Relationships are all about compromise. When you're single, you make decisions based on your own comfort, convenience and values. When you're partnered, both people have to consider the other's point of view. It's part of respecting each other as individuals and it's a way to stay connected and learn about each other by entering into each other's worlds. This is crucial for a balanced partnership.
But what if you're doing it while your partner is not?
Side note: Before we dive into this, I just want to say that even the idea of imbalance can wreak havoc in relationships because it opens the door to resentment and judgement. We can start to develop what's called confirmation bias. What's confirmation bias? It's when we only see information that confirms a bias we already have. Like when you think your boyfriend is a jerk and so every little thing he does just proves it. And of course anything he does that's normal or nice gets filtered out through the "he's a jerk" mindset. That's confirmation bias in relationships. So before you jump to conclusions, it can be helpful to think hard about what's actually happening and see it from a few different perspectives just to be sure. Maybe your anger and resentment are rooted in something else and your relationship is just the easy target to pin it on. It's always worth considering.
Okay, having said that, let's get back to the question: What if you're the only one compromising or you're compromising so much more than your partner that you're losing yourself in your relationship? And by losing yourself, I mean, saying yes to a whole bunch of things you wouldn't normally do and saying no to a whole bunch of things you normally would do and that you enjoy and care deeply about. I call this sacrificing yourself on the altar of your relationship.
How do you know if this is happening? You may have sacrificed yourself on the altar of your relationship if you're:
These are just some of the things people experience when they give too much. What's funny, is I don't often hear these clients say they feel resentful - that doesn't come until later. And they're usually not thinking in a tit-for-tat or "score-keeping" way about who has done more of what. Mostly they feel sad or just confused about why things don't feel right. They know they're 'doing the right thing' by compromising for the sake of their relationship so they can't figure out why it isn't working. But there's such a thing as too much compromise. And if you're doing it, it's actually not helping your relationship.
As Janet Lansbury said, "Boundaries are the highest form of love." She was talking about parenting (if you don't know her work and you're parenting babies or toddlers, you should look her up) but this applies to all relationships. Setting boundaries is a way of saying, "This is who I am. I'm not going to lie about who I am with you because relationships need to be based on honesty." We should all be able to establish our boundaries, the areas of ourselves and our lives that we will protect and keep nourished so that we can be happy and healthy as individuals and in relationship. And we should feel safe knowing that if something is important to us, it's important to our partner.
If you're with someone who is willing to trash your boundaries, then that person is not for you.
Your partner should respect and love your boundaries. Your partner should love that sometimes you need to have dinner with just your girlfriends, and that you need time to sew, and that your family matters to you, and that you don't like okra or too much time sitting in the sun and that sometimes you need to stay home and clean up and sometimes you need to honor your commitments at work. Your partner should also know whether you are someone who likes to talk things through or think things through, and how comfortable you are in different kinds of social situations. And you should know the same things about them. You don't make your lives revolve around these things for each other, you just know and respect them and accommodate as best as possible...without sacrificing yourself. You and your partner should know each other well - it's part of feeling loved, cared for and known.
What about when two people's boundaries clash? Say, your need for time at home conflicts with your partner's need to socialize. Then you work out a compromise with full awareness that it's rooted in love on both sides. You both need to feel respected. And you both need to feel the trust that comes with knowing the other has your best interests at heart, as well as their own.
If compromising doesn't feel like that, it's not the right kind of compromising. That's sacrificing yourself on the altar of your relationship and it's not going to work in the long run. In the long run, you're going to feel resentful and angry. If you think you're on this path, take a moment to consider what sort of boundaries you need to set up for yourself. And then consider what you'll do to enforce them. The reaction you get from your partner will be good information for you to have. Maybe they just didn't know what you needed because you haven't expressed it before and they're actually happy to help you. Or maybe you'll find you're not a good fit. Either way, you're on the path away from sacrifice toward nurturing and growth whether individually or as a couple. That's a better path.
I had a friend ask me for a therapist recommendation the other day and the conversation took a turn I didn't expect. After I gave her a couple of names I followed it up by saying, "I'm not sure if they have openings, so you might want to call a few others in your network just in case." There was silence on the other end of the line and then she said, "And say what?"
So then there was silence on my end of the line because I couldn't quite figure out what she meant. She followed up with, "I mean, what should I actually say when I'm calling some random therapist looking for an appointment? It seems like a lot of them just never call back. Is there something I should be saying? Plus, I always seem to get tongue tied!"
Just to be clear - I would hope any therapist would call you back. Life does get in the way sometimes, but most of the therapists I know are pretty prompt and attentive. It also shouldn't matter what kind of message you leave. People should just call you back. Period.
Common courtesy aside, however, this conversation got me thinking about two questions. What information is helpful for therapists? And what's a good script to relieve people's anxiety about calling therapists? Here's what I came up with.
An ideal message would go something like this. "Hi, my name is Mary Jane and my phone number is (555) 555-5555. I'm looking for a therapist to help me deal with my anxiety about my recent divorce. I was wondering if you're taking new clients and if you take my insurance, which is Blue Cross Blue Shield. Also, I'd need an appointment time sometime in the evening or early morning. If you could call me back to let me know if I fit with your insurance and schedule that would be great. I can be reached at this number between 4-6 pm and it's okay to leave a message on this voicemail. Thank you."
Why is this an ideal sort of message? Because it covers the following bases:
Even if you know the details you should include, it can still be nerve wracking to call and ask for something if you've never done it before. It's sort of like calling your insurance company the first time you get into a fender bender. If you haven't done it before, how would you know what information you need? So here's a script! Just fill in your own blanks and call away. If this helps you make a call you've been putting off making, I'm glad.
"Hi, my name is _________ and my phone number is _________. I'm looking for a therapist to help me deal with ______________. I was wondering if you're taking new clients and if you take my insurance, which is ___________. Also, I'd need an appointment time sometime in the __________. If you could call me back to let me know if I fit with your insurance and schedule that would be great. I can be reached at this number between _____ and _____ and it's okay to leave a message on this voicemail. Thank you."
Good luck. Therapy is worth the effort. And if you call me, I promise I'll call you back no matter what!