Have you ever been with a man and waited for cues from him as to what on earth the two of you are doing in the relationship?
Dating, hooking-up, committed with long term goals in sight? Waiting for him to say he’s monogamous and to say the first I love you? If you’re an adult and have had a few relationships you’ve come to some basic ground rules and standards when it comes to romantic relationships. Maybe it’s that you don’t stay with someone without a commitment in terms of monogamy after being with them for 3 months. Look, I’m all for equality and compromise in relationships. However, after years of working with women in romantic relationships I see many women draw the line in the sand. With the wisdom of their past relationships and personal needs they can readily articulate what they need in a relationship if asked by someone like me or a friend like you.
A relationship then unfolds in a certain way and their heart is invested so to speak. The line in the sand very easily becomes blown over by wind and is essentially invisible to all involved. The whole idea of standards becomes a moving target. Why is that so bad? If you’ve internalized basic standards and they aren’t met and you accommodate someone else’s although you don’t really believe it’s in your best interest, or the interest of the relationship, then a little bit of your self esteem diminishes. Where you once saw something solid and real and logical, you have questions. You question yourself. If not, you have a little bit of resentment, dissatisfaction, or fear. You’re basically buying yourself time until they come around, or you think you will suddenly adjust and be satisfied in an unsatisfying situation. I call this relationship phenomenon, WHEN YOU KNOW YOU KNOW….AND THEN YOU FORGET.
1. NEVER BACK TRACK IN THE RELATIONSHIP
This speaks to the dangers of thinking that redefining the relationship in terms of where it’s going is not a problem. Perhaps you’ve been there. Things are going splendidly and you can’t get although of each other. You’ve established that your relationship is of a certain status: Say you’re monogamous and not seeing other people. You spend 2-3 times a week together. If this has been going on for a substantial amount of time (I’ll say one month minimum-enough to establish a pattern and expectation of behavior). Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can change that up and be demoted to a 1 x a week girlfriend. This of course includes a rare exception of some real life event that makes keeping things status quo impossible. But if one partner suggests that what was once a reasonable amount of time becomes significantly not okay, then the standards of the other person have to change. The target of appropriate behavior has shifted, the line in the sand is redrawn.
If you did this, good luck as well. This may be liberating for one partner but it rarely works for the other partner. That’s because patterns of behavior and expectations relate to the forward trajectory of intimacy. That means that in order to be in a relationship you need to have similar speeds, desires, and expectations. Negotiations happen, but the relationship should ultimately be forward moving in some way. Women that stay in situations that are demoted to “just dating” from being someone’s girlfriend are letting the man choose the target, and it’s moving along and will likely continue to do so. He has the control. You are vulnerable and it’s not going to end there.
2. KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE TO GAIN BY THE CLOSING OF ANY REALTIONSHIP DOOR.
I know it sounds morbid to think of the good parts about losing someone. But keeping one’s strength and empowerment while in a relationship is one of the best things you can do to make sure your relationship succeeds. This doesn’t have to influence your ability to be intimate and vulnerable in the relationship at all. It’s about knowing your value as a human being independent of the identity you’ve grown to have with your partner. And yes, it has a bit of a self-protective component. After any relationship ends it’s really hard to internalize all those wonderful compliments about your value from your girlfriends or family or ex-ex boyfriends you’ve called to get affirmation that you will not be alone forever and someone better is out there. This is a win-win approach given that most people enjoy being in relationships with people who are self-assured. Sure, if you’re psychologically minded you want your partner to show some vulnerability, maybe even an insecurity from time to time. It helps promote intimacy and lets you know the other person is real. However, keeping hold of one’svalue is essential in order to express true vulnerability and continue to derive confidence and self-esteem from yourself rather than the easy way from your partner which can feel like magical osmosis, only to be removed the second they are inconsistent or you have relationship difficulties.
You have to know that if things don’t work out, there WILL be another option. I don’t care if you’re spiritual or atheist or believe in fairies. Find whatever made up logic you can to internalize this belief. There is always love around the corner. That’s one of the best ways to thrive in a relationship. If you can do this you’ve created security within yourself which will help the relationship thrive!
3. IT’S OKAY TO KEEP SECRETS!
I’m definitely speaking to those of you with some internal moral compass. It’s not a free pass for people with a foundation of dishonesty. I know women who think that being in love means that they should share all the deep dark secrets from their past. That their boyfriend should know their every skeleton. He would unconditionally accept them and love them more for them. Sure, this could work at first if they guys are seeking the same type of unconditional love in a way that would make them feel more secure themselves. After observing the ringer of relationships like this I see it quite differently. You shouldn’t feel the need to show all your cards. I actually think that it’s smart to be strategic about when you show vulnerability. They don’t need to know the details of why you were dumped last, how you’ve been in therapy for years for trust issues, or how you’re afraid you’ll always be too needy for any guy to tolerate.
As the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” goes, when it comes to sharing emotions, and determining if a relationship is worth it, you need to know when you hold them. Know when to fold them. Know when to walk away. And be damn sure you know when to run.
4. KNOW WHEN TO HOLD 'EM
You need to know when holding back certain information will not intentionally hurt the other person and will keep a source of harmless but self-protective power in you. Everyone needs to feel safe and secure in life and in a relationship. Yes, it’s a beautiful thing if your partner can give that to you. But it’s not the only way to feel secure and safe. Knowing that you have value, that you have options, can help you have the confidence to stay PRESENT in your relationship and actually give the relationship a chance to thrive without the baggage we all have. This relates back to the idea of knowing that you don’t need that person. Now, I don’t mean that you need to go about flirting and exploring options. But you need to get a reality check on what’s out there from time to time. If you do this within reason (considering possibilities, not actually crossing the line), then you will increase your security and safety in the relationship. Problems often arise when we overact to the threat (even when extremely small) of the relationship ending. This plays out in the day to day disagreements or repetitive issues that any relationship has.
5. KNOW WHEN TO FOLD 'EM
This is when to know if you are under-communicating and you are actually keeping TOO many secrets. This is equally detrimental for the relationship and for your own self-esteem. For example, if you actually have strong feelings and are playing it cool to the point where the other person doesn’t have a real assessment of your true feelings. This doesn’t really apply in the first month. That is too early but if you have been with someone for 3 months or more (even regularly dating and not monogamous), then this is a real issue to consider. This also includes when you may not have been clear about your expectations. For example, you tell a guy that yea, we are totally cool being casual. But you’ve in fact picked out your wedding song. When it’s okay to lie: do NOT share your instagram wedding photos. When it’s okay to be honest: If you truly would be very disappointed if you found that he was 30% in this relationship in terms of current commitment and future potential and you are at about 80%. The ratio doesn’t have to be equal, but if you suspect if may be off, it’s better to risk learning that you’re not on the same page than staying in a relationship with no potential.
6. KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY
This is when you’ve already folded them. You’ve put it out that you’re open to the idea that the relationship works out. Using the word “open” is a great way to soften the intensity of testing if a relationship has potential. It’s a little less scary than speaking of expectations. Assuming that you’ve already expressed where you’re at and the guy is not on the same page. If you’re in this place, you’ve already tried to rationalize what you’re doing in the relationship. Perhaps he’s stressed at work and will come around. This is when you really need to play the objectivity game. This is when objectively (if you heard a stranger telling your story) it would be pretty clear that there isn’t a future. The relationship serves temporary needs and your needs extend past the short term. This doesn’t mean you have to bail if you think you have shown your cards and not gotten the response you wanted. By all means, express yourself a little more. Don’t worry about a guy perceiving you as over emotional. Be clear about your wants and where you’re at. Give him the opportunity to be an emotionally mature person and to talk through things with you. If he is squeamish and has little ability to talk it out, then you would be in for a lifetime of difficulties were you to stay with him.
7. KNOW WHEN TO RUN!
When you’re not being yourself or you know he isn’t. If you have to spend a lot of time in the guessing game, trying to figure out mutual feelings, etc. After all attempts at communication have been futile, or when you are repeating a negative relationship pattern that you’ve already identified as seriously problematic/red flag material. If you feel embarrassed to tell family and friends that you’re still with the guy, then run!