If you feel frustrated or invisible in certain relationships, I want to share some things: First, you aren’t alone. As with most self-help writing, I am drawn to address subjects that were lessons in my own life. There are some relationship “rules” that I wish I'd learned earlier in life, and here are five of them:
1. You must take care of yourself, before you can improve any relationship.
If you avoid speaking up or saying "no", one of two things will happen:
Other people will make the unconscious (but logical) observation that they can take more than their "share" …. and they will. This is how we "teach" people how to treat us. When you don't honor your own needs, silently you're telling others that you're “okay” with compromising beyond what is actually authentic for us.
You may confuse what is your responsibility, and hold people responsible for things that are not theirs … like your happiness in a moment, or your relief from pain in a disagreement. Your happiness can be supported by other people, but fundamentally those things are in your hands. In a conflict, you are responsible for using your tools: words to advocate for yourself and taking space from a person or situation.
2. If you want a fulfilling romantic relationship — Be and have a true “partner”
If you care more about a significant other, than you do for yourself, you can’t have a partner. You will have relationships with people who can morph from a fantasy, to a "project", to scapegoat ... but not a partner. Power differentials can be fun in short bursts, like flirting, but they don’t bode well for real intimacy in the long run.
3. You always have power, and it’s your duty to use it.
We can’t fall apart on a regular basis. Yes, in some cases, you deserve to lean on someone for sure. That’s a wonderful resource in supportive relationships. But it can't be the primary strategy.
You can, of course, connect with the people who are important to you. But it is also your duty to hold your "truth" together. When we're stressed, we can slip into believing that our feelings are everybody else's truth too. But they’re not. My truth is separate from everyone else's. We all deserve space for our individual truths. By remembering to hold my own truth, I nurture myself more effectively, and respect those around me.
4. You are most open to connection when you're using your power to move your feet.
When I was younger, I had moments where it felt like my happiness or satisfaction was in the hands of someone else … “If only [so and so] would understand …” or “If only my boss realized that ….” This led to a lot of wasted energy, and yearning for agreement or understanding that wasn't actually a pre-requisite to my moving forward.
The more ability you have to take care of yourself and get your needs met ... the more you'll stay in a mindset that is open for spontaneous connection with others.
5. Be who you are … AND own it all.
By owning your distinction from others, you differentiate yourself from stressful circumstances … and that is tremendously powerful.
Here’s a personal example: For years I could fall into a lot of frustration about my husband’s lack of tidiness. I tried being patient, hoping that he would someday join me in my aversion to clutter and messiness. It never happened. So I would periodically get upset with him about how "unfair" it was that he didn’t care the way that I did.
But that was exactly the problem. He didn’t care about the clutter the way that I did. A Zen home was not his priority – It was mine. I was the one who valued it, not him. When I finally owned that difference, it was a relief. It unblocked my power. Instead of being stuck in anger about it, I felt a healthy entitlement to ask for contributions from him in other areas. It was the beginning of a healthier give and take between us.
To wrap up, I have just one final thought .... abusive relationships of any sort, are of course the exception to some of these points.
The caveat is this: assess before you invest in any relationship. Assess how reasonable it is to expect balance and respect from a person. (Their actions will tell the truth about this, not their words.)
If someone doesn’t respect your difference from them, and can't accept moments where you disagree, or need different things at times? ... Then that person is looking for a servant or a mirror ... not a healthy relationship ... and you deserve much more than either of those things.