Many of us often wonder why our needs are never considered or why they are taken for granted. To fix this, we beg, plead, and try to do more, only to find that the more we do, the less we are noticed. Spouses, partners, and parents alike frequently struggle with this issue. The key to solving this puzzle is to learn a few simple concepts that can dramatically shift the balance of power and help to change the responses we receive from other people.

Helping is no Guarantee

Generous people often mistakenly believe that the more helpful we are to our partners or children, the better things will be. While this is true in some situations with the right mates or children, many others never respect the “too helpful response.”

Helping too much is also known as codependency where we “enable other people to never really change.” Codependency is where one does all the work, suffers all the consequences, and the other person does not grow or change at all. The codependent person ends up feeling exhausted, unappreciated, and overwhelmed.

Trying Harder is No Guarantee

Another mistaken belief is that, “if at first one does not succeed” in helping others understand our importance in the relationship/family, then doing more of the same thing (faster and faster) will finally solve the problem. This becomes the definition of insanity and results in our final exhaustion.

Reality Check: The more you do in any relationship or family, the more others will expect things from you. In fact, if you work harder, other people will start to think that you aren’t working hard enough.

Further, the more you do for others, the more ‘invisible’ you will become. This is because you are training them to take you for granted and ‘just being there doing your thing.’ In essence, you are training Pavlov’s dog all over again.

As time goes on, others being not even noticing what you are doing for them and all you have done for them. In reality, the less you do for them, the more they will have to do for themselves. Only then will they slowly come to appreciate what you have done for them.

Complaining about it, or pointing out what you do for them/the family, never works. Instead, listen to what they have to say and then respond by saying, “that’s a good idea, how will you make that happen (or what do you need to do to make that happen)?” This is called “tough love!”

Keeping Quiet is No Guarantee!

We end up borrowing from the dysfunctional rules of life to solve our dilemma. These rules are learned early on in our childhood and infiltrate our thinking and problem solving in our adult lives.

The four dysfunctional rules of life are:

  1. Don’t talk
  2. Don’t think
  3. Don’t feel
  4. Don’t do anything to change anything

As a result, we often believe that if we say anything, then the situation will only become much worse. Even if this is true, it’s not for the reasons you might think: There is a fear of standing up to others because they will “complain and find fault” with us. We end up mistakenly thinking that it is better to “keep the peace by keeping quiet” and saying nothing that might upset the other person.

Respect Comes from Clearly and Specifically Stating your Needs

The world seems to live by “the wild kingdom of relationships” where one “marks out their territory and boundaries” through the “butting of heads” in the “friendly game of playfulness.” What this requires is that you clearly, consistently, and strongly state your needs in concrete, black and white terms each time it is necessary.

This is what I call “David’s 10 People on the Street” rule. Think of your needs as specifically and clearly as you can. Imagine that you picked ten strangers off the street and described what you needed from your spouse/partner/family. If they do not all agree on what you mean, you have failed to be clear and specific.

For example, “being more aware of my needs” is a great thing to want, but extremely vague and open to wildly different interpretations of what that really means. However, “I want you to spend 15 minutes per day with me where we focus just on ourselves without any distractions” is harder to misinterpret. We resist being specific on our needs because we want the other person to “really get/understand us and our pain,” but this often backfires into feelings of blame, shame, and critical parenting.

Though others may protest, push back, talk louder, and so forth, it is important to remember that this is no more than the “wild kingdom butting of heads” which is a “test of the emergency broadcast network” to see if you can hold your ground. It will take time to bring about change by stating your needs consistently and concretely before others “start to really hear you.”

Many times we speak in a loud voice by not doing everything and solving all the problems while saying nothing. Others in the family will eventually say “what happened and why are you not doing (this or that)…”

Respect Comes from Standing/Holding Your Ground

Others will not respect you until you “hold your ground” no matter what others say to you. You have to start to believe in your abilities to be strong and consistent, even if you have to “fake it” at first. You also have to believe that you have a “right” to be considered and “heard” as an “equal” in the relationship and family.

It is also important that you “demand” that others respond as adults and equals in the relationship. That means that everyone has mutual respect for each other – and expects it from each other. If you are unable to “hold your ground” and “state your needs” you will become invisible, weak, feel internalized pain and anger, feel unappreciated, and depressed.

Complaining/Nagging Creates “Interpersonal Deafness”

The more you urge, complain, talk, nag, and so forth, the less others will listen or respect you. All of this creates a “terminal condition” known as “interpersonal deafness.”

Others stop listening and come to believe that all the other person does is complain and talk, so don’t take them seriously! They become “tone deaf.”

You have to “take a stand” and “hold your ground.” This can be done in nice ways rather than with “internalized anger.” There is risk in doing this, but without taking risks nothing will happen and others will never believe you! Not taking a stand or holding your ground can also cause problems with other relationships – not letting others get close, rejecting others emotionally, and “spewing” anger on them directly and indirectly.

It Takes Work to Become Visible

It’s true that some relationships/families are more difficult to deal with. However, there is no need to “fight for respect” from spouses who are selfish and unconcerned with others. You need to learn how to state your needs clearly, specifically, and in black-and-white terms.

Ultimately, every relationship requires that each individual feels good about their personhood and their ability to state their needs clearly and openly whenever needed. If you happen to have such a relationship, you are fortunate. If not, it is critical that you “move out of being invisible” and into “fighting to assert your needs in appropriate ways.”

Additional Resources

not nice
not nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent & feeling Guilty
stand up assertiveness
How to stand up for Yourself: assertiveness
assertiveness workbook
The assertiveness workbook

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