What does pleasing your partner say about you?
“I’ve waited so long for love to come into my life, yet now that it’s here, I’m depressed. I can’t figure this out,” complained Elayne in one of our phone counseling sessions. “Todd is really terrific. He’s all I’ve been wanting in a man – open, caring, and emotionally available. I really think there is something wrong with me.”
“When did you start to feel depressed?” I asked.
“Well, I think it started last week right after we spent a wonderful weekend together.”
“What happened after the weekend?”
“It was Sunday evening. We had just come back from an early dinner, and Todd wanted to watch a movie with me on TV. I told him that I wanted to go to the gym because I hadn’t worked out in a few days. He sounded disappointed in not watching the movie with me, so I didn’t go to the gym. I stayed and watched the movie with him because I didn’t want him to feel hurt and rejected.”
“And that’s when you started to feel depressed?”
“Yes. Can it really be because I didn’t go to the gym?”
“Well,” I said, “It’s not exactly because you didn’t go to the gym. You probably enjoyed watching the movie with him, right?”
“Right! A part of me did want to watch the movie with him, because I do love being with him. That’s why I can’t figure this out.”
“Elayne, I think that the problem is that you make Todd’s feelings and needs more important than your feelings and needs. You gave yourself up to Todd out of fear of his upset feelings. I don’t think you would have been depressed if you had decided that you really wanted to watch the movie with Todd more than you wanted to go to the gym. But it doesn’t sound like you took the time to go inside to see what you really wanted. What were you afraid would have happened if you had gone to the gym?”
“I was afraid that he would be angry at me and withdraw from me.”
“So you were willing to lose yourself rather than risk losing him, is that right?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I did.”
“So controlling his feelings and behavior was more important than taking loving care of yourself?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I didn’t realize that I was trying to control him by not going to the gym, but I can see that that is exactly what I was doing.”
“So, imagine that your feelings and needs are a child within you, and Todd’s feelings and needs are a child within him. If you put aside your child to take care of his child, how is your child going to feel?”
“Oh, I see! I feel depressed because I gave myself up and put my child aside to take care of his child! Wow, this relationship stuff is hard! I also feel trapped and resentful, like Todd is somehow not letting me do what I want to do. And as soon as I didn’t go to the gym, which is what I really wanted to do, I didn’t feel very attracted to him.”
“Right. And Todd may have been trying to control you with his disappointment. Has he felt rejected and hurt in the past when you didn’t do what he wanted?”
“Yes, he does this sometimes. I hate it when he feels like that. Now I can see that he is trying to control me with his hurt, and I’m trying to control him by giving myself up. I can also see that this is not going to work well.”
Elayne decided to talk with Todd about what she had learned. Fortunately, Todd was very open to understanding his own behavior as well as Elayne’s. Elayne made the decision to risk letting go of responsibility for Todd’s feelings and take responsibility for her own feelings and needs. She made the decision to be more diligent in her Inner Bonding practice – especially practicing staying in Step 1 – staying tuned into her feelings and wanting responsibility for them – rather than give herself up to Todd. Elayne’s depression quickly vanished as she started to take loving care of herself.
[Margaret Paul Relationship Toolbox]