Is Your Independence Infecting Your Relationship?

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You pride yourself on being independent … your own person  – and you like it that way. You love your sweetheart and want to please them but their protective or controlling nature is interfering with the relationship. Is your partner’s behavior smothering you? Do you feel “joined at the hip” instead of walking alongside your significant other? You can’t see into the future, but you can see clearly that their attitude is going to dismantle the relationship if they  don’t give you some breathing room.

Is This Your Relationship?

You: You want some alone time and are enjoying the day curled up with a good book.

Your partner:  They are annoyed, angry, or hurt that you’re choosing a book over them; using the time they want to spend together.

Or maybe these remarks sound familiar:

“You don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll take care of you.” Or, “I don’t want you to going out at night without me.”

Your response might be to hit the ceiling … or maybe you swallow the Cool Aid, nod your head in agreement, pretend s/he didn’t mean it, or you tell yourself you’ll deal with it later.

Do you feel you’re being pressured into giving up control of your actions or emotions to your partner? Are you afraid to make decisions, take certain actions, engage in certain activities, live a lifestyle to which you’re accustomed and that you enjoy? Can you embrace independence or is your independence taking a hit to satisfy him/her?

 

Why Does Your Mate Act This Way?

When you give up or are asked to give up some of your independence, your partner may be overstepping boundaries. S/he may see the relationship as only “us,” not two unique individuals coming together but still maintaining two separate identities.

Your partner may be inclined to assume certain roles in the relationship. S/he may do this because it may seem familiar or comforting to assume these roles, because this is how their past relationships operated, or because they see this role as a demonstration of their love or commitment. The trouble with this attitude is that, taken to extremes or beyond what you feel comfortable with, it can destroy the often good intentions behind it, causing more harm than good.

 

Restoring Independence

Maybe it’s time for a heart-to-heart discussion with your sweetie. A relationship is a gift that chance has bestowed on you both. Does s/he see the relationship this way, or to them is the relationship a necessity or does it serve to satisfy certain desires?

You might tell him/her they matter to you, but at the same time, you are each whole and separate persons with your own independent needs and interests.

You might tell them they are not responsible for your happiness. That kind of responsibility can lead to demands on their part and resentment or a sense of powerlessness on your part.

You might tell them it’s important to you to grow as an individual in a relationship. Your personal goals are not going to be his/her personal goals – some of them are, but don’t expect the whole enchilada.

You might tell them that independence can actually keep the relationship fresh and exciting.

You might tell them that being independent allows you to support each other’s unique goals and capabilities.

You might tell them that when we allow and respect our partner’s space, this draws our partner closer to us.

You might tell them that you would prefer to be asked directly what you want and need from them rather than assuming they know what you want or that they can read your mind.

 

Making Progress

Being able to keep your independence and individuality also equips you for the uncertainties of life (you might want to leave that out of the discussion). You and your mate can cooperate together to find an honest and authentic way of relating to one another so that you each can maintain your independence and get what you want out of a life and still be together.

Once your lover’s feelings of discomfort or loneliness pass, you are on your way to maintaining – or recovering – your sense of independence … and that could be a relationship-saver.

Are Your Friends Ruining Your Relationship?

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Your potentially first mistake is pouring your heart out to a close friend when there’s a speed bump in your relationship with your sweetie – and you take their advice! They’re a good buddy, maybe your BFF, so you trust them and value what they think. So you take their advice to “dump the bum.”

Of course, you don’t just jump off a cliff when someone asks you to, but your friend’s words weigh on you. Maybe other friends or family you run to have similar reactions. Doubt slowly creeps in and somewhere down the road and gradually you’re seeing your sweetie in a tarnished light. But is that light really reliable? Are you seeing demons when they’re originating from external sources … like clouds polluting your ability to see the situation realistically?

Beware. There are certain people and certain types of advice that should be taken lightly or considered skeptically. You might be best off avoiding discussing your relationship problems at all with certain people.

 

Are Your Friends Pressuring You?

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

– Coco Chanel

 

Outside opinions, thoughts, judgments about your relationship decisions are just those: outside opinions. They are not yours. Don’t be a dust mop, picking up on their criticisms and internalizing them.

Your friends and family may be thinking they’re serving your best interests when they sit you down and have an “intervention.” And maybe they are. But it’s you who has to decide. Don’t let your friends rob you of your judgment. They are injecting doubts that you may be picking up on and acting on without giving them careful consideration.

 

What Your Friends May Be Saying

“He’s not right for you. You deserve better.”

Or they may call you crazy. This could be a maneuver to invalidate your decisions and feelings. They may find fault with your relationship. They may nit-pick or make assumptions about how you’re being treated.

 

Questions to Ask Yourself

·      Are your friends happy for you when you’re happy? Sad for you when you’re sad?

·      Are they envious?

·      Are they hostile in the presence of you and your mate; do they give them the “cold shoulder?”

·      Are their reactions always negative when you’re discussing your relationship?

·      Are they making up stories about your mate; telling you things that are untrue?

·      Are you detecting the “common denominator argument” … that is, “Every one of my relationships eventually failed; yours will too.”

·      Are they having their own relationship problems and transferring their negativity onto yours?

·      Are they single and want you to be single too?

·      Do they criticize other aspects of your life as well as your relationship?

·      Are they living your life instead of their own?

·      Are they divorced or in the throes of a difficult divorce?

·      Do they make sound decisions about their own life and relationships?

·      If it’s your mother or another close relative, is their attitude that there’s no one good enough for you? Do they have your happiness at heart?

·      Do you value and trust their opinions in general?

Remember, others’ decisions are based on their own personal experiences. They may be bitter and bruised from their own past relationships.

 

Working It Out For Yourself

I don’t know who coined this, but it’s so true: “You can’t choose who you love, but you can choose who you’re with.” Relationships involve two people but you are ultimately responsible only to yourself. You are responsible for your own happiness.

Trust your intuition. You don’t need to explain or justify your decisions to anyone. If you feel pressure to stay in a relationship that is dysfunctional or abusive, recognize that. Are you making excuses not to leave … excuses like “He’s a good man/woman,” or “S/he’s financially secure and will provide for me.”

Your inner guide knows best. Others are not walking in your shoes. It’s you who has to search deep down to determine what your heart is telling you. Seek advice – friends or professionals – but you must ultimately decide for yourself.

In sessions with clients in situations like this, I like to ask these questions:

·      Do you see a repeating pattern of discord with your mate? In other words, does the same thing happen over and over?

·      Is your mate telling you they don’t like something you’re doing and that something is important to you?

·      Do they seem to get satisfaction doing and asking you not to do this or that or change your behavior?

·      When you give in to their requests, do you get a sense that you are giving up your independence? Or does it maybe make you feel sad, uncomfortable, or controlled?

·      Are you the one always making compromises, backing down? Is the relationship one of give-and-take or does it feel more one-sided?

·      Are you comfortable with who you are?

·      Do you feel pressure to change something you don’t think you can or want to change?

·      If you are desperate for a confidante, are you choosing carefully? Is this person in a long and happy relationship themself? Are they a good role model by which you might gauge yours? Are you taking cues and advice but being selective and making up your own mind?

 

You Are Responsible

“Don’t ever feel bad for making a decision about your own life that upsets other people. You are not responsible for their happiness. You’re responsible for your own happiness.”

– Isaiah Hankel

 

It may be your friend you should dump, not your sweetie.  At least, don’t leave him/her without deep personal reflection and communication. Keep toxic people out of your life. Don’t let them make your decisions and affect your self-esteem.

Close Encounters with His (Her) Family during the Holidays

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Christmas is just around the corner and this year you’re taking your sweetie home to meet your parents. Now, this should be interesting. You’re two months pregnant and nobody knows yet, except you two,  and you want to keep it that way – for now.

Or, try this holiday scenario: You’re a newly married couple and both sides of the family are meeting for the first time. From what you’ve been told, the two families are very different. You don’t know if it’s going to go smashingly well or be the Christmas from hell. Maybe, if you’re lucky, it’ll shake out somewhere in-between.

How about this one? You and your husband and bi-sexual teenage daughter are having Christmas dinner with your in-laws. You both have agreed that your daughter can bring along her live-in girlfriend. Your father-in-law is a minister and your mother-in-law makes no bones about what she thinks is proper and what’s not.

 

 Holiday Dinner Horrors

Greg is sitting in a dark room late at night. Pam, his fiancé, walks in and discovers him deep in thought.

Pam: “What's the matter, sweetie? Can't sleep?”

Greg: “No, no. I was just going over my answers to the polygraph test your dad just gave me.”

–  from the movie Meet the Parents

 

Holiday flare-ups are challenging – and I’m not referring to irritable bowel syndrome. Family get-togethers are often fraught with awkward encounters, personality clashes, exposure to taboo topics, conflicting political and social views. When family feuds, a history of family friction, rude behavior or offhand sensitive remarks pop up, it’s tough to mind your manners and keep your sanity and know what to do to keep the situation from getting out of control. How do you keep the peace, not only between you and the family, but between you and your sweetie?

 

Diffusing the Situation

The switch. Switch to safer topics when it looks like things are about to explode. Keep healthy boundaries.

Stay calm. When things get heated, stay calm. Emotions are contagious. Balance out a raised voice by speaking softly and slowly. Keep your tone neutral. If you can keep your composure the other person tends to respond by mimicking that composure.

Throw up a smoke screen. Another way to diffuse a heated discussion or awkward moment is to inject a little humor. You don’t want the person to feel belittled by making light of something someone said, but you can throw out a random absurd comment that is so totally off the subject – and off the wall – that it’s laughable. You are inadvertently redirecting the conversation. Example of a red herring: “Weren’t you married once before?” your father-in-law asks at the holiday dinner table. “I’d love another serving of mashed potatoes; thanks for asking,” you respond.

Defer it. When you’re put in a tough spot when asked a question, defer the discussion until later. Example: Uncle Joe to you and your partner: “What do you think about those immigrants crossing the border into the U.S.?” You or your partner: “I’d like to give you my opinion about that, but let’s do it later when we have some time to talk, just the two (or three) of us.”

Assign who responds. Plan responses to expected topics in advance. When asked, “Are you two planning on starting a family soon?” your response could be, “We haven’t made that decision yet. We’re working on reaching a point in our careers when it makes the most sense to start a family.”

 

How to Be Okay With Others’ Bad Behavior

Perspective. Everyone has their own beliefs about what’s normal and acceptable … corporal punishment with a child, food choices, public displays of affection. Remind yourself what’s more important: having a harmonious family get-together and forging good memories and relationships with the family and your partner.

Plan ahead. You and your sweetie might want to decide which of you responds to awkward or insensitive remarks. You might decide that you’ll to deal with your side of the family and he will handle his.

Empathize. If your instinct is to be offended that his mom doesn’t understand why you would want to seek personal or couples counseling, remind yourself that older generations often hold different beliefs about mental health issues.

 

Preserving the Relationship

Keep your focus on preserving and respecting your relationship first. Resist the urge to throw darts or throw the holiday turkey at your in-laws. Sometimes biting your tongue can keep you from biting someone’s head off. Next time, it could be your partner that takes a bullet. Use restraint, common sense, and keep the communication flowing between you and your sweetie. Do that and you’ll know what to do – or not do – when you gather with the family.