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Where’s the line between giving what my partner asks and being untrue to myself?


When you find yourself struggling between giving to your partner and being true to yourself, it's a warning sign that your relationship might be heading towards a downward cycle of sacrifice and resentment rather than a thriving sense of interdependence and mutual respect.

There is much to consider and reflect on in this situation.  For now, let's consider two things:

1) Requests and how they change into demands over time and impact your ability to be true to yourself

2) In being true to yourself, let's examine a simple way to discern what's right for you using mindfulness and body awareness.  

First, let's take a look at the nature of requests of the partner who is asking you to give more.  The most important part of any request is that the person making it recognizes and respects your freedom of choice.  This means that your partner only asks for the gift that is freely given.  If you say no to a request she or he is willing to get curious about your no, enter negotiation, and/or look for other ways to meet his or her need.

This sounds simple, but, especially in intimate relationship, unconscious patterns of reactivity show up in the form of beliefs about what you should or shouldn't do as a partner.  Rigid expectations manifest as demands and criticism.  If your partner is caught in this, s/he is not able to make a true request.  S/he will attempt to make you responsible for his or her needs, by finding fault with you when you don't show up in just the right way, exploding in anger, and/or attempting to send you on guilt trips.  In addition, s/he will deny responsibility to meet needs in other ways or refuse to negotiate so that things work equally well for both of you.  Often there is a lack of empathy or curiosity about your experience.

If you are dating someone who is doing this, you might be baffled about how you could have fallen in love and enjoy this person so much.  These behaviors might have snuck up on you.  Expressions of criticism and anger may have been subtle at first, leaving you feeling a little disoriented or unsure of yourself.  In your excitement about all the good things happening, you might have brushed these experiences off, hoping they would go away or were just a fluke.

If you find yourself questioning your sense acceptance or worth and perceive that your partner's needs are in competition with your own, then the impact of criticism, anger, demands, and guilt tripping is beginning to outweigh the hope and excitement you once had.  Your emotional resourcefulness is likely low.  It's a good time to spend time with supportive and nourishing others and check in with boundaries.  (span style="font-size: 16px; font-family: Verdana; color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; background-color: transparent;">

Whether you want to set boundaries with your partner or simply create a sense of mutuality in your relationship, it's helpful to be clear about what it means to be true to yourself.  There's all sorts of way you can fool yourself about what's right, and what's right for you.  You can drive yourself crazy with endless standards, comparisons, and ideas about how things should or shouldn't be.  When it comes to discerning what it means to be true to yourself, thinking a lot about it isn't necessarily helpful.  Your body, on the other hand, tells the truth in a straightforward way.

Learning to check in with your body is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.  You can create greater access to this source of truth by doing intentional experiments.  Take a few minutes to sit still and become mindful of body sensations.  Then, think about doing something that you already know isn't right for you and notice how your body responds.  You will likely notice one or more of these responses; tightening in your stomach, chest, or throat, the beginning of a headache, a sense of nausea or stomach pain, a general sense of contraction or imbalance, and a sense of feeling distant from your center.

Do the same experiment again only this time imagine doing something you already know is right for you.  You will likely notice one or more of these responses;  a relaxation in your stomach, chest, or throat, a sense of clarity or solidness, a sense of alignment from the center up through your crown and down through your perineum, and a basic sense of expansion.  

Checking in with your body and felt sense of expansion and contraction is not the same as identifying emotions.  When you are being true to yourself, all these responses listed above can occur at the same time as fear and anxiety or any other other emotion that might come up when you are challenging yourself.  Emotions often arise from a misperception of threat.  Smaller parts of you may be in reaction while a bigger you has a sense of solidness about doing what's true for you despite your own reactivity.

When your partner is asking you to give more and you feel your body tighten, pause, ask for time to consider the request.  If it is a true request and not a demand, your partner will wait for your response.  In your reflection, continue to focus on your body sensations.  This practice alone may yield insight about how this request is asking you to be untrue to yourself.  Otherwise, continue to focus on your body and ask yourself the question, "What's truly right for me in this situation?  OR What do I need before I can consider this request?"  After asking the question return to just noticing your body.  Something will arise all by itself in the form of sensations, images, impulses, words, memories, or a shift in energy.  As each new experience arises stay with it, not thinking or analyzing, just holding your attention there and noticing the next experience.

In summary, there is no line between being true to yourself and giving to your partner.  There is only being true to yourself.  When you give to your partner out of fear of doing something to push him or her away, out of obligation, to win love and approval, or out of fear of anger, you plant seeds for a toxic relationship.  When you are grounded in your own authenticity; wise discernment about healthy boundaries and generosity of heart flows naturally.  Your own mindfulness practice along with surrounding yourself with empathic others that actively welcome your authenticity is essential in remaining true to yourself.


Take a moment now to come to stillness for one full inhale and one full exhale.  At the end of the breath cycle drop your attention into your body. Notice if there is a basic sense of contraction or a basic sense of expansion.  To continue to cultivate body wisdom, do this simple practice as many times in a day as you can.

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