When I am coaching private clients, I have noticed that there is often a push/pull attitude towards the idea of being in a relationship; they want one, yet when it comes to discussing the reality they are not quite sure. Much of this hesitation revolves around what they think they have to give up once they are coupled up. They are worried that they are going to have to subsume themselves into the relationship to the extent that their individuality disappears, that they will have to make so many compromises that they lose sight of themselves. Is the price of a partner giving up yourself? I am here to assure you that it needn’t be that way. I am living proof.
When I think of my husband, I often feel a swelling in my heart. He’s so adorable! And while love might be grand, love + respect is even better. That is our foundation. Sometimes it’s challenging because he is a Capricorn and I am a Pisces. You see what I mean? Astrological charts aside, we are very different people, and come at most situations from very different perspectives. Fortunately, we usually want to end up in the same place. In the past, I have shared with you how when we go away together, we travel to Heathrow separately and meet at the flight gate. We want to do the entire journey differently: he wants to leave hours early, I want to leave at what I consider a sensible, but not excessively early time. He wants to eat at the airport. I want to eat at home. He wants to take the tube to the Heathrow Express. I want to take a cab there instead. After getting scrappy with each other on yet another fractious trip to the airport where neither of us was doing it the way we wanted, we decided to meet at the airport for future trips. Now we just get the good parts of the holiday and have eliminated the annoying ones. And there’s a genuine excitement about seeing each other waiting at the gate: that’s where the real holiday starts!
This is a perfect example of what I mean by us having the same end goal, but wanting to take completely different paths to get there and honouring that. The only way for this set-up to work, and not have either partner’s freedom/feelings squashed, is to let the other person do their own thing. But it has to be done in the knowledge, on each side, that just because something isn’t our way of doing things, it doesn’t mean it’s not equally valid. There’s nothing wrong with my husband’s enjoyment of making his way somewhere well in advance, and there’s nothing wrong with my cutting things a bit finer.
If I make this sound easy, it’s not. It takes self-confidence as well as confidence in our partner. Letting your partner approach things in a way that is different to yours, only works when you have love and respect in your relationship.
There are 4 important components to making sure that both parties’ needs are met. These aren’t things you can sort out once and forget about: they need to be attended to continually, again and again throughout the relationship.
- Know what is and what isn’t important to you
In order for you to hold your sense of individuality, you must first know yourself. What are your values? How do you fill yourself? These answers to these types of questions are at the heart of everything. Do you know you? The key to uncovering this will be explored more fully in my new course, ‘Learn to Flirt with Yourself and the Rest is Easy’. In the meantime, I urge you to make a list, right now, of the 5 things that you can do for yourself that you know will nourish you.
Mine, for example
- Yoga 3x a week
- Epsom salt baths with lavender oil 1x week
- Attend a talk/lecture/workshop 2x month
- Cook healthy and creative lunches for myself 4x week
- Steam room 1x week
- Netflix 2x week
Did you notice that my partner didn’t even appear on this list? These are all things that I do for myself, so that I can be a good partner for him. We often expect our partner to fill us and that’s not fair. He is busy filling himself, so that he can be a good partner for me. He can’t fill me as well. But, this is powerful: it means that we can all accept responsibility and have the power to make ourselves happy. We don’t need to rely externally for that.
- Clear communication
Once you know who you are and what is important to you, you need to relay that to the other person. They won’t ever be in your shoes, or automatically understand your perspective. The attitude of, ‘You should know what I am thinking already; I shouldn’t have to tell you’ doesn’t fly. We can’t assume the other person can read our minds. We must tell them and it must be in a straightforward way. Sometimes, if we think that what we want to say is hard to hear, we muddle our message, hoping that it might take the edge off. Or if we are worried that we won’t get what we want, we blur what we say when we try to assert our needs in the hope it might save us from being hurt. But an unclear message has the opposite effect. It just leaves everyone confused as to what is going on. And it starts a vicious circle: a muddled message doesn’t meet with the desired effect; and this subconsciously reinforces your belief that you shouldn’t speak out.
Here are some examples of what it looks like to communicate clearly with a partner:
- ‘It seems like you are not understanding what I am saying, so let me try again’.
- ‘I’d prefer if we did things this way. But I understand that doesn’t work for you. Do you have any suggestions for what might make us both happy?
- It doesn’t seem like you are in a mood to talk about this subject right now. Can you suggest a better time? Would this weekend be better for you?
Clear communication is about approaching your partner in a way that still shows you are a team. Just because you have different views, it doesn’t mean that you are on different sides. The tone is empathetic and non-judgmental. If there is an important subject to talk about, it’s best brought up when both people are relaxed and in good moods. Don’t think it’s going to ‘ruin things’ if you bring it up at that point. It just means that you can begin the conversation from a place where no one has already been triggered. This will result in a calmer discussion where both people can listen and express more easily.
- Be confident that it’s right to express your thoughts and views
Everyone has a right to be heard. Everyone has a right to stand up for themselves. Everyone is important. I wish more people would integrate these philosophies into their lives. There is nothing wrong with speaking up or wanting to be heard. The problem is that usually the people who assert their rights, do it in such an unkind and obnoxious way, that it has led many others to believe that this is the only way to do it. Or, even worse, that they are not deserving of this right for themselves. The new way of doing things is speaking up, but in a different way. Not from ego and aggression, but from empathy and a willingness to hear the other person. We do not need to be afraid to voice our opinions. We are worthy.
- Personal Boundaries
The last tenant, for not losing yourself in coupledom, is to assert your personal boundaries. What I mean by this is clearly communicating in a kind way (humour often helps) when one partner has crossed a line. In the case of me and my husband, he often finds he has to express himself when he feels that I am (unknowingly) taking advantage of his good will. My own boundaries usually revolve around protecting my precious me-time. Hey, I love my own company.
People are scared of stating their boundaries. They don’t want to hurt people’s’ feelings; they don’t want to be rejected, and they often imagine the worst-case scenario – that somehow setting out your boundaries will scare someone off or make them angry. On the contrary, boundaries will set you free to make your relationship the best it can be. Relationships researcher, Brene Brown, once said that the most surprising thing she uncovered in her 15 years of relationship research is that those with the firmest personal boundaries are the most kind, loving and generous people. She then added, ‘I’m certainly not as ‘nice’ as I used to be, I am a lot kinder’. You see, we need these kinds of placeholders if are ever able to be authentic. Setting boundaries is a way for you to know that you are always being looked after…by you!
This is my own example of how to keep your individuality when you are part of a couple. It is not a foregone conclusion that our individuality need disappear. If you know who you are, stop being afraid of clear communication, understand that you deserve to speak out, and start setting personal boundaries, all of your relationships (especially the one with yourself) will benefit.