I’ve written a few posts lately about using assertiveness to get off the Drama Triangle and to create healthier communication in your relationship. For a refresher on the Drama Triangle go here, and here. For the basics on assertiveness go here and here.
Using assertiveness is the best way to create strong clear communication in a relationship; however, if your partner is unwilling to get off the Drama Triangle with you, then he/she may perceive you as an ass and will try hard to push you back into the unhealthy communication that feels better, even though it doesn’t work well.
This is often when the word Selfish gets thrown around. It’s so hard for women to resist caving in to the word Selfish. It creates super effective guilt and makes us question our assertiveness. Being called Selfish can suck you back into the vortex of comfortable, but hellish and ineffective communication.
The word Selfish often gets wielded like a sword in relationships. You are assertive and clearly say what you want or don’t want, and then your partner calls you Selfish because he/she doesn’t agree with you.
When someone uses Selfish as a weapon it is meant to make you feel bad, wrong, or guilty so that you’ll change. And, interestingly that person will probably call you Selfish until you agree with their perspective. Now, isn’t THAT Selfish?
Example: My client Veronica doesn’t want to be married any more. She has not arrived at this conclusion quickly, it has taken many years, and much thought. She is clear. She shares that with her husband, who is of course surprised, hurt, and angry and goes through appropriate, but uncomfortable reactions. One of his responses to her is that she is being Selfish, which really gets to her since she doesn’t want to be Selfish (for her that means she’s BAD!). However, what this really means is that her husband wants her to change so that he feels better. Because of his own anger and pain, he is not interested in her perspective, only in bending her to his.
The hardest part when you’re being called Selfish is managing your own feelings of discomfort at having that person see you as bad. Nobody wants to be thought of as the bad guy or the one who’s to blame, so being called Selfish sometimes works to make you back down from your assertiveness.
When someone uses the Sword of Selfish on you, what’s really happening is that person is squarely in the victim/perpetrator role on the Drama Triangle and he/she is attempting to put you in the rescuer role.
If you’re using your assertiveness skills well – speaking your own truth, being clear and direct, making requests rather than commands – then you are NOT being Selfish. If your partner doesn’t like what you’re saying, that doesn’t make you wrong. It just means your partner doesn’t like it. That’s it.
In the example above, if Veronica is going to remain assertive while her hurt and angry husband calls her Selfish, it would look something like this:
Veronica: I know this is hurtful news for you and I’m so sorry that this is happening.
Husband: You’re just being Selfish! All you think about is you and how you feel. If you weren’t so Selfish then you’d care about how I feel and not do this.
Veronica: I have thought about how you would feel and I knew that my wanting out of the marriage would be hurtful to you. However, we can’t stay the way we are. It is hurtful for both of us to stay in this marriage.
Husband: You’re ripping us apart and destroying our family. All you think about is yourself.
Veronica: I can see how you would think that since this is my decision and not yours. I know it will be hard to go through this and that’s why it has taken me so long to make this decision. I feel sad too. And, I’d like us to figure out a way to get through this together.
I know it’s tempting for Veronica to give in to her husband. She feels guilty for creating upset in the family. She is second guessing herself, but she also reminds herself that she cannot go back to a situation that was not working for her.
Veronica knows that she needs to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings of guilt, sadness, hurt, and fear in order to continue to be assertive. This is the biggest challenge of holding your compassionate assertiveness in the face of someone else’s hurt and anger.
Being assertive and staying off the Drama Triangle is not easy. If your partner is determined to stay in the victim/perpetrator role, then it’s even harder.
However, it is NOT your job to get your partner to agree with you and see your side. Your job is to convey your wishes and needs clearly. Your job is to communicate in a way that the other person can understand.
Understanding, not agreement. That’s a whole new animal.
If you felt like someone could disagree with you and that would be OK, would it be easier to say directly and clearly what you want and need?