A few years ago, a good friend of mine got fed up and dumped her boyfriend of 8 years because he didn’t propose to her. After a lot of deliberating, one night she decided their relationship was over and moved out.
When I asked her if she had ever told him that she wanted to get married (assuming she was going to say yes), I was shocked to hear that she NEVER HAD. She was relying on vague hints and thinking that he must have known what she wanted. By the time she was out the door, it was too late for him to change course because she had already checked out of the relationship emotionally. He tried to get her back, begged for her to reconsider, even tried to propose after the fact, but to no avail.
Her mind was already made up.
Now, this is obviously an extreme example.
However, in this event is something that happens more often in our relationships than lots of us would like to admit. When we don’t give our partner the chance to change course or make amends, we sabotage our bond and we’re responsible for the aftermath. After all, how could anyone know what we want or need if we rely on vague hints or worse, hope they have magically developed mind-reading abilities?
Instead of having a simple conversation about our expectations that would have potentially saved the entire relationship, sometimes we opt to bottle these things up and let ourselves get so angry that we withdraw emotionally, decide it’s over and ruefully give up completely. The other person is left blind-sighted, wondering why the deal they thought they made one day was suddenly not right later on.
Often, this dangerous resentment-withdraw-breakup cycle starts with something that I’ve coined “the slide.”
Here’s how this goes:
We notice something that we don’t really like or that we want more of. We tell ourselves that it’s not a big deal, or we try to explain it away. We might feel afraid that if we come out with it, our partner won’t honor, accept it or change it (self-fulfilling because they can’t change it if they don’t know about it). We might worry that they’ll withdraw their love from us completely. The fear overtakes our rational judgement/conflict handling ability.
Not wanting to rock the boat, we don’t communicate effectively. Unfortunately, by selling ourselves out, we’re treading on dangerous ground.
Like an oyster with a grain of sand, the pearl of relationship destruction begins to grow and bother us more and more. Our partner is oblivious to the fact that we’re getting more and more invested in our negative, poisonous story.
As time passes, the resentment starts to spill over to other things. What might have started out as something minor takes on a life of it’s own. Pretty soon we’re calling our friends and making our case for leaving our partner for “not meeting our needs.”
One day we snap. All of the resentment and anger we’ve built up over time becomes too much for the relationship to bear.
We rage and angrily demand change in a reaction that terrifies our mate, pushing them out the door. Or we withdraw our love completely and walk out. Our partner is left thinking that we’re a total lunatic, we don’t love them anymore or both. The final straw comes, and just like that, another potentially great, life-long relationship bites the dust.
But we did it. The poison was ours. We sowed the seeds of destruction when we sold ourselves out.
Like my friend’s boyfriend in the example above, our partner is left reeling, unable to fix or change something they weren’t aware of in the first place. They feel tricked and deflated because we never gave them a chance to make it right. They likely did care deeply, but we cut them off at the knees. We made the decision for them and they never saw it coming because we didn’t stop and communicate want we really wanted or we assumed they should magically know.
By betraying our own needs, we betrayed our lover.
We might self-servingly tell ourselves that they should have known better or they didn’t change because they didn’t care about what we wanted. We can pretend that “they should have seen the signs”, but should they have really? We were dishonest.
Can we really fault them for their solid, undeniable lack of mind-reading skill? Whose fault is it that we chose repression instead of expression?
How to Stop This Cycle and Save Your Relationship
You must not let fear rule your life. Being afraid your partner isn’t going to accept you or try to meet your needs is the basic reason why people sell themselves out. If you’re trying to force yourself into a narrow box, thinking that this is what you have to do to be accepted by someone you love, you’re putting the entire relationship at risk. By not being your authentic self, ironically you’re threatening the exact relationship you were afraid would end if you spoke up.
It’s only fair to make a serious effort to communicate whatever is bothering you to your partner directly. This includes picking out a time and place where your message is likely to be heard by them accurately. You should not already be distracted or screaming at each other about something else.
If you choose not to express yourself until they understand who you really are and what you want, the responsibility is yours. If you clearly tell them and they don’t change their behavior or negotiate with you, then fine, it makes sense then to lovingly choose to accept it or leave the relationship. But it’s downright cruel to drop the bomb on someone who loves you because you chose not to tell them about this critical need of yours they never knew existed and subsequently could never meet.