In relationships, I always viewed myself as the “cool girl.” The girl with the go-with-the-flow attitude, that was easy to be with, laid back, “low maintenance,” understanding and undemanding. When I was in my early and mid twenties, it was my thing and I thought it worked for me. After a few years working in private practice with young women, I’ve come to learn that the cool girl mentality wasn’t just my thing. It is a thing. I find myself talking with countless women who, in trying to be tolerant, agreeable, easygoing and understanding, are getting a lot less than they bargained for and find it difficult to understand why.
For some reason, it seems perfectly reasonable that being tolerant and undemanding will help us in getting what we want in relationship. We don’t want to be thought of as high maintenance, nitpicky, inflexible or worse yet, “crazy.” So instead of speaking our minds when we are disappointed, annoyed or feel like we aren’t being given what we deserve in a relationship, we pretend like we don’t care, like it’s not a big deal and even that we’re not interested in being a top priority or that we are not looking for something more serious like a committed relationship or marriage at all (when in reality, we are).
The truth is, when you hold back, let things slide or avoid talking about what’s important to you, you end up being exactly who and what you’d been trying to avoid (that “crazy,” high maintenance, irrational woman). There’s only a certain amount of time that one can sustain the act of bottling up strong feelings before they all come to surface in an unsightly way. Whether your feelings manifest in direct or passive aggressive behaviors, they’ll end up affecting your relationship (and even how you feel about yourself) in one form or another.
Often times, when a partner or potential partner’s behavior does not match up with what we expect, we make excuses for them based on what we know about them- “He or she works really long hours,” or “He or she has commitment issues because of his past relationship” or “He or she was really drunk when he said that,” etc. And when we regularly tolerate and rationalize shitty behavior, we’re sending the message that it’s not a problem. And when you can’t take it anymore, start acting out or demanding something different, you’ll leave your partner feeling utterly confused, and rightfully so. It’s not surprising that, if you’ve been a “cool girl” all along, when you’re finally open (and perhaps explosive) about what you really want and need in a relationship and clear about what is okay and what isn’t, your partner may not take you seriously.
Why can’t you have needs, boundaries and high expectations and why can’t you be vocal about them? What’s so wrong with saying you want more or that something isn’t right? In order to get what you want and need in a relationship, you’ll need to recognize and understand your own feelings, set realistic boundaries, be clear about what you want, need and expect from the start and communicate those needs in a consistent and rational way-And Here’s How:
Recognize Your Own Feelings, Needs and Wants
By taking time to think about what you like and dislike, what you’re comfortable with and what makes you uneasy and how you want to be treated in a given situation versus what is off limits is an important step in understanding and managing boundaries in any stage of a relationship. When things don’t feel right, writing out how you feel or talking it out with friends can help to clarify your feelings so that, when you are ready, you can convey your message in the most effective way.
Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations
All healthy relationships have boundaries. Setting clear (but flexible) boundaries and expectations from the start is essential. This includes physical, emotional and sexual boundaries and needs as well as language, confidentiality, social encounters, familial expectations, a vision for the future, etc. Many partners don’t discuss boundaries and expectations and expect their significant other to just know or hope that someday things will change. It’s important to speak up, advocate for yourself and to be clear about what you want from the other person in a variety of circumstances. For example, if your partner does or says something that makes you uncomfortable, it is important to address the issue by saying something like “I felt uncomfortable when you said x and I would really like it if you x. Often times, one person in the relationship has a problem with something but never lets their partner know and choosing not to speak up and letting someone consistently cross the line, sends them the message that what they are saying, doing or not doing is okay with you.
Recognize When Boundaries are Being Crossed
Often times, when a boundary is being crossed and when expectations are not being met, your feelings say it all. In order to decide if a boundary has been crossed, check in with yourself. If you’re feeling frustrated, let down, hurt, violated or disrespected, it’s likely that boundary has been crossed and/or expectations are not being met. When someone crosses the line or isn’t respecting boundaries, it is important, for the health and longevity of the relationship and for one’s overall feelings of self-worth, that the problem is acknowledged.
Talk it Out
Communication is KEY. Talk about what makes you upset and what feels right from the start. Learn to say what you want and what you need and not be embarrassed by it. If your partner isn’t willing to listen, it may be time to get some professional help or even time to move on. If you fail to talk about what you need and expect, and continue to suffer in silence (allowing the internal build up to turn into confusion, insecurity, resentment, anger and frustration), when you finally do communicate your needs, you’ll convey your point with much more intensity and far less finesse than originally intended-You’ll seem like you are overreacting and even “crazy”. In addition, if you’ve rarely (or never) expressed needs and expectations and then at your breaking point, you surprise your partner with a flood of demands, limits and requirements, you will leave your partner feeling downright confused, and rightfully so. It isn’t fair to assume or expect your partner to know what you want or to read your mind.
Find a Balance
While it is essential to have and be clear about expectations, boundaries and feelings, it is equally important to find balance between being aloof and nitpicking. Decide what’s important and speak up about what really matters to you. Ask yourself; “Is this something I am (and will be) okay with?” or “Is this worth mentioning or letting go?” or “Is this a pattern of behavior?” or “Am I feeling disrespected in this situation?” or “Does my partner know (and need to know) how I feel about this? Or “Have I expressed my needs and expectations about this topic before?”
Stop Making Excuses
…for someone else. Stop rationalizing shitty behavior. If you find yourself making excuses for your partner when he or she isn’t giving you what you want or need, or worse yet, when your partner is treating you in a disrespectful or inconsiderate manner, it might be time to step back and evaluate what else might be going on. When you make excuses for your partner, you’re absolving your partner of any accountability, responsibility for their actions. The art of excuse making can become a dangerous habit and often might mean and lead to something more. Perhaps you don’t want to face the reality of a situation or that deep down you know there is a bigger problem.