Posts Tagged ‘healthy relationships’

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For the longest time, and likely right now, I thought communicating with my partner would take away something from our relationship.  Surely, if he truly loved and understood me, he could interpret my change in breathing, or remember what I wanted for Christmas, or actually empty the dishwasher.  If I were to say something out loud, I thought it meant we were no longer in love.

Truthfully, this is baloney.

And just as truthfully, in past (younger) relationships, I didn’t believe my partner was doing something because he actually wanted to…just doing it because I had asked, which took something away from the action.

Again, baloney.

The goal of communicating within a relationship is to increase your cooperation, happiness, and respect for each other.  Oh, and to get what you want, and make sure your relationship gets what it needs to be healthy.  If you’ve got a problem, the goal is to get the problem solved.  It doesn’t really matter if a partner really wants to empty the dishwasher, or if he/she is just doing that to make you happy – the dishwasher is still empty.   Problem solved.

My favorite sexual feminist issue is consent (read about it here!), and I have come to suspect our distrust and misuse of consent is centered around the same preconceptions I used to have about communication.  Surely, we think, if I tell my partner to do something differently, or that I don’t like that position, or that I’d rather not have sex right now, then I won’t be able to enjoy anything ever again and our love is over and this sex is no longer sexy.

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Let’s pump the brakes on this, yes?

So many issues can be avoided if we’d just talk to each other!  And the worst song offender I’ve found, a song that totally centers the idea of acting without actually talking to the person you’re interested in, is this gem by pop rock stalwarts Weezer (lyrics here)…except the idea is that he says it out loud.  Great job, Rivers!

Ryan Gosling knows.  #bonusGIF

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boundaries

One of the easiest problematic themes to identify in our music is poor boundaries.

As my frequent readers are no doubt aware, I am a firm believer in boundaries.  These are the limits we set around ourselves in our relationships – they are what we will accept from others, what we will not accept, and the consequences for violations of these boundaries.

Often, those with poor boundaries grew up in a non-validating household, though not necessarily an abusive one.  Abuse, obviously, is a violation of personal boundaries; if you say no, and something happens anyway, you learn you have no power or control over your body, and that others do not respect your limits.  Correcting this misperception is often the primary function of therapy.  However, simple non-validation can also lead to poor boundary development – asking to use the restroom and being told “you can’t have to go, you just went,” or trying to ask for what you want, and being totally ignored, teaches us to mistrust our own wants, needs, and feelings.

Personal relationships often see the worst boundary violations.  The lines between ourselves and the significant other blur, creating an unhealthy and addictive relationship; those who have been enmeshed with a partner know how frightening this can feel, how emotions run unchecked, how powerless you can seem.

Unfortunately, examples of this issue are put forward as the ideal for romantic love almost constantly.  Listening to this song, I was reminded how we can’t depend on others for our entire well being, and how doing so is crazymaking.*  (really, Dido?  You can’t be until I’m here?  YIKES!)  Also, the Spice Girls have a great one which can be enjoyed for maximum nostalgia here.

However, as a change of pace, I’m going to put in a song with kick ass boundary setting, by Alanis Morissette from her first album (the first CD I ever owned, as it happens.)  Lyrics are here; I fully recommend reading along!  This is such a great example of setting boundaries between two people, I absolutely love it.  Enjoy!

 

*I am by no means saying those around us don’t affect us – they totally do!  But depending on other people to determine our emotions isn’t healthy, and deprives us of personal autonomy.  If I’m having a bad day just because you are, I’m also not going to be able to offer support and healthy feedback for you – it’s bad for everyone.

As a wise band once said, breaking up is hard to do.

When you’re young, breaking up is the end of the world.  Your chest is always tight, your eyes always on the verge of tearing up, and every song you hear is either a repudiation or an anthem of your personal pain.

It doesn’t matter what side of the breakup you’re on, either.  It really sucks to be dumpee, but it also really sucks to be the dumper (and how gross does that term sound?).  Constantly questioning your values and your value as a person is exhausting, producing the kind of existential angst only matched by 00s emo (I’m looking at you, Taking Back Sunday).

these fuckin’ guys right here.

Breaking up is also super important.  It puts everything into sharp relief – what’s really important to you in another person, what valuable contributions a partner brings to the relationship.  I read once most relationships are broken apart by sex, money and childrearing.  I believe this only because those are three of the biggest issues dealing with personal values we can face, and that couples must face.  I doubt it’s actually money or sex or kids that are the problem; it’s our beliefs about how things should be done, how the world functions, and our place dealing with these things, that create relationship turmoil.  Our schema, if you will.

Rougher still for me personally is the uselessness of my old standby for decision making, the pros/cons chart (here’s a great one, if you’re into that sort of thing).  You can list good and bad all day, but a relationship has weighted grades.  One con may outweigh 10 pros, or vice versa.  It makes things very complicated.  I’ve never met anyone who thought the person they loved was all good or all bad, and even when things get shitty (like, really shitty), it’s tough to discard the non-shitty parts.

More recent narratives and articles don’t help (Mr. Right Now, anyone?), although lately it seems more women (and men) in feminist spaces are extolling the virtues of the single life.  In a world still obsessed with finding The One, ticking biological clocks, and stories of the sad, lonely misfits brought low by lack of relational prowess and partners, ending a lackluster or unfulfilling relationship seems like selfishness, like betrayal.  Shouldn’t we be grateful anyone exists to love us at all?  Shouldn’t we just keep trying because nothing and no one will ever be 100% perfect?

(see this quote from the Wedding Planner)

Jerry Seinfeld, the greatest philosopher of our time, compared breaking up to pushing over a vending machine, because it takes a couple tries to get it done.

Here’s to picking candy out of the broken glass.

When I teach classes, I often talk about boundaries, those gold plated ideals that make relationships healthy (or not).  Boundaries are really difficult to pin down, even for someone who’s been leading lectures and groups about boundaries for a bit over five years.  In short, they are your limits, what is and is not okay with you.

Boundaries are important to address for anyone, but particularly in cases of abuse and trauma.  Most survivors of childhood trauma (including, but not limited to, abuse) have no concept of their limits mattering.  

When they say “no”, it is not respected; their bodily autonomy, their pain, their mental and physical being, are of no consequence.  Living through this often means adults who are at the extreme ends of the boundary spectrum.  Either one rarely says “no” because they believe it is meaningless, and do not feel comfortable speaking up for their needs (think of a person who is uncomfortable with a full body hug, but does not pull away or ask others to stop, or someone who tells you their life story after just meeting you), or can be completely closed off, avoiding all physical and emotional contact with others, for fear of being taken advantage of.  These are when we have boundary issues.

All people desiring healthy, rewarding relationships need the ability to set limits with those around us (and know what our limits are).  However, just because boundaries are with others does NOT mean they get respected, and this is where things get a bit sticky.

I can assert my boundaries, but that doesn’t mean you’ll respect them.  You have control over you, and I have control over me.

As an example, one of my close friends is constantly calling other people “pussy” and “faggot.”  I find both of these words extremely offensive; not only do I have close LGBTQ friends, I am acutely aware of how language perpetuates prejudice and oppression (with often fatal consequences) and shows my friend’s incredible privilege as a cis, straight white male.

I have repeatedly asked him to not use the words; I have tried to open up discussions about how language is super powerful; I work to make him realize how stupidly offensive it is to use these words.  However hard I try, I cannot control what he does.

If I assert my boundaries, and they are not respected, I have a choice.  I can continue to assert boundaries, and I can leave.  Sometimes, the best assertion is a clear consequence and an I statement.  Put on your learning cap!

I feel ___________ when you ___________.  I would like it ____________.  If you continue ______________, I may have to leave the room/conversation.

I feel uncomfortable when you use the word faggot around me.  I would like it if you could try not to use those words around me.  If you keep using these words,  I may not be able to continue to be around you.

At that point, you can leave and come back, ensuring you follow through on your consequence.  And it’s worth looking at – why would you keep spending time with someone who doesn’t respect your limits, or the basic humanity of human beings?

At the end of the day, you cannot love others using the language of murder, torture, oppression and hate.