Ask a therapist: I feel like I’m always the one compromising in my relationship…
Sian Barnard, Therapist and Hypnotherapist from Peaceful Minds, answers one of the most probed questions when it comes to relationships – am I compromising too much?
Welcome to ‘Ask a therapist’ – a new monthly feature where we will be answering anonymous reader questions, giving you direct access to trained therapists. This week, its Sian Barnard, a cognitive behaviour therapist and clinical hypnotherapist, who trained at Goldsmiths College, University of London and the College of Clinical Hypnosis. Four years ago Sian relocated her Harley Street practice to her native North East after 26 years in central London.
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Q: I feel like I’m always the one compromising in my relationship. I’m tired of feeling like I’m being walked all over – how do I stop this?
Women tend to be the ones who do the most compromising when it comes to relationships because of a number of factors. Despite their best intentions, there’s a definite pattern of women having what I call “staying power” that can work against them in some circumstances. If they’ve invested a certain amount of time and energy into a relationship, they don’t want to waste that. It’s the romantic equivalent of putting down a deposit on a house only to find out the foundation is sinking, but buying it anyway because you don’t want to waste the deposit.
Look out for cues that tell you you’re over-compromising. Your body is a fantastic indicator that you’re feeling walked over. I usually explain to my clients that if they feel like someone has trampled on their chest or stomach, it’s usually a sign that they’re being walked on. It can feel very physical, so pay attention to those feelings and learn to tune into them.
Another sure sign that you’re over-compromising in your relationship is you start to feel depressed and hopeless. Feeling like you’re not good enough and that you’re trapped is a sign of you’re feeling like your boundaries are being crossed. Similarly, if you find yourself circling around arguments over and over again in your head then it can mean you’re feeling frustrated and unheard, which means something needs to change.
Other areas of your life can start to fall away too, such as hobbies and pastimes. Whilst your partner might not be overtly asking you to give these up, cancelling them or stopping them can point to you giving up far more of your time and the things you enjoy in order to do things for your other half. Women are unfortunately far more likely to sacrifice their time and friends for a partner. Your partner’s wants and needs become a priority over what you want to do, so you begin to forgo that time you would have usually spent on yourself.
You may have found yourself compromising on other things too – only wearing flat instead of heels because your partner is shorter, subtle changes to the way you dress because you know they love a certain style. These things can be so subtle you may not have even realised you do them, but these are things that don’t need to be compromised on for your relationship to be successful.
So, how do we fix it?
Working on recognising your own feelings is the first step in countering an over-compromising situation. When you’re feeling irritated, remember it’s fine to feel irritated by something. What’s not ok is to sit on these emotions and do nothing about them until it becomes fully blown rage. This usually leads to what I like to refer to as “the exploding doormat”. You’ve allowed someone to constantly cross a boundary until it becomes too much and you find yourself shouting about something fairly innocuous. This is usually when men like to play the “crazy bitch” card, because your emotions have seemingly come out of nowhere.
Speaking up before you reach an extreme emotion is key here. Practice finding the middle ground of assertiveness – you want the irritation to give you the motivation to establish a boundary, but don’t stew on it until the emotion becomes inappropriate for the circumstance. The only person who suffers from your rage is you – it’s like drinking a bottle of poison and expecting the other person to die. Speak up as soon as you feel frustrated, and establish the boundary then and there.
It’s more common for women to replace their boundaries with their partners and allow them to get away with far more than they usually would. For example, if you lived with a female roommate who wasn’t pulling her weight around the house, you probably wouldn’t think twice about asking her to contribute more. However, when it comes to a romantic partner women tend to shy away from setting a firm boundary in place for fear of being seen as nagging or “too like their mother”.
Assertiveness training is one of the best ways to learn to establish clear and healthy boundaries in your relationship. One technique I use in my own marriage to establish a boundary is the three strike rule. The first time they do something, tell them you weren’t happy with that and ask them not to do it again. If it happens again, remind them that you’re not comfortable with it. The third time, there is a consequence for their constant boundary-crossing.
I do this with my husband when he leaves empty packets or cereal boxes in the cupboard instead of putting them in the bin. I tell him not to do it the first time I find one. Then if I find one again, I remind him that I’m not there to tidy up after him. The third time he does it, I leave the empty cereal boxes on top of his shoes. He inevitably gets cross with me and wants to know “why I can’t just put it in the bin” – which is exactly what I want him to realise. Why can’t he just put it in the bin?
Essentially what you are trying to reinforce is ‘these are my boundaries, please respect them’. Crossing boundaries is a learned thing on both sides – if you constantly allow someone to get away with something, they learn that they can keep doing things that make you uncomfortable with no consequence. Establish a consequence! Just ensure you’re doing it in a loving and fair way, rather than doing it from a place of anger and resentment.
Finally, something I like to remind my client’s is that they’re awesome with a lot of faults. Build up your own ego and self-esteem. No one is perfect, but you deserve to be treated with respect and consideration. If you feel like someone is constantly crossing your boundary, establish a consequence for that action and remind them you’re no longer going to allow them to walk all over you.
About Sian Barnard
Sian is a cognitive behaviour therapist and also a clinical hypnotherapist, having trained at Goldsmiths College, University of London and the College of Clinical Hypnosis. Four years ago Sian relocated her Harley Street practice to her native North East after 26 years in central London. Sian now runs her private clinic in Gosforth and also owns a training academy to help organisations with stress reduction. Sian’s approach is to help people become their own therapists, whether they come to see her for panic attacks, depression or OCD (she covers a wide range of emotional and behavioural issues). She says: “My sessions are a safe place to offload, understand yourself and make positive changes that can be maintained.” I like my clients to learn self-acceptance which is accepting that you are still awesome, despite all your faults and human fallibilities; these can be worked on as part of an ongoing self-development. As well as adults, Sian also works with children and teenagers with complex issues such as eating disorders, separation anxiety and selective mutism.