There is a pattern that I have experienced and have seen in many women in my life. The pattern is being in a relationship where you start to feel like you are being taken advantage of.
It can occur between family members, partners, friends, etc. Anyone, you have an ongoing relationship with. However, I’ve been hearing from more and more women that are feeling frustrated and resentful towards their spouses.
I see it happen when you are a nurturer and enjoy helping out the people in your life that you care about. You want to make them feel good. You try and anticipate their needs and wants so that you can make life easier for them.
In a marriage, this looks like cooking meals they love, running errands for them, choosing movies/TV shows you know they want to watch, taking care of gifts for their family members, buying them “just because” gifts based on something they mentioned in a conversation, leaving them special notes and messages to help make their day, putting off things on your to-do list so you can help them with theirs, and so on.
It starts off great because you enjoy taking care of your spouse. Although, after a while, it starts to feel like added stress in your life, because you have inadvertently moved his needs above yours. This is when feelings of resentment towards your spouse begin.
You try and shake off the feelings of resentment, so you remind yourself that it’s just who you are – a nurturer, a giver and you continue to put their needs first. Even though, secretly you’re hoping he will notice how attentive you’ve been to his needs and he will do the same for you. And maybe sometimes he is, but the feeling of resentment is still there.
You may start by dropping hints by either showing him or mentioning how it would be nice if he did certain things for you. But it doesn’t work.
Next, you may decide to sit him down and be more direct about how you feel and that you wish he would be more attentive to your needs and wants – just like you are to his. It may work for a while, but it doesn’t last long.
You still feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and resentful. It feels like the things you do are no longer appreciated. You don’t want to continue feeling this way. It doesn’t feel good.
When feeling resentment, it can be easy to try and blame your spouse – “Why isn’t he better at anticipating my needs? Why doesn’t he care as much as I do? Why did he let me do everything for him?”
However, the tough questions to ask yourself are: “Why did I put his needs above mine? Why didn’t I take care of my own needs by setting clear boundaries? Why am I allowing this to continue?”
I believe part of this has to do with our society and what we see and hear all around us. That the woman is the nurturer, she is so good at taking care of everything and everyone, she enjoys it, and she can do it all. This causes women to start comparing themselves to each other. Not wanting to admit how difficult it is to try and do it all, to be there for everyone else, to put ourselves last.
So now what?
The first thing to do is, to be honest with yourself about what your intentions have been when you are doing things for your spouse. Are you doing things for him because you want to – because you feel like you have to – because it is something you “expect” them to do for you – because it is what you think you “should” be doing – because it is what you feel like you are supposed to do based on what society has taught you? Do you allow him to help you?
Now, ask yourself how you would want things to be different. What are the things you want to continue to do for your husband – without any expectation that they will do the same for you? Are there things that you truly enjoy doing? Are there things you can delegate? What things can you stop doing?
The answers to these questions will help you set your boundaries. We teach people how we want to be treated. Boundaries help you get clear on how you want to be treated and how you do not want to be treated – and it is an important way to make sure you are taking care of your needs.
It can be uncomfortable when you first start thinking about what you want your boundaries to be, especially if you have put the needs of many people in your life before yours- not just your spouse.
As you get clearer on what your boundaries are, share them with your spouse. Communicate how you have been feeling and how you want things to change. Allow him to share his point of view. Sometimes we don’t realize all the ways they have been doing things for us.
Be patient with each other – depending on how long this pattern has been going on, it is going to take some work to make some shifts and some adjustments in your relationship.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others”. ~ Brené Brown