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How To Stand Up For Yourself (Part 2)

written by: Kosjenka Muk

Fear of punishment

Now let's talk about the more difficult part: not to be afraid of losing a relationship (or something else you hope for). Such an attitude is usually most difficult to achieve in early stages of a relationship, when hopes are still high, while first red flags appear small or accidental. Yet the beginning of a relationship is the most important time to assert our boundaries and express our needs.

Keep in mind that, if expressing yourself and your needs means the other person might punish or leave you, then that person is obviously not used to either seek balance, or cooperate, or to be considerate or respectful. Therefore, obviously, you can expect the same attitude in the future. It's not likely you want or need such a person in your life. In such a case, it's better to recognize this on time, than when it's too late, right?

Plant this thought firmly in your head: as long as your communication is peaceful and constructive, any kind of temper tantrum, blaming, or attempt to frighten you or humiliate you by the other person mean that this person is disrespecting you and trying to manipulate you. Even if you are used to this kind of behavior, it doesn't mean you should accept it. If such behavior is present in the beginning of a relationship, there can only be more of it in the future. The only acceptable answer to setting boundaries in a calm way, are peaceful, responsible and considerate arguments or negotiations. Only such a response means you can have a healthy relationship in the future. If a relationship is healthy, you cannot damage it by seeking balance. This is true not only in love relationships, but also in friendships, business or any other relationships.

Sometimes, fear of losing a relationship is not the result of a realistic perception of one's partner, but experiences in early family. Perhaps your partner is responsible and willing to cooperate, but in your imagination, the obvious reaction if you express your needs will be rage, punishment or abandonment. This means your expectations come from your past, not present times. You need to find where they come from, work with the child part of yourself to help it feel safe, and develop new habits of thinking, feeling and behaving. These are all things we can help with.

Sometimes the biggest challenge is to recognize that too strong a bond to an incompatible partner is a result of unconsciously seeking a parent substitute. Such bonds can be worked with and transformed. Such emotional entanglement makes people feel that they might not get another chance at happiness and that they could never find someone better than their current love interest. In reality, there are plenty of people who are healthier and better for you than a person who would punish or abandon you just because you express your boundaries clearly. An emotional bond that is a result of seeking replacement for a parent, needs to be healed from within, working with your "inner child", rather than trying to keep a partner at all costs.

Determining the consequences for lack of cooperation

What if you are in a long term relationship or married, perhaps with children, and you recently realized that you spent years getting your partner (and yourself) used to not pay attention to your needs? Or, what if you are still in an early stage of a relationship, you recognize that your partner doesn't have a well developed sense of balance and consideration, but you believe it can be changed?

The worst thing you can do is to make threats that you never put into action, whether because you don't dare to, or you take pity on your partner. The second most ineffective approach is to keep trying to convince your partner to change with demands and pleas, while not changing anything in your behavior. Every time you do it, and every time your partner successfully ignores your words, you weaken yourself and your boundaries. (All of this is true in relationships with children, too.)

In such circumstances, the best and possibly the only effective approach is to determine practical consequences of ignoring your boundaries - in advance, and hold on to them for dear life. Call it punishment if you wish, but such consequences should be no more (or less) than how a healthy, self-confident person would react. To be able to put them into practice, the consequences must be moderate and realistic, while still unpleasant enough to motivate your partner.

Rather than threaten to end the relationship, try this: your partner doesn't want to do their share of household chores? Let them wash their own clothes and cook their own food for a while at least. Your partner keeps being late when you need to go somewhere? Leave without them (if possible start using this approach in less important situations, rather than when you are in a rush to get on a plane). Your partner is embarrassing you in public? Leave them there and go home by yourself (preferably let them use public transport rather than leaving them the car). Your partner wants you to cancel your other tasks and agreements because they suddenly want you to do something else? Let them go where they want by themselves, while you stick with your plans. A temporary separation is a possible consequence for worse misbehavior, but best to determine in advance when this is appropriate, and who should stay where.

Ideally, warn your partner in advance about consequences of their behavior, so they know what to expect and cannot accuse you of a temper tantrum or manipulation. Explain your partner why the need for such approach (because, obviously, words didn't help). Does it sound a bit like raising a child? Yes, and it would be great if that wasn't needed, but the reality is also that many adult people don't want to take adult responsibilities.

Your partner might try to accuse you of controlling or manipulating them. Then it's time to talk about what does balance in a relationship mean to them, and whether you are compatible at all. Expectations and needs do not mean controlling the other person, if there is no pressure to stay in the relationship - and also if you focus on what is really important to you, rather than insisting on things being your way every time. As usual, the key is in finding balance.

If it's obvious that your partner doesn't want to change something that for you is a requirement to continue the relationship, then it's more fair to end the relationship peacefully, then to try to force somebody to change in the way they don't want to (even if such a change would be healthier for them). Everybody has a right to decide how they want or don't want to change, and whether they want to stay in a certain relationship or not. The only obstacles to this - and the causes of various manipulative and controlling behaviors - are various childish fears, financial concerns, and the oversimplified tradition that says, "'Til death do us part". None of this is necessary in a modern society (ok, financial concerns can be realistic, but rarely unsolvable), and it's certainly better to make your decision sooner rather than when it's too late.

Do you feel fear or guilt when you consider determining consequences for somebody's unpleasant behavior? Perhaps you were abused as a child, or in a previous relationship, or you might be abused in a current relationship, so you learned to fear punishment and violence if you stand up for yourself like a healthy adult. If your current partner makes you afraid, recognize that it's likely a result of abuse rather than a normal state, and it's time to seriously consider leaving that person. And if your fear comes from your past, this is not so difficult to work through and change.

Back to part 1

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