One of the biggest obstacles I find with creating relationship change is fear. Too often one person in a couple is so afraid of losing the relationship that they accept the unacceptable. One person may choose to stay with a partner who is openly having an affair. Another person may agree to participate in swinging, even though they have no interest in doing so. Still another person may choose to stay in an emotionally and/or physically-abusive relationship even though they can’t stand it.
The bottom line is people accept the unacceptable in relationships all the time. They accept poor treatment, not because they think it’s okay, but because they’re afraid not to accept it. They’re afraid that if they actually put their foot down and set a limit, they might lose their relationship. Many people are so afraid of losing a relationship that they won’t even discuss a difficult issue, let alone set a limit around one.
The problem, however, is that you can’t be in a great relationship if you can’t speak up for yourself. If you walk on egg shells or silence yourself because you’re fearful of your partner leaving, then you don’t really have a relationship—you have an unhealthy dependency. Until you’re able to face this dependency head on and work through it, you will be stuck in an unhealthy relationship.
Sometimes, the only way people learn how to work through their fear, is to be thrown into the fire (so to speak). Being thrown into the fire often occurs when someone’s partner suddenly leaves them or they do something so egregious that the person just can’t stay. Either way, I’ve found that, overwhelmingly, people are much stronger than they ever realized. Not only do most people survive the break up of a toxic relationship, but many people actually thrive following the break up.
If fear is keeping you from creating the change you’re looking for in your relationship (at work, home or with friends) then face the fear head on. Ask yourself what your worst fear is. Next, examine that fear and play it all the way out in your head — what would the worst outcome look, sound and be like? Finally, although it may be difficult, sad and painful, ask yourself if you know that you could survive that outcome happening.
If the answer is yes, know that no matter what happens in your relationship, YOU WILL BE OKAY. Use this knowledge to propel you into taking care of yourself and not settling for anything less than you deserve. Talk to your partner about what changes you would like. Be clear about the changes that are negotiable (e.g. flowers) versus non-negotiable (e.g. dealing with an addiction) and set limits when necessary.
If the answer is no, you don’t think you could survive your worst fears happening, then explore them and figure out what you need to change in order to have the strength necessary to survive. Perhaps you need more supports in place or money in the bank or a job to fall back on. Regardless of what it is you need–make it happen. The more you realize that you will be okay without this relationship, the more you’ll be able to be fully present in this relationship. Great relationships can only occur between two people who know they will be okay when standing alone. This ability to stand alone will allow them to be an amazing force when they then stand together.
CHALLENGE: If you are holding back from talking about difficult issues or setting limits with your partner out of fear they will leave–explore that fear head on. Walk yourself through the three steps and come up with a plan of action to get yourself stronger. Know that without being able to stand alone, you will never truly be able to stand equally with another.