Subtle Ways You Settle for Less in Relationships

Relationships can be really complicated, and it is totally normal to have highs and lows; whether it's a fight with your mom or feeling disappointed with your SO. But it is important to realize that the root of some of those lows might be a fundamental communication error. As women we are often socialized to make our needs and wants smaller, or to be agreeable in our opinions. There might be subtle ways that this socialization shows itself in relationships that can be a form of self-sabotage – leaving both you and your relationships feeling unfulfilled.

Normalizing on/off relationships and the heartbreak that can come along with it can be extremely harmful to both self-worth and emotional health. When parents, friends, or SO’s are hot and then cold, it can be tempting to always give them the benefit of the doubt to avoid confrontation. But, in the process of accommodating their moods, your own personal needs are ignored, potentially exaggerating the importance of their place. It is critical to establish clear boundaries, and express in detail a vision for the relationship – if they don’t like it, they can take a hike, emotional health is worth defending. Use clear indicators that combine emotion with action such as “I felt hurt when you didn’t text me this week and I want to talk more often,” or “I want to spend more time apart and I think it would be good for us to not talk this week.”

We all want to be on good terms with the people in our lives, avoid messy conflict, and generally live drama free which is why it can be so tempting to ignore stating your own scheduling needs and adopting another's. If you feel disappointed about never going running in the morning because your friends stay out late, or that your boyfriend works and can only hang during your study time, your own agenda might not be prioritized as it should. Setting aside time with defined boundaries to accomplish the things that you need – emotionally, physically, intellectually – will decrease frustration with others and invigorate your sense of self. Of course, compromising has its place but others must be understanding of your needs. Being on someone else's schedule is a guaranteed method to waste your own time, and without clear boundaries they might never know what they could be doing differently. “I would appreciate it if we could see each other during the day, hanging out at night doesn’t always work for me” or “I need mornings to myself, but after 3pm we can totally go for a drive.”

As a woman, being agreeable, approachable, and nice are deeply socially encoded attributes – and not to mention sometimes safety skills. And yet, there is a point at which being too nice backfires, you feel uncomfortable or unhappy, and the other person is just getting away with bad behavior. Excusing bad behavior not only gives power to the other person, but leaves room for it to happen again. If someone is speaking in a way that is inappropriate, or takes actions that are not okay, there is no reason to allow them to continue to breach boundaries in such a way. Correcting those we have close relationships with can be difficult, but it is in the best interest of everyone; they may not be able to mind read, and you will feel better for having been assertive. Try, “Dad, when you said X, Y, Z in front of my friends yesterday it made me feel embarrassed and next time I don’t want you  to bring it up” or “Flirting with my friends is not okay, and next time we see them I don’t want it to happen again.”

While there are many communication strategies that can be used to ease on/off relationships, establish your needs, correct bad behavior, and get off of the path of self-sabotage – sometimes it might not work. No matter how well you express yourself some toxic friends, SOs, parents, and roommates will never understand nor be comfortable with you taking care of yourself first. After all tactics are exhausted, there is no room for negativity, toxicity, or abuse in any truly loving relationship. If you cannot get through to those around you or feel that doing so would be dangerous, I highly recommend contacting The National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233); the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673); or the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 866-331-9474, are all available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can offer advice based on experience and can help find local support and services. You are worthy of feeling loved, safe, and satisfied in your relationships; anything less is cause to take action.