweetie. I really do love you and dinner is still on and on you. But you were a gawdawful boyfriend.)

And that – frankly – was awful and the wrong of him to do. Because he really was doing shit wrong. If he wanted to be with me, then he really should have apologized and changed his ways. But he wasn’t sorry and he wasn’t going to change his ways and let’s be honest, he didn’t really want to be with me, either.

So he wasn’t going to deal with my reaction to any of these things. I kept trying to believe he didn’t know how to behave properly with me; he did. He just didn’t want to. All my efforts to fix would be for naught.

His “ok” was simply the acknowledgement of reality. This is the way he was; I could accept it or not but there was no “fixing” it.

So that’s one reason not to fix. It is fruitless.

Here’s another reason: it is controlling and fantastic.

It means you’re treating a person like a lump of clay or a block of marble whence, Michaelangelo-like, you chip your David.

  • It means you have a fantasy of what this person/relationship should be and are trying to train the real live person to be your fantasy.
  • It means you think you have the inside track on proper behaviour and, mama-like, can train someone.
  • It means that you’re signing up to be the teacher.
  • It means you’re signing up to be the project manager.

I don’t want to be the teacher, project manager or the mother. I am already those things in every other sphere of my life. I want to be the lover.

And – my sisters, I’m talking to you – would you find it hot if your lover:

Wanted to fix you, teach you, sculpt you, make you into a better person and his fantasy?

I would be fucking appalled and think ‘this guy is a control-freak with Woman Issues’ and run far, far away.

Or try to fix him.

And yet…I think women have been trained to be The Teacher in relationships. To see potential. To kiss frogs. To be the catalyst and path to princedom.

No wonder we have this apparent un-match going on in relationships where women want to commit and work on relationships and fix their partner and men resist commitment and relationships and especially relationships that require work. Who really wants to be reminded of all their flaws and the fixes required?

(except I’m not 100% buying that bill of goods. My male friends don’t seem to have any issues committing or any abiding fear of relationships. Even Z, the batty-making one referenced above, now yearns for a deep, intimate, committed relationship.)

Remember my freak outs attempts to educate Z that were followed by his “okay” that Was Not Okay?

Recently, I freaked out on a different friend of mine and I was totally in the  wrong. His response?


And this time, that was the right thing to do.

He didn’t try to teach me how to behave. There was a line that I crossed and he wasn’t going there with me. He wasn’t going to bother to explain why I was wrong; how I should have behaved; how best to make it up to him; or reward me for good behaviour and punish me for bad. I was simply wrong. It was my responsibility to see it, or not.

I saw it. Immediately.

(OMG how I saw it. Insert cringe here.)

And I did my best to fix it, right away, and will most likely not do that again.

(Most likely. Not 100% guaranteed. Perfection is not my thing.)

So Dr. Phil is wrong. So is Cold Play.

You don’t teach people how to treat you. You simply know how you must be treated and accept nothing else. You trust that the people in your life can fix themselves, course-correct, and that they weren’t raised by wolves.


About the author

Kelly Diels I'm Kelly Diels. I'm a writer. I've written for Salon, Jezebel, XO Jane, Problogger, Write to Done and more. I'm currently working on a book about The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. Interested? Please subscribe to my newsletter and I'll share more thoughts and chapters with you as I write them. You can also find me on Facebook and yes please, please do.