Recently I opened an email in which I was asked, "How can I balance being true to myself while pleasing my partner?" That's what we all want to know, isn't it? How can I be in a relationship without compromising who I am?
A relationship is an investment. In fact, I believe it is the most valuable investment we will ever make. We are essentially offering up ourselves to share with another person, believing that by doing so our lives will be better. In order to have something to invest, though, we must acquaint ourselves with what we have to offer someone. This requires knowing who we are, what our needs are, and who we want to become in our lifetime. No small task, right?
The good news is that investing ourselves in a relationship has many rewards when we invest wisely! By combining our strengths, with our partner's strengths, we are essentially expanding the resources from which we can both draw as we navigate life. Typically the strengths we have to offer are complimentary. For example, one partner may offer spontaneity and fun while the other provides security and stability.
Sounds good, right? So why does being in a relationship seem more complicated than that? Well, probably because of a thing called the Power Struggle. This is a natural, healthy stage in relationship development that occurs when each partner works to establish his own identity within the relationship. The power struggle begins when differences start to surface. And herein lies the challenge. How do I maintain my independence and personal integrity while being a good partner?
In OUTstanding relationships, the question is never, will I be able to get my needs met? The question instead, is, what needs to happen so that we are both able to get our needs met without taking away from our relationship? The difficulty, of course, is determining what exactly your needs are. (Not your wants, mind you, but your needs which support your highest good!) We must evaluate the requests made of us by our partners and determine when they are in our best interest and when they are not.
Cindy thinks her partner is controlling because she wants her to stop smoking marijuana. Is that controlling? Or is her partner tending to her most precious investment: her relationship with Cindy?
Kara says her partner wants her to open up and share her feelings more freely. Kara says she resents her partner's sudden interest in her being more open and shouldn't have to change who she has always been just to please her partner. Is Kara exercising self-care, or is she rejecting her partner's invitation for her to grow?
Ed says his partner wants him to stop going to therapy because therapy is for the weak-minded. Is Ed's partner making a healthy request, or possibly acting out of fear for the unknown of what might happen if Ed goes to therapy?
Often we confuse our highest high with our highest good. Our highest high is that which feels good at any cost! Our highest good is that which moves us closer to being the person we want to be. In fact, behaving according to our highest good doesn't always feel good. Take Kara as an example. Because she is not used to sharing her feelings, it is scary and very uncomfortable for her to open up. Her fears and discomfort automatically make her think it's not a good thing for her to do. However, the pain involved does not mean it is not in her highest good, it simply means it is difficult. Just think about exercise: if we waited for working out to feel good, we might never run or lift weights! Likewise, just because something feels good, like smoking marijuana, for example, doesn't mean that we must cling to it in order to be "true to ourselves."
Knowing the difference between our highest good and our highest high is critical! Now in Ed's case, his partner wants him to stop going to therapy. He has decided it's time to really explore why he's unhappy. Therapy is an exercise in self-care for him, and because doing so does not take away from their relationship Ed may have to confront the issue with his partner as an act of self-care.
Couples with OUTstanding relationships don't confuse their partner's healthy requests with efforts to change or control; they know that their partner is simply tending to her most precious investment: the relationship she shares with you.
What has your partner asked of you lately? Is this request something that will ultimately add to your life or take away from your life? Is his request in line with the person you want to be, or does it conflict with who you want to be? Are you open to your partner's healthy requests?
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to list the top three requests that you commonly hear from your partner, friends, and other loved ones and identify one thing from that list that you can start doing differently today.
Read more by Michele O'Mara, LCSW at www.micheleomara.com