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“Is it okay if I tell my new boyfriend I don’t want to watch football on a date?” a client asked me recently.
I found myself answering, “What’s okay is what’s okay for you. There are no rules.”
Now, I’m not suggesting we all become selfish partners who always insist on what we want—far from it. What I am proposing is that we don’t need to conduct our relationships as if there is a right or wrong way to do things—there is no rule book we haven’t yet discovered.
Sure, it’s a good idea to be considerate of another person’s needs and feelings, and sometimes we do need to take a long hard look at our behaviour if we are seriously clashing horns with the person we love. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t hold our own beliefs, values, and preferences, and act on them when we feel that something doesn’t sit right with who we are and what we expect from a relationship.
Spanking with spatulas
Every human being is unique and subsequently, every relationship is unique. Don’t let other people tell you that someone isn’t right for you because they do things that are unconventional or unusual in so-called “normal” relationships. If your partner wants you to cover them in cream and spank them with a spatula then that is fine and dandy, so long as you are a willing and consensual partner.
Nor is it wrong to maintain a friendship with your ex, sleep with someone on a first date, or choose not to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Other people might have their own beliefs about this, but that doesn’t mean only one opinion is valid. It’s your life and the only thing that is wrong is putting aside your feelings and choices because somebody else thinks they don’t comply with the rule book.
Naturally, if something you choose to do causes distress to your partner, then you may want to think carefully about whether there’s room for negotiation. Throwing out the rule book doesn’t mean we have to throw out kindness and compassion. But negotiation is not the same thing as accepting we got it wrong in the first place. Compromise can be the result of loving and generous choices to ensure that someone else is also happy.
If we feel it’s okay to stay in bed on Sunday mornings while our children run around the house in their pyjamas, that isn’t wrong. If our partner feels that everyone should be dressed and fed and out in the fresh air by 9 a.m., that isn’t right. What is needed here is some kind of compromise, where both points of view are acknowledged and taken into consideration. Maybe our partner can take the kids for breakfast and a mooch around the street market while we enjoy our lie-in, and then we can join them for a walk in the park, afterwards.
Being aware of our boundaries
When it comes to ending relationships, again, it’s up to us to decide where our own boundaries lie. We don’t have to leave a relationship just because our friends and family say we should. We also don’t have to stay in a relationship because our nearest and dearest think our partner is the best thing since sliced bread. There is no chart in the heavens with a line down the middle with headings, “A Good Partner” or “A Bad Partner”—however, some people behave as if there were.
To keep my finger on the pulse, I subscribe to a couple of online Facebook groups where people post questions about relationships, and it never ceases to amaze me how convinced some people are that somebody somewhere has written it all down and given them a personal copy of the “rules.”
“He can’t do that to you!” they yell in their postings.
“Kick his sorry ass out the door!” they insist, often for minor misunderstandings or petty misdemeanours that another person might take in stride.
Opinions aren’t rules
Now we could argue that it’s okay to reply with a strong opinion when someone has asked for advice, but my gripe is that an opinion is simply that: an opinion. It’s perfectly fine to state what is or isn’t okay for you, and what you would do in these circumstances, but there’s a prevailing sense that some people know all the answers and others haven’t quite gotten there yet.
None of us have the answers. I’m a professional relationship coach and I’m a long way from knowing the answers. I struggle like everyone else to find ways to get along with my partner, and I am constantly making discoveries and finding new areas that need negotiation.
When I catch myself asking, “Is this the right thing for a relationship coach to do?” I simply shrug my shoulders and ask myself, “What feels right for me?”
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