DISCLAIMER: This is not a relationship advice article in the style of “6 Relationship Problems and How to Solve Them.” I can’t offer solutions. I often don’t know when a relationship is broken beyond repair or how to resist the infamous effort to “fix” people. I’m no expert, to say the least.
But I am a pro at second-guessing myself. I’ve realized that, for myself and for many women, incessant second-guessing at times prevents us from respecting our own needs. The following thoughts seem to repeat on a loop in many women’s minds when problems arise, and they can work against us.
1. “Am I being unreasonable?”
This is not a bad question to ask oneself. Anxieties, insecurities — hell, even low blood sugar — can affect one’s mood and one’s interpretation of situations. It’s always good to “examine the evidence,” as cognitive behavioral therapists call it, meaning to go through the facts of a situation and keeping yourself open to information that may conflict with your conclusion or feeling. It can also be helpful to talk with others for outside perspective.
But what exactly the norm “reasonable” looks like is hard to decipher when discussing one’s feelings about something. Let’s take it to simply mean “with reason.” Do you have a reason for how you feel? Can you articulate it? If yes, then you are not being unreasonable. Unless you missed a piece of evidence or don’t know why you feel something, you can generally assume you’re being reasonable. Not being understood and not being reasonable are two very different things.
2. “Maybe I’m just too emotional.”
This is such a common concern for women, I think, because we’re socialized to be emotional, whereas men are not encouraged to think or talk much about feelings. This creates a huge divide between partners in many heterosexual relationships.
I think it’s important to be compassionate toward men who lack emotional and communicative skills. However, that doesn’t mean your emotions are “too much.” If you have emotional intelligence and strong communication skills, it’s your partner’s responsibility to work on himself to develop himself in these areas. You feel how you feel. If something causes you to feel bad, then it shouldn’t be part of your relationship. There’s no two ways about it.
3. “I don’t want to overwhelm him.”
When you need to talk about a problem two days after a major blowout, you might feel nervous about “nagging” or asking him for “too much.” For one, it’s not really a surprise that you may be the one to bring up problems most frequently; women are generally more likely to identify and talk about problems (thanks again, socialization!). If you’re feeling discomfort or distress about a problem, you don’t deserve to sacrifice your own well-being in order to give him a break. If it’s a problem for you, it’s a problem for the both of you. If he doesn’t want to bother, well, that’s his problem.
4. “Boys will be boys.”
The things that some women put up with from men on the simple basis that they are men is quite extraordinary. Everything from not communicating well to gawking at other women to cheating has been excused with “because penis.”
I do think we should cultivate an appreciation for the influence that gender norms place on people’s development and behavior. But it’s also our responsibility to challenge those norms on an individual level and choose who and, just as importantly, how we are. Nature doesn’t make men shut down or act like pigs or cheat. Men who behave in ways that their partners may find hurtful or disrespectful have their choices to blame, not their penises.
5. “I’m trying to be cool with .”
Many women fear putting too much pressure on a man to behave in a way we feel is respectful and that helps us feel secure in a relationship. So we try to “be cool” with certain things that may actually make us quite uncomfortable. Some women are fine with their partners openly discussing their attraction to others, or going to strip clubs and getting lap dances, for example. Some women aren’t fine with such things. And that’s okay. You don’t need to “be cool” with everything. You want what you want and you need what you need and you feel how you feel.
6. “Every relationship has problems.”
This statement is 100% true. But sometimes it can cloud our judgment concerning the depth of dysfunction we’ve sunk into. Here are some helpful questions for gauging the dysfunction level of a relationship: How much of the stress in my life comes from this relationship? Do I feel more like a partner or a teacher? We all have things to share with and learn from one another, but if we feel like we spend a significant amount of time trying to explain things that we regard as simple and important to a partner, we may be in too deep.
Not everyone can give us what we need, and sometimes it’s nobody’s fault. But we owe it to ourselves to expect and obtain what we need. If we’re not getting it, perhaps it’s best to take some time to be our own damn soul mates.