Saturday, October 1, 2011

Finding Balance in Relationships

Photo by Sean Ochester
Most of us understand that being repeatedly selfish, cruel and neglectful in relationships is a sure way to destroy them.  But, did you know you can also kill a relationship with kindness?  If you have been told you are “too nice”, you may be inadvertently skewing the balance of equity required for healthy adult relationships.  Successful long-term friendships and romantic relationships tend to have a fairly equal balance of power, but people who are too nice tend to give away their power and do more than their fair share of the work.

The following are some specific "too nice" behaviors that tend to cause problems in friendships and romantic relationships as well as some suggestions for finding a better balance.
  • Being overly-responsible for your relationships: When you do most of the work in a relationship, you show the other that its okay to do less and you risk eventually becoming burned out and resentful.  Resist being the sole cheerleader for your relationship, constantly pointing out the good things and going out of your way in an effort to convince the other person to stick around.  Avoid talking them out of their doubts regarding the relationship. Try instead to listen and really hear what they are saying, believe them and respond appropriately.  In the best case, you both may be able to identify problems and address them.  In the worst case, if you are not well-matched, it is better for you both to discover that as early as possible and move on to someone who is.  Not everyone you like is going to be right for you.
  • Over-focusing on others: We tend to respect people whom we perceive to be capable, confident and accomplished in their own right.  When you over-focus on someone else’s wants and needs, you neglect your own.  Legitimate relationships which are one sided or power-imbalanced include caregiver-patient, parent-child, or manager-employee.  Hardly anyone really wants a parent, nurse, or boss as a long-term romantic partner or a friend.  Invest time and energy in your own life:  try new things, spend time with other friends, engage in hobbies, take care of yourself (exercise, eat well, sleep) and place more focus on the parts of your life that are good.  Acknowledge and honor you own wants and needs - treat them as equal to those of other adults in your life.
  • Doing too many unasked for favors:  The danger is that the recipient feels uncomfortable or even irritated with you because they feel they owe you or they are inconvenienced by your unwanted favor. Over time, your acts of kindness can begin to appear ingratiating or manipulative to them.  You may start feeling resentful because you have put much time and energy into something that was unappreciated.  If in doubt, ask first or turn your energies to something more certain and productive.
  • Being overly available:  If someone in your life consistently expects you to take care of their responsibilities at the drop of a hat, set a boundary.  Being overly available sends the message that you don't have a life of your own, which is generally not an attractive quality to other people.  Say "no" sometimes and let them know you have your own life to attend to.  This way you will avoid a buildup of resentment and show them how to treat you in a way that is sustainable for the long term.
  • Being overly forgiving: When someone routinely mistreats or neglects you (unfairly criticizes or ignores you, hurts your feelings), you might be tempted to tolerate it because it's a hard time in their life, they are vulnerable in some way, or they were hurt in the past. Set a boundary and don’t continue to let them take their angst out on you - they will respect you more for it and they will be forced to find other (hopefully healthier) ways to cope with their problems.
  • Repressing your own feelings, wants and needs: Do you describe yourself as easy going, flexible and giving, yet you find yourself feeling increasingly irritable, angry, and resentful with certain people?  You may be ignoring feelings you consider unacceptable so you can continue to see yourself as a “nice person” or because you believe this is the only way others will accept you.  That’s not sustainable in the long term because your feelings are sending you important messages and will not go away if ignored.  Repressing your feelings also keeps others from learning important information about you which makes it hard for them to know how to treat you.  Acknowledge your feelings and assert yourself so that others in your life can make better decisions about how to relate with you.
If you suspect you are "too nice" and you want to learn ways to create greater balance in your relationships, it may be time to consult a mental health professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological AssociationPsychology TodayNetwork Therapy and GoodTherapy. You can also call the behavioral health number on the back of your insurance card or visit your insurance company website to get some referral options.

For more resources relating to relationships and other mental health concerns, please visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/.