Love is a Two-Way Street

I received an email from a reader who tells me that her boyfriend expresses no preferences or opinions regarding pretty much anything. She’s beginning to feel resentful about it, and asks if it’s wrong to resent a love interest who consistently does this. It’s hard to believe that he truly has no opinions, but if he is indeed faking reality (i.e., pretending to go along with what she likes), perhaps she’s right to be resentful. But it might not be deception. Some people are just easygoing and don’t have strong opinions or preferences, though that seems unlikely.

One of the things that makes partners and/or friends compatible is being a “good fit.” That can sometimes come in the form of an easygoing person paired with a more particular one. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a relationship like this, as long as the easygoing person has integrity and sticks to his guns when it really counts. You only get to know people in full context over the long term. You cannot form a lasting or fixed opinion about someone without knowing the entire person. Additionally, people do change over time.

Honesty is the best policy in a relationship, but not everyone practices it consistently. What we’re probably looking for here is authenticity. If you sense that your partner isn’t being authentic because he or she is always giving in to you, it’s natural to be resentful. But try to temper that with how you feel about the person. Try to understand that this “go along to get along” mentality could very well be a coping mechanism as a result of their having been around bossy or abusive people.

As someone who cares about this overly self-effacing person, your job is to convey, in words and actions, that, “You don’t have to be this way with me. I want to know what you think. I want to know what you want to do.” It’s hard to retrain old habits, but you can at least offer the opportunity.

A good relationship is one that is satisfying to both parties. It’s based on mutuality; sort of a spiritual or psychological “trade.” However, the notion of “satisfying” is not entirely subjective, and it’s entirely possible for two people to want or enjoy something that isn’t healthy. For example, let’s say a bossy and pushy type is married to a self-effacing type. The self-effacing one always gives in, even when she’s secretly resentful. This resentment will someday end up in passive-aggressive behavior, and perhaps half-hearted disengagement from the relationship, leading to an affair or activities that exclude the love relationship. No, not very healthy at all.

No matter how much the pushy or bossy type “enjoys” having a partner who gives in to everything, sooner or later he will pay the price through the loss of intimate connection. One of the sadder instances I’ve seen is when a self-effacing partner breaks up or falls out of love with someone who honestly didn’t intend to be bossy, pushy or controlling, but who simply took the lead. Such a person is now confronted with an emotionally devastating experience, having never known about the ongoing resentment. But the more assertive partner still has to take some of the responsibility. He should have realized that he was always making the decisions, and perhaps should have actively encouraged his spouse to do the same.

There is wisdom in the reader’s question. Often it doesn’t occur to many spouses that the ones they love should be happy too. They just take it for granted. But in the end, love must be mutual. It’s crucial that the person you love is as happy as you are. Otherwise, there’s always the risk of losing what you thought was secure and, well … taken for granted.