If you have ever felt frustrated or invisible in a relationship, 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. Put another way … I was unaware of some relationship “rules” that I’ll try to explain here …
1. You must be better to yourself, to improve your relationships. If you care less about yourself than you do about the person with whom you’re in a relationship, one of two things is going to happen:
The other person will make the unconscious (but logical) observation that they can take more than their fair share in the relationship …. and they will. It’s not their fault because you’ll have communicated that you are “okay” with giving beyond what is actually authentic for you.
You will unwittingly mix-up the things that are your responsibility, with things that you erroneously believe are someone else’s responsibility … like your happiness, your fulfillment or your relief from pain during moments of stress. If you aren’t caring for those things, they are needs that aren’t being met. Your peace and happiness can be supported by others, but you must fundamentally “hold” and maintain those things.
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 between a fantasy or scapegoat, but not a partner. Power differentials can be fun in short bursts, like flirting, but they don’t bode well for intimacy in the long run.
3. Remember: 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 causes problems, if it happens too mindlessly.
This is something I work hard to remember, and it’s the birthplace of the “container” metaphor which is the basis for VisibleU. Thinking of my container helps me remember that I can be close to those I love, but I still must contain myself, and hold my own feelings and experience. When I’m stressed, sometimes I can slip into believing that my feelings are everybody’s truth. But they’re not. My truth is separate from everyone else. We all deserve space for our individual truths. By remembering to contain and hold own truth, I more fully respect others.
4. You are most open to connection when you contain yourself.
When I was younger, I had moments where it felt like my happiness or satisfaction was in the hands of someone else … “If only my boyfriend would understand …” or “If only my boss realized that ….” This incorrect belief led to a lot of wasted energy. I felt driven to get agreement or action from others. But that was not the only (or often best) path to what I sought.
Relationships won’t give you happiness. That’s for you to create and hold … over and over again. When you are taking loving responsibility for yourself and your feelings, other people have every reason in the world to connect with you. But when you aren’t containing yourself, you may unintentionally disrespect others. Healthy connection requires that we respect and use the space between us and everyone else, for loving communication.
5. Be all of who you are … AND own it all.
This takes practice if you tend to over-focus on other people. The more you turn inward, yes it will mean you feel your distinction a bit more. But owning your distinction from others is exactly how 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 urgency about tidiness, like a sink full of dishes. I tried being patient, hoping that he would someday join me in my aversion for clutter and messiness. That never happened. So I would periodically succumb to arguing about how unfair it was that he didn’t care the way that I did.
But that was exactly it. He didn’t care about the clutter the way I did. A Zen home was not his priority – It was mine. I was the one who valued it. That value was part of who I was, not him. When I finally owned that difference, it was an incredible relief. It unblocked my power. Instead of being stuck in anger, I was free to move forward. That let me feel a more 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 are of course the exception to all of the previous points.
Assess before you invest. Taking responsibility for yourself (and all of your feelings, needs, and actions) helps you remember to guard your wellbeing.
Before you team up with anyone in a significant way, you simply must assess how reasonable it is to expect balance and respect from them. (Their actions will tell you the truth about this, not their words.) If someone doesn’t respect your difference from them, then that person is unconsciously looking for a servant or a mirror … and you deserve much more than either of those things.
Jessica is the creator of The VisibleU™ Method. Over the last 20 years she has helped hundreds of busy adults create more balance in their personal and professional relationships.
Jessica received her master’s degree in Applied Psychology from New York University, and completed mediation training at the Columbia University School of Law. She has held numerous clinical roles, managed clinical operations for a national EAP, and advised executives on employee-relations concerns at Fortune 1000 companies.