How can I accept the things in our relationship that bug me?
anonymous Asks ...
My fiancée is really lazy. I have a small business and she benefits from it because I make more money than she does and so pay a lot more of the bills (we live together). She works only very part time. Now is my busy season at work and sometimes I ask her to help out with counter work or odd jobs when I get in a real bind. She’ll usually do it but she sulks and resents it. It drives me crazy. I love her dearly but I do not understand how she can watch me work 20 hour days and not want to help out when I need it most. I can’t seem to get over this and we have recurring fights about this same issue. Other than this we are great together. I do not think she will or can change. I love her and want to be with her so I want to change. How can I learn to let it go and accept her for who she is? I want to but I can’t help but get angry. I know it is me that has to make this work but I cannot figure out how to do it…
Penny Bell Says ...
There's always something, isn't there - no relationship is ever perfect. This sounds like a pretty big something for you, though, and you have tried many ways to get your head around it, including trying to change your fiancé, and so far nothing has worked. You feel as if you're carrying the bulk of the load and she is what we say in Australia "living off the sheep's back" - or enjoying the benefits of your hard work but not contributing on the level that you'd like her to. When this happens to us, in any area of life, we can feel used and abused and downright resentful.
Something I've learned over the years is that if I'm feeling resentful a lot of the time in my relationship I need to look at my boundaries, because resentment is often a good indicator that they're being violated in some way. My boundaries are all about what I want and what I don't want in my life - my yes and my no. They're how I define myself to others so that they'll know what I'm prepared to put up with and what I'm not. They are also like a fence around my yard, that defines what belongs to me and what belongs to someone else. I can put a gate in that fence to let the good in but keep the bad out.
Sometimes, to please another person, we allow our boundaries to be compromised. We think "oh, it doesn't really matter that much, the relationship is far more important". Then we wonder why we have that niggling feeling of things not being right. And it builds and builds until we realise we have to say something, which we do, often only to find that it doesn't change anything. Don't get me wrong, our words definitely are part of what we can use to establish our boundaries, but sometimes they're not enough. For example, if I really want to go to Hawaii for my vacation but my partner is determined to go to Disneyland, I can give all my good reasons and still end up in Disneyland if words are all I have to establish my boundary with. My partner did not wish to hear, nor to heed, my "no".
Other things that draw or reinforce our boundaries are our actions. If I follow through with my boundary setting in this case, I would indeed land in Hawaii, albeit on my own. And therein lies the dilemma. There can be a cost to establishing our boundaries, and that cost could be one we don't really wish to pay.
For you to weigh up that cost - the cost of taking back control of your life by establishing a boundary and enforcing your "no" - you would need to decide whether it is worth it to you to continue to carry the financial and working load in the relationship so that the relationship can continue and you can enjoy all the great things it has to offer, or whether you simply find that you are losing your sense of self, of who you are, and sacrificing that in order for the relationship to continue,something unacceptable to you. Either way, there is a sacrifice - either of your sense of self and what is right and fair, or of the relationship the way it is.
Boundaries also need to be flexible - so that we keep out the bad but let in the good. So part of my decision making process needs to be considering whether I am perhaps being so inflexible that I am shutting out the good with the bad!
Going back to my vacation problem - a third alternative would be that my partner and I negotiate something so that we each get what we want. This could take the form of one week in Hawaii and one in Disneyland! Taking back control of your life, of your values, ideals, choices, limits and desires will bring you freedom, and freedom from that anger, but in a healthy relationship we need to also listen to the needs and values of the other person. A good way to go about this could be to see a counsellor together so that in a safe environment you can explain to your fiancé what it is you need from her, and she can respond from her perspective. This would create an opportunity for you to negotiate and come to a place of compromise where each gains some benefit.
I wish you the very best with this and hope that you can come to an agreement that works for both of you.