We all know relationships can be challenging. We’ve brought the sum of our experiences into our relationships, where we’ve learned to strategize in order to be accepted and loved! I see this dance many times between my friend and his girlfriend. His girlfriend asks him what he thinks about something that’s important to her. He feels he has to give her an appropriate answer. He’s even said to me, “I have to say the right thing.” So he navigates around what he’s really feeling and responds instead with what he thinks she wants to hear. He feels if he doesn’t, she’ll get upset. If she’s upset, he wouldn’t be able to tolerate that because it would bring up uncomfortable feelings in him. Because there’s this inability to sit with his girlfriend’s upset if he were to answer ‘incorrectly,’ he carefully makes sure he comes up with the right thing to say that will evoke a pleasing reaction.

I’ve said to him, “Why don’t you just be honest with her? “Oh no, she’d get mad at me.” He hasn’t yet separated himself to the point where she can have her feelings and he can have his, and they’d both be okay with that. I see that he continually puts aside who he is in order to maintain harmonious, loving connection with his partner. And he’s getting angrier as time goes by. Somewhere along the way, he learned he had to take care of others’ feelings in order to take care of his own. Maybe mom would get anxious if he cried, which in turn would make him feel helpless. And since mom couldn’t help him, he needed to take care of mom so that he could alleviate his own increasing anxiety. Maybe dad would make him feel stupid for the thoughts and feelings he exhibited, so he learned not to have any. Having any sense of himself meant rejection, judgment, shame or abandonment. Therapy can help weed out what is yours and what is theirs, aid in your own relationship with yourself, and improve the quality of your relationships.

By Kavita Patil, MA

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