Let’s get a couple of things straight right up front.
We’re adults. We’re trying to do the best we can under difficult circumstances. And over the years (your age and experience may vary) we’ve learned to put up with a lot of bad behavior from others. We either
- ignore it and hope it stops
- fight about it when we are upset and possibly emotionally triggered
- begin to define and ask for healthy boundaries around the issue
We’ve all done all three. And in my experience, firm and clear boundaries are the only way to go. Here’s how healthy boundaries look:
- When you do this, I feel this
- I am responsible for my own feelings, and my healing around any offense or upset I’ve experienced
- I am also responsible to ask for what I need. If I need to set a boundary about an unhealthy behavior (drinking, perhaps) it is my responsibility to kindly and firmly ask for the behavior modification.
- When you keep hurting me, or violating my modification request, I will remind you and attempt to again establish and articulate my healthy boundary, and my request of you.
If you cannot agree to my boundary, or if you don’t see it as a problem, then we are in trouble. It is very hard to communicate and establish healthy boundaries when one of the people doesn’t want to change or do the work to make things better for the relationship. Boundaries are a two-way street. I have to ask for my needs. I have to listen to your requests and needs. And then our journey together is about being flexible and kind enough to navigate the rough spots.
Because We’ve Ended As Lovers
It would be my preference to maintain a friendly connection to everyone in my life, including romantic relationships that come apart. That’s not always possible. A few years back, a breakup did not go as planned. Though I had asked and affirmed my boundaries with this woman a number of times, she was unable to keep her commitment. She was sad when we broke up, but not sad enough to look at what had caused our breakdown, and not emotionally ready to engage in the conversation about how to unwind our romantic partnership in a healthy and respectful way. She went ballistic. She’s now blocked on all forms of social media and telephonic communications. I did reach out to her a few months ago to tell her I still thought of some of the lessons we learned together, fondly, and that I was happy she’d gotten married and moved to the country. It was a pleasant exchange. It was not an invitation to continue our relationship as friends, or even restart our communication. I was clearing the air a bit. Giving my heart a moment of pause to reflect on the good we had experienced and give her the warm fuzzy of affirmation. “I’m glad you are happy.”
If we’re going to be in “the arena” of relationships, as Brené Brown calls it, we’re going to take some blows, leave a little blood in the sand, and experience heartbreak and pain. It’s part of life. And it’s especially part of relationships. If you’re not pushing a bit, stretching to get better and bigger in your love connection, then you’re probably checking out, detaching, or letting your fear of losing keep you from winning.
We Both Need to Win
I was talking to a woman recently, who is in the early months of a relationship and looking for advice navigating the love waters again. What I said to her during a call was very clearly a message I needed to hear.
“He wants to feel that you are excited to pursue him. And you want to feel pursued by him as well. Each of you wants to feel like you are the catch, the winner, the lucky one.”
Even in non-romantic relationships, a win-win is often in everyone’s best interest. Can you give your partner the victory? Can you let go of the score, or winning, and give them what they really want, without any expectations of return?
But If I Have to Ask For It
I heard the other day, “Yeah, but if I have to ask you…” WAIT. Hold up.
Actually, you DO HAVE TO TELL ME. If I’m doing something, or not doing something that’s bumming you out, you HAVE TO TELL ME. The idea that, “it doesn’t count if I have to ask for it” is bullshit. Don’t give in to that passive-aggressive manipulation. If you have a burning desire SAY IT. If you have a growing complaint, please SAY IT.
What we don’t say is often the cause for more heartache than we can imagine. Let’s say we’re a bit shy, and it’s hard for us to ask for what we need. And we’ve been hoping that our partner would take the dominant role in our lovemaking for one night. IF WE DON’T ASK, we’re hoping they will read our minds. It’s virtually impossible to read your partner’s mind on wants and needs. It’s easy to see when they are disappointed. But it’s harder to imagine what they want and then do it proactively. We can try. But often, as I found out in my marriage, my guess was wrong. I would try to be a better man.
I would work hard to provide more money, more child care and house cleaning support… And it didn’t make a difference. My wife was still unhappy. She was unfulfilled. She was struggling with something, and she imagined it was me. She knew it was me that was making her unhappy. Um, News Flash: we are responsible for our own inner happiness.
Be Bold, Ask for What You Want
I am still learning to ask for what I need. When those needs aren’t met, and I’ve asked nicely, I still get disappointed. It’s okay. That’s human. But I am more and more courageous about asking for my heart’s desire. Speaking my truth is part of what I do in life, here in this writing, and in my coaching work. I am going to ask for what I want, no matter what.
Can you make a commitment to ask for what you need 99% of the time? And when you figure out what you’re not asking for, can you try asking. And if you don’t get what you wanted, can you ask for it again?
As I get ever clearer on my asks and desires, I can get clearer on how this relationship (romantic or professional) is or is not meeting my needs. That’s the ninja trick. Release the relationships that are not meeting your basic conditions of satisfaction. And nourish and build relationships that build warm and fuzzy connections. If you ask and you don’t receive, you have a choice to make. If you ask repeatedly and don’t get any movement, you’re getting a very clear answer. “Not important to me, at this time.” And if that response is too painful to bear, it might be time to move on. UG.
Get clear. Make the ask. Let go of the outcome, but listen to what the other person is saying.
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