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Find your voice and speak your mind

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Speaking your mind is okay, and sometimes it's encouraged

Down South: What do you do when you realize you're too positive (if there is such a thing)? While I have opinions, I'm a very laid-back person. I find that I have difficulty expressing negative opinions or putting my foot down to my boyfriend. I'm pretty sure it stems from a deep-seated fear that he's going to up and leave me, although he's never shown any tendencies toward not being able to handle the inevitable stresses that come with life and relationships. He's a great guy, and I know it's not him — it's me.

Carolyn: If the consequence of not putting your foot down is that you're unhappy with or resentful of the outcome, then you're not "too positive." You're "too chicken."

In that case, you need to give deliberate thought to your priorities, and then find the courage to express them. Since you'd be starting this long process from within a relationship, your best start might be in talking to your boyfriend:

"I have difficulty putting my foot down. Sometimes I agree to things I don't want to do, just to avoid conflict." Then cite a clear but nonaccusatory example here, such as: "Remember when you suggested hiking? I really wanted to stay home but didn't say anything."

And then: "I realize this is not fair to either of us. But it's going to take me a while to break this habit, so I apologize in advance for any weirdness, and encourage you to speak up when you're not sure what I'm thinking or feeling."

Then, ideally both of you, but definitely you, will start to feel out your real opinions from situation to situation. If an epiphany is timely, then share it. If something occurs to you after the fact, then you express it after the fact — a much less angsty proposition if you've prepared him for some bumps and indecision. Then, as you gain confidence in your needs, limits, tastes and opinions, try to transfer this new attitude out of the comfort of your relationship, and introduce gentle assertiveness into other aspects of life.

Anonymous: Re: Down South: Speaking as the spouse of someone who is reluctant to offer opinions, I WANT to hear her opinions, even if they're dissenting. Reasons include: I'm genuinely interested; I want her to share accountability for our decisions; sometimes I'm only making a suggestion and don't actually feel strongly about it myself; and a perpetual "Okay, if that's what you want" is demoralizing. So don't be afraid to disagree.

Carolyn: Grand slam, thanks.

Anonymous 2: Grand slam, my rear end! In my marriage, I'm the one who doesn't argue. I think life's too short to debate every little thing, and most things really aren't worth it. But the one time I did argue and debate and give my honest opinions about something, he's still angry at me to this day. I'll never do it again.

Carolyn: Yikes. We're not talking about arguing here, we're talking about expressing opinions and/or preferences. If the only reason you don't argue is that you don't express any opinions, then that doesn't sound like much of an improvement over fighting. You don't sound free, you sound scared.

Find your voice and speak your mind 10/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 4, 2009 4:30am]
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