Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your questioning queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I keep finding myself in relationships I don’t like to please men that I’m not all that into. The dynamic usually consists of me not being that into them, while they’re head over heels for me. I’m bad at telling people what they don’t want to hear so I let it linger on. How can I set boundaries to avoid relationships that aren’t good for the long term?
Ugh, scenarios like this are like playing on the seesaw with a kid that’s much bigger than you. Being trapped at the top is never fun. While having someone be into you is flattering, it sounds like you’re uncomfortable with this dynamic and are really craving some breathing room in your relationships. I’m glad that you’re recognizing that this is a pattern and an unhealthy one at that. The good news is that by changing your behaviors, other people’s responses will have to change as well.
Patterns like this will often appear in multiple facets in life, although it might be exacerbated in your romantic relationships. Do you do this at work or with your family? Is it always for men, or do you end up doing this for women as well? Take a look at who you give excessive amounts of your time and energy. What leads up to you giving yourself away? What happens when you realize that this has happened?
Creating a map of your past relationships can be really helpful. Go all the way back to your first boyfriends and map out the timeline of each relationship. Try to think back and remember your emotional state during the relationship. When (if ever) did you feel strongly about another person? What were significant events in the relationship? When did you notice that there wasn’t an equal exchange of emotion?
You mentioned that you don’t like to tell people what they don’t want to hear. This is true for a lot of people, but particularly women. We tend to be socialized to keep the peace and make everyone comfortable, often at the cost of our own happiness. Socially, men are taught at a young age to ask for what they want and to not fear conflict. Naturally, this sets a lot of relationships up for failure, when one partner doesn’t feel that they can speak their truth and have it respected.
Not telling people what they don’t want to hear is usually rooted in avoiding conflict. The thing is, conflict is a necessary part of existence. Without it, we wouldn’t have any innovation. Learning to manage conflict and disagreements with other people is really important, especially when building a healthy relationship. When faced with an issue, try to remember that your feelings are just as valid as theirs. If they’re calling you a bit too much for your comfort level, try to bring it up gently and explain that you really just need time to yourself. If they freak out and act like a jerk, they’re not worth your time.
Because this is a deep-seated pattern, change will be a slow, ongoing process. Try and start small: notice when people are overstepping their boundaries and try to reset them. If you don’t like how someone is talking to you, try to bring it up. If they’re getting a bit too touchy, bring it up. Challenge yourself each week to be a little more assertive than you were the last. You don’t need to jump straight to being an aggressive banshee with everyone, as that’s not healthy either.
The trick is to bring up your discomforts early. If you wait six months to say, “Hey, when you do this it makes me want to jump out a window,” they’ll say, “But I did it for six months without you jumping out the window, what gives now?,” and your chances of having your boundary respected dwindle. Using good conflict skills helps as well: Use “I” statements and own your feelings. Instead of, “You’re a clingy jerk,” try saying, “When you sent me an excessive amount of flowers, I felt a lot of pressure about this relationship. Please don’t send me a mortgage payment’s worth of floral arrangements again.”
The earlier you start using clear, concise communication in a relationship, the more of a habit it can become. With practice, you can become the assertive amazon you have tucked away inside. She’s there. Let her out.