Sometimes I’ll ask a client to watch ‘Runaway Bride’, a movie about a woman who becomes the person she thinks another wants her to be. Sounds like a weird homework assignment.
Maybe some background will be helpful…
A client comes into my office and says things like:
- I have trouble committing to someone;
- I don’t know why I stay with someone so long yet don’t follow through;
- I don’t like confrontation;
- I don’t say anything when I get annoyed because I don’t want to offend anyone.
Now, putting all those statements in bullet points makes it a little more obvious that there could be a correlation between not speaking your mind/heart (aka being passive — not assertive) and not being able to commit.
I know this isn’t the only reason…yes, there are those who just want to play and are truly not ready to commit. And there are other reasons. I get that. This is just one perspective for those who WANT to commit, but are struggling and don’t understand why.
For the clients that have genuinely shared this heartache (male and female), it’s a part of learning how to be assertive and risk rejection in order to find “the real deal”. We discuss the exhaustion of trying to handle all the comments that go unsaid and get stuffed away. We discuss the times that they can’t hold it in any longer and then have to rattle off everything on their minds — and then experience shame because they didn’t mean to do it. But the shame is hard to get past because holding in all that for so long created quite a bit of resentment, which built a pretty big wall.
I do not condone the emotional explosions. I definitely do not condone stuffing your thoughts and observations away.
The key is to approach each issue as it comes. Stay in that moment. Don’t go back three months to everything you’ve been holding in. Assertiveness does not mean you are a bulldozer. Assertiveness means that you state your position as kindly as possible, even if you know there might be a disagreement. (This does not apply to abusive relationships, by the way — that’s a whole different stance.) Assertiveness means that you may have to be a mirror for the other person, even if they don’t want to look. However, you are also ready to accept that person in their imperfection. After all, you can empathize with imperfection — because assertiveness means that you are also open about what you see in yourself. Assertiveness means you see potential in the other person and you want them to see potential in you. Assertiveness means you value another’s feedback and you want your perspective valued, too.
My question to a client in this situation would be something like, “Why would you want to commit to a relationship where you can’t be yourself? Wouldn’t that be exhausting?” And it is exhausting…trying to read another person’s mind and trying to predict another person’s mood…you end up losing yourself. So then my questions would focus around something like, “What do you want from the relationship? What do you want them to know about you?” This is usually followed by a blank-like stare or a look of pure panic. This client hasn’t thought about their own needs or their own goals in so long that they have no idea how to answer my question.
Basically, you aren’t going to commit to someone that you are not attached to, and you aren’t going to be able to attach to anyone unless you are able to be your authentic self. This means you have to get to know yourself. Hard times will come in any relationship, and the assertive and compassionate confrontations will be completely necessary. Both perspectives are needed in the relationship. Both partners need to speak up in order for the relationship to remain balanced. Both need to ask the tough questions, and both need to be prepared to answer the tough questions. Both need to be prepared to understand and respect their own strengths and weaknesses, and be prepared to understand and respect the partner’s strengths and weaknesses.