Does Your Relationship Feel Out of Balance? Try This.
Many of the people I surround myself with these days are highly emotionally intelligent, empathetic people. (Coincidence? I think not.) And from talking with lots of them, I’ve noticed a common thread: we place incredibly high importance on being good to the people we’re close to, and really adding value to those relationships.
It shows up in every corner of our lives – not just in romantic partnerships, but in friendships, at work, and in everyday communication. We love to feel supportive, cooperative, and helpful. We take pride in our ability to show up and be a helper, a giver, or a solver – and slowly, feeling helpful can start bleeding into our sense of feeling valued.
This is where I start to grimace a little, and I’ll tell you why.
To be “good” to the people we love, we first have to define what “good” looks like. Our sense of empathy likes to jump in right about now and tell us that a good partner would tune into the emotional needs of the people we love, and do our best to meet them. It then becomes so easy to buy into this idea that being a good friend or partner or colleague hinges on being of service to someone else.
Between our natural instincts to help, and the positive reinforcement we get from others when we do, it’s so easy to let that feeling of helpfulness become a gage of our value and a source of validation.
But if we measure success in our relationships by our ability to be cooperative and helpful, how much room are we leaving ourselves to preserve our boundaries? To decline, or dissent? To assess and tend to our own wants and needs?
This right here is exactly why I believe in reexamining, questioning, and rewriting our definition of what it means to be a good partner – until we arrive at one that leaves room for both cooperation and self-advocacy.
What if we could change the way we think about relationships, to make more room for speaking up without the fear of being ‘needy’ or ‘high-maintenance’? It’s super possible (!) and it starts with gently questioning some of our basic assumptions.
Before we can learn to embrace being more vocal and assertive, we have to change the way we think about speaking up.
I think it’s easy to fall into this trap of believing that relationships are fragile, and taking care of them means treading lightly. We believe they do better when we avoid potential conflicts, or sacrifice our personal wants and needs in favor of ‘the good of the relationship.’ We believe that above all, it’s important to be a team player - and that doing so often means burying our own instincts for the sake of bettering the relationship.
But I’d like to suggest a different way of thinking: that relationships aren’t fragile creatures that need us to make ourselves or our voices smaller for them to thrive. Because in fact, a relationship doesn’t work unless both parties are willing to take up space, participate actively, and use their voices to help shape it.
Using our voice isn't a threat to our relationships. It's what allows them to flourish.
When we can let go of the idea that relationships are like delicate, sleeping babies that we shouldn’t disturb with our own ‘selfish’ needs – and instead think of them as investments that depend on our input to thrive – we suddenly have nothing to apologize for when it’s time to speak up about something that’s not working, or that needs attention.
With this new mentality, suddenly speaking up goes from being an infraction, to a responsibility. It becomes a signal that we’re holding up our end of the deal, and doing our job well.
When we stay quiet and make our own needs smaller so that we can make someone else happy, we’re not giving the relationship the level of participation it deserves. That’s when the relationship starts to feel lopsided, and stops reflecting the real you.
But by learning to identify, validate, and speak up about the things we want and need, we fill our emotional tanks and we give ourselves the tools to be better partners – to give more easily, to love more freely, and to live more vibrantly.
We are better Everythings – better daughters, friends, parents, colleagues, and partners – when our tank is full. And so by making sure we’re getting what we need to feel our best, we’re not being selfish. We’re being responsible.
But… that doesn’t undo the knot in our stomach or the lump in our throat when it’s time to speak up on behalf of ourselves. There’s no denying, that moment is tough.
I’m not claiming it’s easy to start those conversations, or knowingly rock the boat. But because I believe so strongly in the value of doing it anyway, I made something I hope will help.
The free Stand Your Ground workbook is a self-guided quiz and follow-up worksheet to help you start getting comfortable with the idea of focusing on yourself, getting clear on your wants and needs, and talking about them with confidence! We could all use a permission slip once in a while to use our voice more freely, and my hope is that this kit reminds and encourages you to get clear on what we need and start those conversations.
Going along with this workbook, my challenge to you this week is to see if you can start gently letting go of the belief that ‘helpful’ is the best you can hope to feel in your relationships, and start giving yourself permission to let your wants and needs occupy more space.
By rethinking what it really means and looks like to be a team player, we can allow our empathy to show up brightly and often, and we can tie our self-worth to something other than how happy we make everyone else. We can start to prioritize our own needs, without feeling guilty – and start speaking up about them with the knowledge that we’re holding up our end of the deal.
I’d love to know - do you struggle to speak up on behalf of yourself in your relationships? Or maybe the hard part for you is being able to pinpoint what you really want or need in the first place? If you feel comfortable, let me know below in the comments. I’d love to support you in finding the clarity and confidence to find your voice, and use it often!