It took me 10 years to say words to my ex-husband about what I needed from a partner. I did it by handing him a piece of paper on which I had listed all the to-do’s required in a normal week in our home and said, “Please, pick some of these things and own them.”
He simply said, “I can’t.”
Looking back, I can clearly see that all of this was carving our path toward divorce.
I was frustrated with him. I felt that he resisted becoming the partner I wanted, and the more he resisted, the more I told myself I didn’t need his help. Instead of speaking the truth about how I felt, I stayed in a story that, “I was parenting alone.” Then, I overdid it. I trudged forward being a super-mom. I did it all–birthday parties, school-volunteer work, full-time career, graduate degree (months after our son was born!), carpool coordinator, soccer-team manager, and on and on.
I didn’t want to be a martyr, but I cultivated enough martyr energy to embody Joan of Arc. In my martyrdom, I did it all, alone. And I deeply resented my husband. Martyrdom, I now know, is an express path to powerless.
Today, I dip into feeling that I must do it all alone from time to time, but now, I trust the signals in my body like warning lights. I stop everything. I sit quietly and breathe. I get on my yoga mat. I ask myself what’s true. I speak what I’m feeling and what I need. I write down the names of all the people who will help me. I ask for support. I trust that I’m supported by the universe, all on my path to rewrite this story that doesn’t serve me.
Your relationship with yourself determines your relationship with everyone in your life. In order to live a life where your irreducible needs are met, I invite you to find out how you can take steps to improve the relationships that you value.
Here’s a quick exercise to begin doing so: Write down the names of the people whose relationship you care about and deeply value. It’s probably a long list, so, for now, focus on just the two relationships that you most want to improve. Rate these two relationships using a scale of 1-10, with 10 meaning, “This relationship feels really good to me.”
Let’s say one of these relationships is a 5 right now on your scale. What would have to happen to shift this relationship up a few points? Take these steps to begin to shift each relationship that is important to you.
1. Decide how you desire the relationship to feel.
Take time to truly answer this for yourself: What’s your ideal? Do you want the relationship to feel easy and fun and supportive and mutual? Imagine what it would feel like if this relationship were functioning optimally. If your inner critic pipes in to say, “That’ll never happen,” ask that voice to go silent. Blocking what’s possible before you’ve even tried is a sure way to stay exactly where you are in this relationship.
2. Ask, “What can I shift in me to create what I desire?”
The hard truth: You can only change yourself. You cannot make another human do anything. You don’t want to make someone be in a relationship with you if they are not as committed as you are to nurturing the relationship.
So, determine what you can do differently. Examine the situations that leave you feeling like your needs are not being met. Look closely at your own behaviors. Note your patterns of thought about that person and about your relationship. Get really clear on your perspective about the dynamics that are creating the relationship stress. This step is NOT inviting you to blame another person or to become a martyr. It’s inviting you to look at the relationship from as many angles as possible in order to see it more fully, more clearly, and more completely.
3. Communicate how you feel from an “I” Perspective.
Not giving people a chance to show you who they are and how they value you is a way you limit the potential richness of the relationship. So, you must communicate your feelings.
However, we tend to use language that points the finger at people. “You make me so angry,” or, “You make me feel stupid,” are both examples of what we say to others when we don’t feel things are going our way.
Instead of taking responsibility for our own emotions, we blame the other person for the way we feel. When we use “you” language, it tends to fuel the anger rather than extinguishing it.
Instead, speak using “I,” as in, “I feel like I have to nag about the chores when you don’t complete them,” or “I don’t understand what I can do differently when it comes to asking you to help,” or “Can we talk about why I feel this way?” Rather than blaming the other party and accusing them of something–which immediately puts them on the defensive–you are owning your feelings and taking responsibility for them. When we change our “you” language to “I” language, it gives us the authority to claim our emotions.
Communicating in this way may be new for you. You may need to communicate, first, about this new style by letting your partner/spouse or children know that you are committed to communicating your feelings in a healthy way. This will give them an opportunity to show you who they are, helping you determine what this relationship brings to your life.