The Barrier: A tried and true people pleaser, you agree to everything. Your main goal in a relationship is to be that easy, breezy low-maintenance girl with no needs of her own. You live in fear of being seen as selfish or even worse, difficult. So you find yourself agreeing to meet up with a guy when you know you really need Me Time, or going out in a group with all his college buddies when what you want is a night with just the two of you. And then there are the favors like picking up his dry cleaning, dropping off his cat at the vet, and revising his resume, which leave you wiped out when it’s time to focus on your own tasks. Without boundaries, you risk either being depleted by fulfilling others’ needs at the expense of your own self-care, or having to erect impenetrable walls to protect yourself and your energy.
Relationship Rx: Flex your boundary-building muscles by saying, “No!” Declare it The Week Of No and decline every request that you don’t truly feel excited about doing. Say no when your neighbor asks you to take care of his bird over the holiday weekend, your best friend asks you to spot her $20 at dinner, and your co-worker asks if you would mind reading the first draft of his sci-fi novel and giving him detailed feedback. Turn down invitations that don’t feel joyful and fun. You don’t even need to offer an excuse—you can say no just because you want to! This will be uncomfortable at first so give yourself room to do it messily and awkwardly. And then devote all the extra time you have to taking care of the things you need to do.
The Barrier: To protect yourself from being vulnerable, you stuff down your feelings and act like you’re always “fine.” When a guy you’re seeing does or says something that upsets you, you pretend it’s “no big deal.” Most of the time you don’t even know how you feel until long after the triggering incident, when it’s too late to bring it up anyway. You’re terrified that expressing any sort of dissatisfaction will lead to conflict, which will in turn bring about the demise of this relationship. Instead, you become so dissociated you feel numb and checked-out—when you’re not depressed, resentful, and infuriated from all those bottled up feelings.
Relationship Rx: Being yourself and expressing how you feel is not optional in a relationship—it’s essential for true intimacy to develop. Override your knee-jerk reaction to say that something upsetting is “Fine!” and pay attention to the sensations in your body. Your emotions will give you clear signals if you get quiet and listen. When you feel a tightness in your chest or an uneasiness in your stomach, trust that something is definitely notno big deal. Once you’ve identified your feelings, practice expressing them to the person you’re dating, friends, and family members. Again, let yourself do this imperfectly. You can even start off by saying, “I feel really uncomfortable saying this but …” or “I don’t know why but I feel upset about what you just said and I need a little while to think about it.” Over time, it will become easier to identify and articulate your feelings, and this will lead to closer bonds, deeper intimacy, and better relationships.
Need For Control
The Barrier: Your motto is My way or the highway and no one can do things as impeccably as you can. Feeling an uncontrollable compulsion to control, you micromanage everything from a first date to your new love interest’s career. When a guy excitedly tells you about the date he’s planned, you can’t help but offer (forceful) suggestions to tweak it—it would be better to meet earlier, see a different movie, go to another restaurant. At his apartment you tell him he should keep his dishes in that cabinet and organize his sock drawer this way, and you take it as a personal affront when at your place he doesn’t abide by your systems. It’s one thing to express your preferences, and it might even be more fun or efficient your way, but if you are constantly controlling every aspect of a relationship from the get-go, the other person is going to get sick of being bossed around and call it quits.
Relationship Rx: Pick your battles and let go of the rest. If you have a massive aversion to horror movies, say so, and that you’d prefer to see a rom-com or animated feature. If you have a sensitive digestive system and can’t stomach Thai food, let him know. But if you don’t have a strong opinion on something, just let it slide. Give another person the opportunity to have his own ideas and opinions. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy giving up the burden of being in charge all the time and letting someone else take the lead once in a while. And if he offers to wash the dishes after dinner and puts them away in the wrong cabinet, try to appreciate his efforts instead of criticizing his methods. It’s a relationship, not a dictatorship, so it requires the ability to compromise and relinquish some control. But in doing so, you’ll gain far more than you give up.
The Barrier: Like most of the population, you grew up in a dysfunctional family. And the love portrayed in the movies, on TV, and in co-dependent “I’ll die without you” songs doesn’t help. You’re an expert at chaotic, painful relationships but don’t have a clue what a healthy relationship even looks like, let alone how to cultivate one. A hard worker and diligent student, you long to do dating and relationships better—if only you knew where to begin.
Relationship Rx: Get to work with the DIY project of building your own template. Find a dating mentor—a friend, coach, or therapist who is in a healthy relationship or knows what one looks like. Ask lots of questions and for advice about how to handle dating situations you find yourself in. Learn about the kinds of behaviors that are helpful to intimacy and those that are harmful. Read books on the subject to expand your ideas about what is possible in a relationship. There are a lot of dating and relationship books that perpetuate dysfunction so look for ones that promote relating mindfully instead, like If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path. With the new knowledge you garner, you’ll be able to let go of unhealthy patterns as you piece together your very own template.