I have been enjoying reading Mark Manson, a self-described “author, blogger and entrepreneur.” Recently, he blogged on why people cheat on their partners and I felt compelled to send it to a friend who’d recently gone through an unexpected and painful breakup of an eight-year relationship, albeit unrelated to cheating.
“The one time I told him no,” she lamented, “and he left.”
Our friends and I commiserated with her, convinced that his behavior wasn’t kind or fair, and that she deserved better. Then I read Manson’s post. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he said — including calling “life-long commitment” the most important thing — I appreciate his assessment of how we often set ourselves up for misbehavior when we “do everything” for our partner (or never tell him “no”):
“The person feels like a goddamn saint and then what happens? They get cheated on. … The reason this is actually a toxic situation is that when you do everything for your partner, when you take care of all of their problems and show them that no matter what happens you will always make it better for them, you show them that there are essentially no repercussions for their actions. … If you had a dog that continuously pissed on your rug and every time you just cleaned up the rug because OMIGOD I LOVE HER, why would the dog ever stop pissing on it? That’s what happens when these people cheat on you. You’re actually surprised when you’ve been tolerating and enabling the exact behavior that led them to cheat all along. No, it’s not your ‘fault,’ but you sure as shit weren’t helping the matter.” tweet
Boy, can I relate! When my marriage was falling apart, I remember telling the marriage counselor that all my former husband basically had to do was show up — although I always worked part time, the household chores, the kids, the hands-on caregiving and the emotional caregiving had somehow been dumped entirely on me. Plus, I wrote winning grants that furthered his career, and never took time away from our family — certainly not for pleasure. I was selfless! Meanwhile, there had been numerous times that he was deceptive, and made other questionable decisions — even once resulting in the need for a restraining order — scary! — that were damaging to us, our family and to me over the years. Of course, I never once asked that we seek counseling or help, never held him accountable. Then, he had a long-term affair. Hmm …
All the times that I let those lies and bad behaviors occur, I basically had been “tolerating and enabling the exact behavior that led (him) to cheat all along.” Indeed, he never suffered a consequence for his actions. No wonder he was shocked — shocked! — when, after first wanting to salvage the marriage, I finally said I wanted a divorce (although women initiate divorce than men, it’s often exactly because of this). It was the first time I had ever set a healthy boundary for myself in our marriage — I will not be lied to or disrespected again — but it also meant that the marriage would have to end. I don’t blame my former husband for my behavior; in fact, I own it. But it sent me on a quest to understand why — why didn’t I believe I deserved better treatment?
Women do this a lot. Many of us have a problem saying “no,” but when that “no” is setting boundaries for ourselves and honoring our needs — and it’s not selfish to have needs — then it’s actually healthier for us and our relationship.
As Manson says, setting healthy boundaries means we’re standing up for ourselves:
“That means declaring what is and is not acceptable in the relationship both for yourself and your partner. That means sticking by those declarations and following through on them. … That means you recognize that you are not responsible for your partner’s happiness nor are they responsible for yours. That you do not have a right to demand certain actions from them nor do they have a right to demand certain actions from you. … That means that they are responsible for their own struggles just as you are responsible for yours. … That means that you realize often the most loving and compassionate thing you can do for a loved one is allow them to deal with their struggles themselves.” tweet
This, of course, is hard. I’m not saying it isn’t hard for men, too; I know men for whom saying “no” has been challenging. Still, women, are typically brought up to be pleasers; I sure was. And that hasn’t worked out well for anyone.
So, I am better at saying “no.” I’m better at identifying my needs and expressing them in a loving, respectful way. It still feels foreign, and, yes, I still make mistakes. But I finally am convinced that, yes, it’s not only OK to look after yourself, but it’s also really healthy. How about you?
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