Many people take the “try not to stir the pot” approach to relationships. Are you overly concerned about hurting the other person’s feelings? Or worried that if you state what you want it will lead to a fight? Whether it’s a family member, friend, or significant other, if you avoid confrontation, everything will be fine, right? Wrong! The fear of confrontation can lead to being passive (or passive aggressive), which can build up resentment in you and the other person. When you keep everything bottled up it can lead to increased anxiety and potentially a blow up in the relationship. If you’re feeling resentful, that’s a red flag that something needs to change. It’s a sign that someone is hurting someone else, and you could be hurting yourself.
Therapy can help you find that middle ground between yelling and keeping it in. It teaches you the difference between being confrontational and assertive (being assertive is a good thing!). You’ll learn to communicate your needs effectively, so you can be heard and move your relationship forward together.
TIPS FOR A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP AND TO REDUCE ANXIETY
Problems within a relationship can often stem from ineffective communication and not setting boundaries for yourself and the other person. The way we communicate and interact with people can be on auto-pilot – we tend to get stuck in a pattern, and it can be difficult to change the way we normally do things. But unfortunately if your “normal” way of doing things is to be passive and not speak up for yourself, it can be difficult to break that pattern and effectively communicate your needs to the other person.
When you overly concern yourself with protecting the other person, you are trying to control their emotions and behaviors while neglecting your own needs. Let go of the idea of trying to control and protect others. Instead of focusing on an external locus of control, direct your focus inwards on your own needs. You can’t control others, just like they can’t control you. (And even if you have been letting others dictate what you do, it led to you having anxiety, right?) It’s not their business to control you. It’s not your burden to control them – that’s exhausting and a never-ending battle.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO MEET YOUR OWN NEEDS
When you don’t identify and state your needs and set boundaries within the relationship, it can hurt you (by causing anxiety) and your relationship. You may be thinking, “I don’t know how to communicate my needs without confrontation,” or “every time I try to bring up what I want, it leads to a fight and doesn’t help,” so you have decided it’s better to not say anything at all. This all or nothing attitude can ultimately end a relationship and cause you to feel resentful and anxious. Even if keeping it in doesn’t lead to fights, are your needs being met?
Stating what you need isn’t selfish and doesn’t have to come from a place of animosity. Trust your needs and explicitly say “this is what I need from you” or “this is how you can support me.” Don’t assume your partner, friend, or family member knows what you need. Even if they do know it already, it’s fine to remind them of what you need from them and how they can support you. Speaking up gives you a sense of empowerment. You can’t control other people, but you can choose who you spend time with and what you do with your time, so speak up for yourself and inform others.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about others or never think about their needs. But when they see how you effectively communicate your needs, it gives them permission to do the same in a respectful way, so then you can both effectively and lovingly care for yourselves and each other.
HOW THERAPY CAN HELP YOU SET AND MAINTAIN HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
We all need to identify and set boundaries for both physical and emotional wellbeing. When we set emotional boundaries, it helps us learn that other people’s moods, behaviors, etc. may have dictated your own decisions, needs, emotions, etc. and that takes away your ability to have your own needs met and your own control of your life and self.
Boundaries help maintain and improve relationships. It will be uncomfortable, awkward, or even feel weird when you set them for the first time, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Just different and unknown. Give it time, give yourself time, give others time to adjust, but keep communicating. Something to ask yourself now, and as you move forward: how are you overstepping your own boundaries? By not speaking up about your needs, you’re overstepping your boundaries.
STEPS FOR CREATING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
- Identify your values and priorities. Values are characteristics you hold true, such as health, connection with others, loyalty, etc. Priorities are things you make time for that align with and support your values. For example, if health is a value, a priority is making time for exercise. If you value connection, make time for the people you want to connect with.
- Define your boundaries that reflect your values and priorities. What do you need to stick to your values and priorities? Alone time? Time with specific people? Time to go to the gym? Alone time to read? Are there things you currently do that don’t support your values? What are some common things that bring up anxiety in your relationship? What boundaries would help minimize your anxiety and allow you to make time for your priorities?
- Express your values and boundaries. If you keep your values to yourself, others may not understand why you’re setting boundaries and saying “no” to them if they ask you for something or your time. Express how your boundaries support your values. For example if you say, “I need you to stop going over to your friend’s house every night,” it doesn’t explain why you need this behavioral pattern to change. It just says what you want them to do, which doesn’t help the other person understand why you’re asking. So state your needs first: “I value our relationship and the time we make for each other. You and our relationship are a priority to me, so I’d like to dedicate more time to it. Can you schedule more time for me and us?” That leads with your needs, then you can discuss how you both can make that change happen.
- Be consistent and stick to your boundaries. Even when there’s pushback (expect pushback), keep communicating why you need to stick to those boundaries, and how the other person can support you with your values and goals. Remember that you don’t have to say “yes” to everyone and everything that is asked of you, because then your values are being ignored. It’s OK to draw a line and make time for yourself and what you value.
- Spend time with people who accept and nourish your values and respect your boundaries. You have the ability to choose these things – who you spend time with and what you do with your life, and these should support your values and needs. If people get mad at you for doing the right thing, they’ll get over it. And if they don’t get over it, it’s indicative of their unwillingness to support and nourish you.
If you don’t define your values, priorities, and boundaries, you’re letting other people dictate how you spend your time and with whom, which can lead to anxiety due to unmet needs.
MAINTAINING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
Therapy helps you find those healthy boundaries and create a healthy equal give and take in your relationship. These healthy boundaries minimize resentment and are a balancing act. Setting boundaries in the first place is easier, but as you change, as your relationship changes, and if there’s pushback over time, it can be hard to stick to and enforce those boundaries. Counseling provides the tools you need to effectively communicate with your partner, family member, or friend, and provide the ongoing guidance to make the relationship work. Therapy helps you communicate without anger and resentment, so you can express yourself clearly and assertively with respect towards others and yourself.
If you are finding it difficult to communicate your needs with your loved one(s) and live in the Fort Lauderdale area, I offer individual therapy to adults in order to help you identify your values, set clear boundaries, and prioritize your needs so you can reduce your anxiety and have healthy, lasting relationships.