There are so many reasons why it is important for you to take ownership of your well-being in your relationship. If you don’t, no one else will. While your partner should care for you and treat you with kindness, courtesy, and respect, it comes down to you to make sure your needs are being met. If you don’t know how to put yourself first in your relationship (or in life in general), you’re not alone. It’s not selfish, it’s not stupid — it’s vital for self-preservation. Here are some things you should try.
Take a minute to reflect.
This isn’t going to be an easy conversation, so give yourself some time. You don’t have to solve the world’s problems overnight and you can’t expect to have all the answers ready immediately. Life is complex, so give yourself a fighting chance by slowing down and allotting time to think. Take time off work and don’t multi-task. Just focus on you.
Define your needs.
This is one of the best and easiest ways to put yourself first. You might think that the things you’re currently doing in a relationship are good enough. Or, if you haven’t had a chance to actually do some self-reflection before now, these questions can be bewildering. Get a pen and paper out if you need to, whatever works for you. Write down what you want — not just what you’ve liked out of past relationships, but more than that. What have you always wished someone would do for you but never did? Unpack that. Did you come to resent not getting the things you never asked for? Hear what I’m saying.
Call out unacceptable behavior.
If your partner is treating you like crap because they’re stressed out or just in a bad mood, call them on it. If you feel like they’re ignoring you because they’d rather scroll through social media or play video games and you’re feeling neglected, say so. You can’t get angry at your partner for treating you poorly if you accept that kind of behavior. If you’re going to put yourself first, do yourself a favor and demand respect. If calling bad behavior out doesn’t change anything, you’re free to exit the relationship.
Don’t compromise on non-negotiables.
Relationships are all about compromise. You both have to be flexible enough to choose your battles and to defer to your partner sometimes for the sake of their happiness and well-being. However, there are also limits to this. You should never compromise on your dealbreakers, for instance. If you don’t want kids and your partner desperately does, for the love of God, please don’t have kids just for them. Same for bigger issues like marriage, moving cities, etc. You don’t have to completely ignore your own desires (nor should you) for the sale of theirs.
Nurture your life outside of the relationship.
Yes, you’re part of a couple, but you’re also an individual — a whole, unique human that existed before you got into this relationship. It’s important that you don’t forget that now. Do your own thing sometimes. Pursue your own hobbies and passions, spend time on your own, and put yourself first by remembering who you are. You don’t want to wake up one morning and realize you’re completely lost.
Talk to your friends.
This isn’t a journey you need to go on alone. Take your nearest and dearest along with you. That’s what they’re there for, after all. They’re not just there for when things are going well. Friends should look after you when the chips are down, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them. They will have useful perspectives and insights that will give you a more well-rounded view of things. They will confirm that you’re in the right place as well as provide useful spaces to act as a sounding board.
Have honest chats with your partner.
Once you’ve had some time to yourself, it’s time to include your partner. When you have a dialogue for what you want to say, start talking. Tell them with grace and kindness that you still love them, but you love yourself more. If they really love you, that won’t be a problem. Just a necessary conversation that they can really get behind.
Don’t just focus all your energy on the conversation with your partner about how it might make them feel. Give yourself credit and do yourself a service by advocating for yourself. Protect their feelings by all means, but don’t sacrifice or minimize your message in deference to them. Stick to your guns and focus on what you want to get out of this.
Check in regularly.
Don’t assume that one productive conversation a strong relationship makes. You owe it to each other to keep up a regular dialogue about how you’re feeling. It might be that you both felt good initially, but have second thoughts once a few weeks have passed. That’s fine, and it’s why these check-ins are so valuable. They’re what define healthy relationships in the modern world. Don’t ignore them.
Know that no emotion is permanent.
Be kind to yourself in that regard. You have to acknowledge your feelings when you feel them. Don’t bottle them up. That said, you have to retain perspective. Keep your mind on the end goal, and all your complex web of memories together. The importance of your own needs isn’t a reason to isolate yourself. Don’t take things to extremes and always check in when you need support. No emotion is permanent, so don’t burn too many bridges when you’re in your feelings. Have a rant to your friends and send a message to your partner explaining this, but don’t blame people before you know truly how you feel.
Give yourself space.
Say your piece and say it with grace. Know that you have the support of your friends and family and that you said all that you wanted to. Your partner will understand but they might need some space and so will you. Take that space. Men need space just like us. If you’re going to learn how to put yourself first, you’ll need room to do so and your partner will need to adjust. That’s okay – just keep going.
There you have it, a few ideas about ways you can communicate your needs going forward. Make sure you can put yourself first in a relationship. It’s much easier to do than you think.
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