One of the biggest mistakes we witness people make in relationship is the decision, conscious or unconscious, to rein in some of their own desires or dreams because it triggers their partner, because they think it’ll cause too much of a stir, or because of they convince themselves they “should”.
See if you can relate to any of these examples from people we’ve been coaching recently.
Anna thinks there is something wrong with her because she doesn’t want to marry and have children with the man she has been dating for ten months. After all, he’s a good guy, loyal and responsible (in stark contrast to her ex). He really wants to marry her and make a new life together. So Anna is trying to talk herself out of her feelings of doubt and lack of desire to marry, in order to make him happy and because it just makes logical sense to marry this nice guy.
Anthony damps down his desire for sex in several ways: By not acknowledging his need for it in the moment; by trying to talk to himself out of wanting it by minimizing its importance (“It’s not that big of deal, anyway. I’m fine without it”); by not initiating sex or touch with his partner; by backing off at the first sign of discomfort or refusal; and by routinely putting his partner’s needs ahead of his own.
Finally, Robert, who is in the throes of divorce and is discovering that he doesn’t know what he wants anymore. He has gone along with his wife’s desires and demands for some 30 years and has totally lost touch with his feelings, desires and dreams. During their marriage it simply became second nature to let her desires be their desires, and whenever he did want something different from her, to just let it slide, because, as he said, “It was easier that way”.
In each of these three examples, you could make the case that they are just being generous – they want their partner to have what they want and need. You could say they are being flexible, because they’re not attached to having things their own way. We could posit that they are peacemakers who value harmony more than getting what they want. We could even call them super spiritual in the sense that “The Great Way is easy for those who have no preferences”.
Just today, we read a great article on mindbodygreen.com (here …) that said the most important ingredient of a lasting relationship is generosity. We don’t disagree, generosity is essential.
However, in the three examples above, our friends are not being generous. Let me qualify that. I’m not suggesting that they are not generous and flexible people, or that they don’t want their partners to have everything they need, or that they’re not spiritual or understanding people. I know for a fact that they are these things, too.
The problem here is that what masks as generosity or flexibility in reality is much more avoidance of “trouble”, fear of rejection, lack of power to stand up for oneself, or flat-out laziness.
There’s always a long-term price to pay for the short-term gain of “not making trouble” by letting your own desires go. Whenever anyone damps down their own feelings or shuts off their own desires to avoid upset or conflict in relationship, whenever they don’t stay engaged and go for what they want and create win/wins that enliven both partners, they set themselves up for breakdown; ultimately risking the stability of their relationship.
No one can remain disconnected from themselves and their feelings and their passions for a prolonged period of time without the potential consequence of wanting to break free from their imprisoned experience in relationship in an attempt to “find themselves” again. In other words, negating your own desires and dreams over time creates resentment.
This is tricky stuff, no doubt. Who can’t relate to wanting something that you know might trigger your partner, so you go, “Whatever, it really isn’t that important”? You let it slide and don’t speak up about what it was you really wanted. And for a while, it’s totally fine. Until it isn’t.
Like Robert, who inadvertently did this with everything, by his own admission. Where they went on holidays, when they took holidays, or not; who they visited, for how long; what color to paint the house, what school to send their kids to, you name it. Her preference became their preference. For the longest time, this system worked fine.
Only now, as they’re divorcing, he’s resentful in retrospect that he always got “steamrolled”. In our coaching, he had a profound realization. He went along with her desires because “it was easier”. In doing so, he believed he did her a favor by not causing a stir and thus keeping the peace in the house. He believed he was being easy-going and flexible, and that she’d love him more for it.
What actually happened? She lost respect for him, and he lost respect for himself. Plus, he totally lost touch with what he actually wanted about pretty much every aspect of life. To be blunt, he “chickened out” on his own dreams.
I offered him this image. From her point of view, his “going-alongness” made her feel alone. Every time she’d offer up an idea, instead of a sparring partner, he showed up as an amorphous blob, without any distinct boundaries or edges, like a bowl of jelly. In partnership, it produces safety and connection when a partner can put her hand on the other and feel some substance instead of “jelly”.
Flexibility and easy-goingness are great qualities and can absolutely support harmony and easy flow. Always yielding like a jellyfish, however, produces loneliness and resentment. Generosity is indeed an absolutely crucial part of a successful, loving relationship. Self-sacrifice to the extent of not getting what you need is something else entirely.
The article we quoted above included this important detail: “Giving until it hurts or trying to buy affection does not develop a healthy relationship … It does not take the place of caring for yourself or expecting your partner to do his or her part.”
It’s easy to get mad at your partner when you don’t get what you want. It’s tempting for Anne to get mad at her boyfriend for pushing the marriage agenda. It seems logical for Anthony to get mad at his partner for not being more into sex. (On a side note, there are many effective ways to communicate directly to your partner about situations where you want seemingly different things. That is outside the scope of this article.)
Here, we want to offer you the opportunity to look inwards, specifically at where you let go of your own desires, for whatever reason, when in actuality it is important to you. Look at where, like Robert, you let it happen that you don’t get what you want. Where you let it be ok, even though it’s not really ok with you, to not get your needs met.
We encourage you to ask yourself questions like:
- Where am I not going for what I want?
- Where am I settling?
- Where am I holding myself back from my own passionate aliveness?
- Where do I “forget” what I want and need, in the interest of peacemaking, taking care of my partner, or someone else’s desires?
- What am I afraid would happen if I stood up for what I want and need?
The upside here is for you to find your own clarity about what you want, and the power and worthiness to stand up for what you want as well as what your partner wants.
Optimally, you’re saying (and this is part of our definition of a successful relationship or marriage), “I deserve to have what I want, and so do you. I want you to have your needs met, and I want that for me, too. I’m not going to sacrifice my needs to satisfy yours, or yours to satisfy mine. We are both going to get what we want. If we don’t know how to accomplish that, we’ll learn. But we’re not giving up on both of us being satisfied”.
You might even consider that you owe it, not only to yourself, but to your relationship, and to your children (if you have children), to listen to the whispers of your dreams and desires, lest you end up resentful that someone didn’t give you everything you wanted.
So take the risk. Go for what you want, for what makes your heart sing. Work it out with your partner, so you both get to fly.
If you don’t know how to do that by yourself, learn. Get help. And don’t back off from what you want.
🙂 Sonika & Christian
PS. If you’re curious about the kind of coaching we offer, use our contact form here to get in touch with us.