Have you ever listened to how someone in love talks about their relationship?
One of the biggest indicators of if a relationship will succeed or fail is how each partner talks about the relationship.
This is how I used to talk about my relationships:Why hasn’t he made plans with me this weekend? Is he hanging out with someone else? What did I do wrong? I don’t think this will work. He doesn’t really like me. I’m asking for too much. Am I being unreasonable? I wish he would tell me what he wants.
That used to be my life. I was constantly thinking about my relationships or almost-relationships in a way that had me feeling anxious. It wasn't on purpose. I wasn't trying to complain or be negative. I thought I was actually trying to make the relationship better, but it never worked.
Then I learned that HOW I was thinking about my relationship was making it worse.
Let me give you an example:
A few weeks ago, I met a woman who has been happily married for almost 40 years. I’m always interested in what makes a relationship successful, so I asked her “Have you ever had any struggles?” “Of course there have been struggles!” she said. “It was hard when he retired. I was working all day and coming home tired. He would immediately want to hang out and I needed to be left alone. He really missed me while I was away all day,” she said with a loving smile.
She said he missed her. She didn’t say that he was being super needy and annoying. She didn’t say he was in her space all the time. She didn’t make excuses for why he was acting how he was acting or pretending she didn't really need space even though she did.
She didn’t ignore the problem. There was a problem, but she was talking about it in a way that made her feel good.
Just the day before, I’d been talking with another women, who had the same problem but talked about in a different way:
“He’s driving me crazy. He’s home all day and always moving my stuff around. I always have to worry about what mess I’ll come home to next. When I get home I just want to relax and he never leaves me alone. I just wish he would give me some space.”
Can you guess the outcome of that woman’s relationship?I used to be mostly like the second woman, but I learned how to change that story, and now I almost always think about my relationship in a way that makes it stronger.
Action: What’s the story you are telling about your relationship? How is that story making you feel?
I want you to be honest. Not how you think you should be thinking, but what you really are thinking. Let that inner, overly-emotional side of you come out. Being honest about what you are thinking now really is the first step to changing your relationships.
The fastest way to change your relationship is to start feeling better.
I know it feels like we need to fix things before we can feel better, but over and over I’ve seen that feeling better first then allows us to make the decisions we need to make a change.
When we are anxious or frustrated, we tend to react. Our body shuts down or we jump into actions like making passive aggressive comments, saying things we don’t mean, or anxiously checking our phone every 5 min. I’ve done all of these things. It only made my relationships worse.
What helps me feel better when I’m feeling anxious, frustrated, and a little bit hopeless, is to focus more on what I want to create than on what’s going wrong.
Knowing where I want to go, or at least what I don’t want, injects some hope. It helps me feel better. From that better feeling place I'm WAY more able to figure out what I need to do to fix things.
So what DO you want?
What’s your dream for your relationship?
How would you feel if you were already in that perfect relationship?
“I feel like he takes me for granted. I look after the house. I make sure he has lunch everyday. I do everything for him and he doesn’t do anything for me. It’s like he doesn’t even care.”
I used to feel like this in my relationship. I’d give and give and give only to have nothing, or very little, given back.
It felt one sided. I was doing all the loving.
“Why can’t he just say thank you? Why am I the one always giving?”
Feeling taken for granted for slowly poisons our relationship. Resentment builds and love dies down. It’s one of the reasons that people fall out of love.
So what do you do if your partner is taking you for granted?
You start asking why you are giving.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give in your relationship, but WHY you are giving is even more important than the fact that you are giving.
We can’t be taken for granted if we only give what we want to give.
When we are giving to get something back, that’s when we start to feel unappreciated, unloved and taken for granted.
But isn’t love give and take?
There is a type of love that is give and take. It’s called transactional love. It’s saying I’ll do the dishes if you clean the bathroom. Often parts of our relationships will be transactional. We will share part of the load. This isn’t a bad thing, but if you are feeling taken for granted the answer isn’t to figure out how to get more transactional love (i.e. how to get your partner to give more). The answer is to figure out how to get more real love.
Real love is the sort of love where someone loves you even if you don’t do the dishes, say the right thing, or wash your hair. They just love you for you. No matter what.
You can’t earn that kind of love.
It’s just given or not given.
Giving and giving and giving, even when we don’t want to, is a sign we are trying to earn love. Trying to earn love keeps us from getting real love. It keeps us from being ourselves.
So how do you fix it? How do you stop feeling taken for granted and start feeling loved?
You stop doing things that you don’t want to do.
It’s the hardest thing and the easiest thing.
You can still make the lunch.
You can still re-arrange your schedule to accommodate them.
You can still not speak up when something bothers you.
But you can only do those things if you really want to do them. I’m guessing that if you are feeling taken for granted it’s because you don’t really want to be doing them.
When you start to only give when you want to, and not because you think you have to, you stop trying to earn love you get to see if someone really loves you, or if they just wanted what you were giving.
That’s how you know if it’s real love.
P.S. It can be really hard to know the difference between doing something because you want to do it and doing something because your unhealthy relationship patterns are telling you that you have to do it. If this is you, send me an email and we can set up a time to talk through it together.