I’d like to think of myself as a good man, committed to gender equality and to female empowerment.
But recently, I was called out by my wife for being in a bad mood, and I realized that sometimes, I’ve felt angry with her because of my unconscious and unjustified sense of having certain “rights” with her, which I felt weren’t being met.
On a mental level, I accept and understand that except for my basic human rights, as an adult, I don’t really have any rights in my relationship, other than my right to decide whether to stay in the relationship or not—the same right that is shared by my partner.
However, I’ve noticed that I can slip into feeling that she owes me more than that—for example, her respect and appreciation—even though I also know that these things have to be earned, and I have no right to just expect them from her.
As a child, I think I had the right to expect care from my parents, which wasn’t always forthcoming from them. And later in life, I realized it had created an underlying sense of anger and disappointment, which usually came to the surface whenever I was in some kind of conflict with a partner. Feeling hurt or disappointed in my relationship was a replay of the initial feeling of not being important to anyone, which I had as a child.
But I’ve noticed that when I can let go of that feeling and any other misplaced ideas about my expectations with my partner, I can be clearer with both of us about what things are important for me in our relationship. And if those things don’t seem to be offered, instead of just feeling pissed off, I now try to dig deeper in order to understand whether what I’m asking for is a reasonable expectation—for example, things like honesty, support, or kindness.
If those are not being given, I try to find out if something in my attitude or behavior has been blocking my partner from feeling or expressing them.
By taking more responsibility for my needs, I have a better chance of clearly explaining what they are and having them met. Or if not, I can at least accept that I won’t get what I need from this person, and think about whether I need to look after myself by leaving the relationship.
The foundation for this stance is that when there’s a conflict between us, it doesn’t matter who is more right—it’s simply down to whether we can develop better mutual understanding.
The more I let go of expectations in my relationship, the less I feel let down or disappointed, and the more easily I accept the grown-up existential truth that no one else is to blame or is responsible for dealing with my feelings, except me.
The best part about this stance is that I never need to be frustrated with my partner, and vice versa. Instead, we both can be compassionate, kind, patient, and, most of all, honest with each other.
And neither of us is tempted to take the other for granted, because we know we’re only together as long as we both really want to be.