To all those ‘givers’ out there, this post is for you. First of all, I think it is great that you are considerate of your partner and you want to make him/her happy. But, it is not always a good thing when we give too much. Now, I am not saying that you should just receive in a relationship, that is not good either. There needs to be a balance.
It helps if you ask yourself — why are you so giving? What are you nervous about when you don’t give?
Giving is great, but it is possible to give too much. When you are always giving, or being the ‘do-er,’ in the relationship, it can come across to your partner that you are ‘in charge.’ Relationships aren’t expected to always be 50-50, but one person can’t always be the giver and the other the receiver. When you give too much three things can happen:
- Your partner feels like they don’t have an equal role in the relationship and leaves — they don’t feel like they are on the same level, like one partner is ‘higher’ on the scale than the other.
- Your partner becomes passive. They just go with the flow and don’t interject and don’t try to even the playing field because they know they can’t get to your level. They give up, which isn’t healthy for anyone.
3. The partner takes advantage of your good will. They think oh well he/she is going to keep on giving, then I am going to keep on taking.
Regardless, in the end, most excessive givers/do-ers feel resentful because they feel like there is nothing they can do to help their relationship be successful. They go by the idea that “no matter what they do” they can’t help their relationship.
The bottom line is the scales can’t always be in favor of one partner over the other. While it will rarely be equal, they need to fluctuate. Both partners need to feel like they are the do-ers sometimes. Both need to give at times and receive at others.
How do you find balance in your relationships?
My friend’s boyfriend enjoys playing tennis, and so does my friend. They have a lot of fun playing together but sometimes he just wants to go to the courts to hit the ball off the wall. It is therapeutic for him and helps him to relieve the stress of the day. The other day my friend told me she was concerned that he didn’t love her because he didn’t always want her to come along to play.
This is a common question I hear so I told her what I frequently tell others — just because he wants to be alone does not mean he doesn’t love or care for you. Sometimes we just need that time to decompress and be in our own heads. We all have different ways of relieving stress. For her boyfriend it was hitting a ball off a wall, for her, it is reading a book and taking a bath. We all need time alone. Some of us need more time than others and it can all depend on how much stress we have in our lives at the time. While I understand how she could worry he doesn’t want to spend time with her, it is just his way of taking care of himself so that he can come home and be more fully present with her.
It is healthy for us to set boundaries when we need that time, and it is not meant to hurt her. Chances are his time alone at the courts has little to do with her at all and it is all because he needs to work through the problems of the day. He needs to have a little room to breathe and process. It is healthy. I urged her to talk to him when he got home, ask him about his day and spend time together in other ways. Just because you are in a relationship with someone does not mean you have to spend every moment together. You each are still individual people who need to care for yourselves before you can care for the relationship.
How do you spend your alone time?
The other day my daughter’s stuffed animal got “hurt” and she brought it to me to comfort. I did what I always do and cuddled it, rubbed its head, told it everything would be ok, and gave it back to my daughter. Why would I do this with a stuffed animal? Isn’t it just a stuffed toy, a transitional object?
The truth is to my child it is so much more than that. This stuffed toy gives my child comfort, it is an extension of her. By showing that I also love and care for this object that means so much to her, I am showing her that she can trust me with what is important to her. It is a parents way of showing their child they can trust us with their vulnerability. They don’t need to worry about us disregarding the things that are important to them. We love the things that are important to them, because we love them.
Showing our children that we care for their favorite stuffed animal, blanket, car, whatever it is that they carry around with them for comfort and security is a way of getting down on their level to show our love. Children don’t always understand and look at things the same way as we do, by showing we love the things that give them comfort we are in turn showing our utmost respect and care.
What was your object of comfort as a child?
When my Chinese mom felt bad about something she had done or said, she would serve up a giant bowl of rice with my favorite topping. That was her way of saying “sorry.” These actions are not uncommon in the Chinese culture, or among older generations.
Different cultures and different generations have different ways of apologizing. It is similar to the five languages of love—the theory that there are five different ways that people show and accept emotional love, for example someone might show they love another by doing acts of kindness and another might need more physical contact to feel they are loved. There are many different ways of saying ‘sorry.’ It could come in the form of doing something nice, like cleaning or fixing a delicious meal or sharing a favorite treat. It could be a surprise outing or it could be nothing at all.
Much of the older generation don’t apologize at all. They don’t want to admit to their children that they don’t always do right. Parents are often looked at by their children as if they can do no wrong and parents embrace that image. It is a hard thing to apologize to anyone, let alone your children. When the older generation of parents were children they were taught about hierarchy in family. They were taught to respect their elders, which means never to call them out when they might be doing something wrong. They were taught that the elders always knew best and therefore never expected an apology from them. That engrained belief makes it highly uncomfortable for the older generations to say “I am sorry” to their children.
Despite a lack of verbally communicating their regrettable feelings, it does not mean they aren’t truly sorry. Many times these things come out in actions rather than words. Sometimes you just have to look at the relationship and the actions following. While no parents should get a free pass from their children if they have done wrong, it is all part of unconditional love and acceptance. As the child, you must learn to accept that different cultures and different generations respond differently. And, you need to look at your parents as a whole rather than just the parts of however they have wronged you. No one is perfect even if as children we sometimes expect our parents to be the keepers of knowledge and to do no wrong.
How does your parent apologize, if any?
Letter from concerned client: I decided to leave my hometown and move to accomplish my career goals, and now I really miss my family. My parents are getting old and they don’t understand why I decided to leave and not stay with them. My mom has always told me to ‘live simple’ and despite not agreeing with my decision to move she still supports me. It makes me feel even more guilty, like I am letting them down.
Mabel: I understand your desire to make your parents proud. You said your mom wanted you to ‘live simple’ but still supports you in your goal, however hard it may be to attain that goal. It is a little like how I wanted my kids to enjoy playing music but instead, their interests are art and tennis. Even though art and tennis are not my desires, at the end of the day seeing my children enjoying and working towards their own goals makes me profoundly happy. For them, learning to master these things frustrates them a lot of the time but that is part of life and reaching a goal. You decided to move because it is important to you in the reaching of your goals, and it isn’t always easy. The process of living in a new place and working can be very frustrating. Your mother has a desire for you to live a simple and happy life because that is what she knows of happiness. Most of us mothers have our own desires, however, supporting our children in their own dream is a lesson in parenting. A lesson that it’s not about us but about the child. It is about learning how to love someone, and how to see the world beyond us. It is an important lesson for all us parents. My dream is for my children to soar in whatever they choose to do, even if I have little understanding of it. If guilt is something that weighs them down, like most mothers, I would love to take that weight off their shoulders so they can fly more freely. I am not sure if this is how your mother feels, but my hypothesis is that most mothers share these similar sentiments.
There is a difference between accepting and just “tolerating” your partner. Relationships are hard. You are each your own person, you have your own personalities, your own similarities and differences.
Love and Kindness
When you accept your partner you are wholeheartedly loving and receiving him/her. Acceptance comes from love and kindness. It comes from the heart. When you accept someone you have tolerance built-in. You are accepting your partner as they are and tolerating their imperfections because you love them and appreciate them. If you agreed 100 percent with everything your partner did it wouldn’t really be much of a relationship. No one is perfect. Everyone does things we don’t like/agree with but when you really love someone you learn how to tolerate those things. At least when they aren’t detrimental to the relationship as a whole.
On its own tolerance doesn’t come from love or kindness. It is not stopping the other person’s behavior. It comes from external motivation — whether it be to not get into trouble or receive judgment. Tolerating another person often has resentment. It does not come from the heart. It does not come from a genuine concern or care for the other person. It comes from personal fear or gain. If you just “tolerate” your partner or their behavior you don’t really care about the backbone of the relationship, which is acceptance.
In situations where I see a partner is just “tolerating” his/her partner’s actions, I encourage them to talk about it. To try to work towards acceptance. To minimize resentment, which can overtime build and ultimately destroy a relationship.
Chances are you have either been in a situation, or know of a friend, who has had sex in order to “get over the pain” of a breakup. This is called rebound sex. It is meant to be casual, no strings attached, but that can be hard when you are talking about such a personal thing as sex. While it might seem like a quick, fun fix, it is not the healthiest route.
Don’t get me wrong, sex is great. It increases feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. It can give you a nice high. It is a lot like taking morphine for a sprained ankle. It is a temporary, addictive, avoidant fix. It is not something that myself, or any other therapist would recommend to “heal.” If anything it will cause more stress and frustration and it will definitely not “fix” the situation.
Distracting from true feelings
I often hear from my clients, “it is a nice distraction,” “it will help me forget,” “it will help me to move on.” But in reality, it is just another way of distracting yourself from your true feelings. In the end, those true feelings always come back up to bite you. The best way to handle them is to face them. Talk to a friend, a family member, a mental health professional. Work through them and when you are ready to begin a meaningful relationship with another person then put sex back on the table.
As a coping mechanism sex can be messy. It can leave you, or the other person, feeling bad about who you/they are. It can cause you, or them, to feel dirty or used. Those feelings just compound the pain you are already feeling from your break up. My best advice is to seek out support from trusted friends and family to help you through this tough time. Facing your feelings rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist will help you to truly heal. Come to terms with your new reality before delving into another deep, personal endeavor.
Letter from concerned client: I just started dating a guy that my friend used to date. They went on a couple dates and it didn’t go anywhere. Even though they had nothing serious, I am still afraid my friend will be mad when she finds out. What do I do? How do I approach this with her?
Mabel: I understand how this could be a daunting and scary conversation as you are worried it could damage your friendship. The best way to approach this situation is to tell her as soon as possible. If she were to find out thorough the grapevine she would think you were trying to hide it from her and it would be more hurtful. It is best if you open up to her. Have the conversation. Show her you value her friendship. It will make both of you feel better to talk it out, get it off your chest and give her a chance to tell you how she feels about it. Have the conversation face-to-face to make it as genuine and heart-felt as possible. Avoid doing it over the phone, and definitely do not do it through text message. Those ways of communicating won’t come off as meaningful to her. Approach the conversation as “I want to let you know because I value our friendship and didn’t want you to find out from anyone else.” Let her know that you do care about her feelings. She will likely appreciate your honesty, and if it does bother her she will be able to let you know. Having an open floor for conversation will ease tensions across the board and will help to avoid any damage to your friendship.
Clients tell me all the time that they want the freedom to make their own choices, yet they are afraid to fail. Sometimes they end up stalling to prevent missteps that could affect their future. They don’t want to do things they enjoy because they think it is not “useful” on their resume or for their future career.
Your personal path
Sometimes doing the things you enjoy even though you don’t think they are “useful” at the time end up leading you to bigger and better things. It takes exploring your interests to grow as people. Just because it doesn’t feel “useful” at the time to take the class, or learn the hobby, it can be the first sign of creativity. It can feel like you are wasting your time but in the end lead to greatness. It is all part of our personal path. Life experiences, learning moments, all help us to become who we are meant to be. It may not be easy. Other people may laugh or ridicule us for the things we have done but they are all important to our success—however big or small.
Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class at Rice University. At the time he was about to be a college dropout and wanted to learn more because he was interested. When developing the first Macintosh computer years later, the attention to typefaces became one of the most important/sellable features of the computer. It was that leap that helped to get him to the success he eventually achieved. It was all part of his path. Every experience can be a learning experience. By avoiding failure or potential mistakes out of fear, you are depriving yourself of a learning moment that could later change your life. You never know until you try.
Failure can be scary. There is no doubt about that, but don’t let that fear stop you. Don’t let that feeling of making a mistake in your education stop you from doing the things you enjoy. You never know where your experiences will lead you.
What interest have you followed that later helped you in life?
In life, there are things that excite us. They make us feel alive and joyful. Then there are the other things, the things that make us say “Ummm…” and don’t provide joy. They are the things we may feel obligated to do or the things we do just to give them a shot but they feel more like work than something we want to be focused on. These things can be time eaters, energy eaters and they leave us less time and energy to focus on the things that truly make us happy.
As my time gets filled up more and more these days, I have made a “hell yes” list and “hell no” list. Ten percent of my list are absolute “hell yes” items and another 10% are absolute “hell no” items. Those items are non-negotiable, meaning I will either be definitely doing them or definitely not. The other 80% of things are in-between. Of the in-between items, I try to say “yes” to 25% of the things and “no” to the other 75%. Why? Because that way all that energy I was focusing on things that did not bring me joy can be focused on the things that I want to be doing.
This is a great way for me, as life gets busier and more overwhelming, to keep things in perspective. I want to live a joyful, fulfilling life but in order to do that I need to focus the majority of my energy on the things that make me feel good to be alive. They are the things I look forward to waking up to. The things that make me feel good, and make me a better person. Of course, we have those things we have to do that we don’t really want to but by limiting how much of our time we spend on those things we have more time for the things we really love. Life is short, don’t waste your time on the stuff that doesn’t drive your soul.
What is on your “hell yes” list?