Are you afraid of being a doormat in your relationships?
If so, you are probably a good-hearted person who gives so much of yourself, your time and energy in your relationships. But many times, you feel resentful when you don’t get it in return. You might even feel like a doormat at times.
The fire of anger and resentment can take over the passion you once felt in your relationship.
Anger and resentment start to build, as you try and take care of your relationship as best you know how. You become over-scheduled, depleted and maybe even a little depressed. If this sounds familiar, you’ll relate to this vignette about Sarah’s experience and find that you can make positive changes, step by step, so that you can stop losing time feeling bad in your relationships and start feeling better and more in control today.
It started with a love story.
Sarah told me that she fell in love with Mark, a creative, kind and handsome man 2 years ago when she moved from Seattle to New York City. When she came to me for help she was desperate to get her relationship with Mark “back to how it used to be.” She told me that lately they were arguing all the time and she was “sick of feeling so angry, and feeling like he didn’t care about her.”
Without realizing it, are you putting other’s needs before yours and feeling resentful?
I asked her what was going on to make her feel this way. She told me that she felt he didn’t value her time and her work, or appreciate her. Some example she gave were that he would come home 3 hours later then he said he would and she would be putting off starting a project because she wanted to be available for him, and now her time was wasted and she was angry but he kept doing it.
Saying yes to stuff, you really want to say no to?
She also said how she does things that he wants to do even when she doesn’t want to, to please him, but when he doesn’t return the favor she goes through the roof.
She confessed, “I am worried that I’m becoming a doormat and that he's selfish, and it makes me so mad that he doesn’t care how I feel.”
Sarah’s experience is one I hear so often as a therapist and coach and it's why I'm sharing it with you because I know many of you are in the same boat.
What I advised her to do is something you can try too if you are in a similar situation. It could be your romantic relationship or one with your mother-in-law, your best friend, your colleague, or any other important person in your life. Just insert your relationship as you read and take out the romantic piece.
Do it for selfish reasons!
I advised Sarah for the time being, to only do something with Mark for absolute selfish reasons. If she was tired and didn’t want to hang out with him and his friends one night for the new up and coming restaurant, or art gallery opening, to decline the offer.
Are you scared to say no to someone you love...
She was frightened. She said, “he’ll be mad at me and I don’t want to disappoint him.” I said, “Ok, but you are mad at yourself and him when you do something you really don’t want to do and he doesn’t return the favor, and then you are both disappointed and fighting, no?”
Because you are fearing the worst?
When we did a deep dive into her current thinking, we uncovered a deep-seated fear that maybe he would abandon her. She was shocked by this realization because she didn't know she had this fear. It wasn't a conscious thought, we had to dig a little for it.
I asked why she loved Mark. She told me of all the kind things that Mark did that made her feel loved and cared for. But this was overshadowed by her thoughts that he was disrespecting her. Her interpretation of his behavior caused her to question her self-worth and feel less than her usual confident Self. Something that was also was surprising for her to realize since she felt like a "pretty confident woman." She was fearing the worst that maybe she couldn't trust him.
Instead of fearing the worst, assume love.
You are a smart woman. You can trust your judgment. You don’t have to be on guard 100% of the time. If you assume he is coming from a loving place and he cares, even if you find that he’s not in the end what will the difference be? Do you want to live your life being hypervigilant in your relationships always looking for signs that you will be hurt? Because you will find evidence for your fears regardless if they are actually true, and you'll feel hurt anyway because of all the discord, and quit ahead of time, ahead of the potential betrayal.
Or would you prefer to let things play out, be in the moment, and see what real stuff the relationship is made of? You could just as easily find that when you assumed love, acted loving towards yourself and your partner, you got love back.
Doing something you don’t want to do and keeping score is not working for you, it’s hurting your relationships, and wasting precious time you could spend feeling love.
So, she practiced what she would say, all truthful, no made up excuses, just real and honest communication about how she was feeling. One night when he asked her out for the evening and she wasn't really up for it, she told him, “As much as I’d like to spend the evening with you, I have a deadline to work on, you go and have fun and tell everyone hello, I’ll be happy to snuggle with you when you get home.”
You can let other people have their feelings without having to fix it, or react to it. Other people's feelings are actually their responsibility, not yours.
Most people don't like when you try and control or fix their feelings. You probably don't either. So, the next step was to let him have his feelings about her asserting herself and try not to fix it, or react to it with her own frustration about his emotions. Also, something that she had gotten into a bad habit of doing. When he got mad about something she got mad because she felt he shouldn't be upset because of all the stuff she was doing to try and please him. It felt unappreciative to her.
This thought, feeling and behavioral pattern was also subconscious. Awareness is the first key, without it we don't know what the problem is and what we can do to change the painful dynamic.
Sex and the City. Your results may surprise you.
She said, “He was a little upset and disappointed at first but said he understood in the end, I got my work done, and when he came home we snuggled and made love and it was fabulous.” Hurray! Score!
As she practiced, the interesting thing to Sarah was that Mark was pretty understanding of her no’s. She started to feel more confident and less resentful in their relationship by doing things purely for selfish reasons!
Do the most loving thing.
It was time to graduate to, “Doing the most loving thing.”
I advised Sarah to ask herself, “What is the most loving thing to do in this situation?” Your mind will spit out the answers that are the most loving for you, and those will be the most loving for your partner too, because they are genuine.
If you say yes, and it’s disingenuous that's not loving for either of you and spreads resentment faster than a Southern California wildfire.
One weekend she decided to go with him to his family’s place for the weekend, even though her attempts at getting R&R never really happened when she went and she knew the drill:
Wake up early for breakfast with the whole family, rush to get ready, out all day trekking about all the new events in town, home to eat a 3-hour dinner, to bed late, and up early to rinse and repeat the next day.
When you make a decision based on the kind of person YOU want to be in the relationship, it means you never have to do things out of obligation again. And you get to feel the JOY of your decision to be loving!
In this case, she decided her going was the most loving thing to do even though she knew it would probably tired her out, and she would go through the following week, needing to be mindful of how to attend to herself with lots of care.
Like your reasons for your decision.
She decided she wanted to be with him and see his family, and she knew it meant a lot to him for all of them to be together. She wanted to be the kind of partner that'd go with him because of those reasons. She felt confident that she could go without feeling resentful during the trip because she was making a conscious choice to go, not out of obligation but because she wanted to. This takes practice if you've been doing things out of obligation.
She doesn't have to decide to go every time. Another weekend, she may have decided she was too stressed at work, and wouldn't be able to practice the new skills and be in 100% responsibility for herself.
No strings attached, no score keeping, clean decisions without blame. Just full self-responsibility. Try it, it’s so empowering.
So, her work was to go, no strings attached and take care of herself while she was there, maybe excuse herself to take a little catnap or read a book. All things that took courage for her to practice doing, without the, “oh-no what will they all think of me?” Or feel upset when he was disappointed because she wanted to sit out an excursion. She would let them have their feelings and stay on her side of the street-so-to-speak.
I can take care of my own needs. I don’t need my partner to do it. They can't possibly know better than me. If they offer that’s nice, but not necessary.
She also promised herself, knowing that she would be tired the following week, she wouldn't expect Mark to make her feel better or do something in return because that was her old expectation and when it didn’t happen she was hurt and angry. It just didn't work.
That’s the most empowering place you can be.
She knew she was in charge of taking care of her needs, and if he helped out that was a bonus but not a must. She was in charge of that, and that was empowering to realize. She also practiced not being resentful because she felt less than rested for her work week, something she reports was challenging but doable, especially when she focused on paying attention to the ways that he did show his love.
You can experience more love and trust.
The end result was that Sarah was able to experience more love in her relationship, by doing things she thought of as selfish before. Instead of this causing more problems in her relationship, it did the opposite. When she allowed Mark to have his feelings without reacting, and allowing herself to have hers without expecting him to do something about it, and instead took care of them herself, things rarely escalated between them. Sarah was back to feeling more confident, she learned how to process her own negative emotions more easily, how to remember what her needs were and honor them, how to say no, and how to trust herself. Also in the process she learned to trust Mark’s intentions, how to diffuse what would normally have turned into an argument by allowing him his feelings, not taking them on or making them mean something bad about her.
We are all messy humans. In romantic relationships, we're trying to merge two lives and that’s doable, but double the mess.
You can bless the mess, or resent it. If it’s the right mess for you, I’m guessing you want to bless it. The truth is you can. You have to learn how to manage your mind, learn some relationship skills, and have your own back though.
Relationships and the messiness of it all.
I know this is a pattern that you can easily get caught up in, especially my people pleasers out there, and it can tear an otherwise good relationships apart, or at least not give you the chance to find out if it's a good relationship before the resentment builds and it’s too late. You can totally change this pattern, have hope.
Share it with your crew.
If you know a woman who is struggling with this too, please forward this to her.
If you need more guidance, I’m here. Hit me up and we’ll get you, “getting your own back” with grace, instead of reacting out of fear that maybe you're being a doormat. You're a strong woman and sometimes we just need to learn a few new skills.