Today’s Q&A looks at why women censor their voices in relationships–with men. I do think that underneath Candy’s question is the deeper one of gender, and the ways we “show up” for the people in our lives.
I was texting with a lover last night–he was sharing sweet memories (I’m trying to break up with him) and I made a few jokingly critical comments about how he always tries to use sweet talk to coax me back. He got upset and felt I was treating him unfairly. I apologized, but he didn’t reply. A few hours later I sent him an apology email. I basically told him what a great guy he was and apologized for my being too harsh. When I woke up the next morning I realized that I meant what I had said in my text and that there was no reason to really apologize so I sent another email withdrawing my apology. He retorted by saying I was obviously bitter and unhappy! Why do I have such a hard time speaking what I feel when I’m with men, or maybe it’s just this one? I’m in my early 50’s and have been seeing this guy for a while.
Oh my. So you decided to drop the “nice girl” act and speak what was true for you? Is that it? And he couldn’t handle it, right?
Isn’t it strange that the first thing we, women, do is rush to make peace. Women have been raised to be the peace keepers, to be the nice ones. We smooth out arguments if we have kids and they’re squabbling. We rush to take care of others. And we often put our own needs last. I think what you’re discovering here is some need you have to make him happy. Or to make him want you? It feels unsettling when someone is upset with us. If he’s unhappy or angry that’s his stuff. That is how he’s chosen to react rather than try to understand what led you to express those kind of feelings.
As I shared in my last article, I used to worry about my being lovable enough. I was made to understand that being too direct with boys wasn’t a good thing–so I learned to squash those thoughts and words down. I learned to silence myself. It sounds like you did something similar when you decided to apology for sharing your thoughts and making him feel uncomfortable. And, by the way, you didn’t make him feel uncomfortable–he did that to himself.
And here’s the thing.
The people who truly love us have to be able to deal with our ups and downs. Our quiet moments, our ecstasy, or sadness, our discomfort with things. Our frustration. It’s not going to be easy all the time. But we have to embrace our light and our dark sides. Real relationships are not all sparkles and rainbows. It is unrealistic to try in live in that bubble of “happily ever after”. Because shit happens and we have to deal with it.
You get to have the full range of feelings–without apology. You get to feel a little neglected, overworked, not interested in sex, feisty–whatever. Don’t apologize for feeling what you feel.
Denying your feelings and censoring your voice is not the answer to problems within a relationship. Communication is where to start. Examine the situation and try to figure out what bugged you and why? Remember the focus is on communicating, not arguing. This is about owning your feelings and giving your partner the space to do the same.
The most dangerous thing you can do in a relationship is self-censor–particularly if the goal is to keep someone else happy. Because you can’t make them happy. You aren’t responsible for their feelings. And you get to own yours.