Don’t rock the boat. Don’t upset your husband/wife. He/She will be so disappointed.
We’ve all heard these phrases and when they’re directed at us it’s just ugh, right? It cuts us to our core. It makes us feel good when we see others happy—especially for those of us who lean toward being a “people pleaser.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with cheering up those around you, sharing positive thoughts, compliments, and affirmations. In fact, learning to be more optimistic, joyful and playful is an important part of living a full and happy life.
But, we often feel afraid of “rocking the boat,” particularly in our relationships. We’re worried about displeasing the other person, creating tension or expressing our feelings that might not agree with our partner.
How many of us worry about going to bed angry? How many of us worry about confrontation? How many times do we tell ourselves to let something go that bothers us, rather than addressing it? We fear bringing up frustrations in our relationship may cause our boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse to reject us.
That’s a big fear isn’t it, the fear of rejection? We all have a fear of displeasing others and causing them to end the relationship, walk away or withdraw their affection. In fact, this fear permeates our other relationships too (not just our romantic ones). We worry about telling friends how we really feel, expressing strong opinions or saying when we don’t like something. Many of us would rather keep the status quo so we can belong.
We all experience yearnings, in other words, spiritual hunger, or deep wants. These aren’t the same as wanting a new car, a million dollars or a hot date. These are deeper human desires: to be loved, to be accepted, or to belong.
When we displease others it seems diametrically opposed to meeting those yearnings, doesn’t it? It seems as though we’ll do something wrong, have a fight or argue with someone, and they’ll throw up their hands and throw in the towel. They’ll take away the possibility of giving us the connection we’re longing for. Yet, when we hold back our feelings and don’t express how we really feel, we’re not truly meeting our yearnings either.
Kahneman and Tversky’s Nobel Prize-winning research on Loss Aversion states we are more aware of the pain of loss than the pleasure of potential gain. We fear the upset of displeasing others so much we avoid the joy of pleasing ourselves. Many of us work to please others at the expense of our own opinions, judgments, and desires. We strive so hard to get others to like us, approve of us and minimize the discomfort of rejection we sacrifice our own feelings and preferences.
Ignoring or suppressing your yearnings will lead to dissatisfaction, not just in your relationship but also with yourself.
One of the major rules about fighting fair in relationships is to remember: You are 100% responsible for your own happiness. This means, it’s not your significant other’s responsibility to “make you happy.” Your relationship doesn’t exist to fix you or take away dissatisfaction. Similarly, it takes two to tango: no one gets more than 50% of the blame in an argument. Each party is equal and each is responsible for their happiness.
This may sound a little frightening, right? Especially if we’ve been blaming our partner for our unhappiness, or thinking if we could just please them more, everything would be okay. In reality, we need to focus on meeting our yearnings and pleasing ourselves.
Relationships aren’t nearly as fragile as we think. In fact, the more we stretch, push and grow within our relationships the stronger they become. Conflict doesn’t actually tear us apart—it breaks down our barriers to bring us closer together.
Now, not every fight in a relationship is equal, of course. In our book, The Heart of the Fight, we identify the common fights many couples have: Dueling over Dollars, Sexual Dissatisfaction, the Hidden Middle Finger (passive-aggressive behavior), Family Feuds and many others. If these sound familiar, it’s no surprise. Most arguments boil down to a few key issues.
At the heart of these issues is a common thread: unmet yearnings, those longings we wish our relationship would give us. We harbor the fantasy our prince or princess charming will swoop in and fix it all.
Now, remember, if everyone is 100% responsible for their own happiness—even in a relationship—this shifts the dynamic, doesn’t it? Suddenly, those unmet yearnings shift from our partner’s responsibility to a responsibility we have to ourselves. The blame can’t be more than half on either party. So we each need to step up and realize how we’re affecting the situation. Are we being honest about our dislikes? Are we afraid of displeasing the other person? Do we feel we’re constantly trying to smooth things over or defuse the situation by tamping down our feeling?
Your partner will tick you off. They’ll do little irritating actions that get under your skin. They’ll say words that hurt your feelings. Relationships are messy. Love is messy…but it’s also beautiful and nourishing.
What happens when we take responsibility for our happiness? We start fighting FOR the relationship. We start fighting FOR our yearnings to be met. We also start to realize most of what our partner does isn’t malicious or meant to hurt our feelings. We begin assuming positive intent and our relationship and connection becomes stronger and more authentic.
You see, when we allow ourselves to stop pleasing others (whether it’s our spouse, our kids, our boss or our friends), we start prioritizing our own happiness. We examine what fills our heart and learn to prioritize our satisfaction.
At first blush, we may worry this is selfish. But when we avoid the tension and compromise, we’re actually compromising our own happiness. We’re compromising the intimacy and closeness we could gain from a greater honesty an authenticity in our relationship.
If you acquiesce and compromise on something you really care about—if you haven’t gotten to the heart of the issue—you aren’t going to meet those powerful yearnings: to love and be loved, to be seen for who you really are, to matter, and to be accepted. You will miss out on the intimacy you could really be having.
The intimacy we get by sharing our heart and feelings—that’s the real beauty of relationships. Those honest expressions, even if the other person doesn’t want to hear it, will ultimately bring us closer. So don’t hold back. Rock the boat and rock your relationship into a stronger connection!
For more on strengthening your relationships, fighting fair and getting MORE of what you want, please visit us at www.wrightfoundation.org. We now offer many of our classes and lectures for download and at a special introductory price. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn and explore more about yourself!
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.