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Relationships: Putting Yourself First

We all need to do an internal check-in first.

You've heard the dictum that in a good relationship, each person must give more than 50 percent. I've also heard that each must give 100 percent (which must make for a relationship full to overflowing!). The general principle is that one must be generous, even selfless, within the confines of an intimate arrangement that works.

By no means am I advocating a "Who cares about you?" attitude, but a healthy dose of "What do I want here?" is a good thing. We've all known "Martyred Moms," those overworked women who put husband and family (and their own parents and community and the neighbors and even the family pets) before their own needs. That's the most extreme example of a person needing some enlightened self-interest.

On an everyday level, there are those who respond to a question of simple preference—"What do you want to eat for dinner?" or "What movie do you want to see?"—with a deferential, "Whatever you want, dear." A steady diet of a companion who either doesn't have or won't express his or her opinions grows old and dreary very quickly.

Yes, of course, there are some people who do want a "Yes, dear" partner, but I'm talking about a healthy relationship, one between two adults who give and take and build what they have together. This is addressed to those who are too busy to do an internal check-in to know their own wants or those who take the easy out of suppressing them for the sake of getting along.

What often happens to those who simply give in and put themselves last is that eventually—sooner rather than later, one hopes—that person will realize that they are unhappy and resentful, more so when they accept that it's their own responsibility.

What I'm suggesting is that when there is a decision to be made, from the mundane to the life-altering, we all need to do an internal check-in first. Is what is being proposed really OK with me? Do I really have no opinion on this? Let me think about it.

In the case of the Martyred Mom (who doesn't have to be a woman, by the way; any beleaguered head of a family knows this syndrome), often there doesn't seem to be a moment to consider oneself. This needs doing, or that person's needs are immediate. If the Martyred Mom is all tapped out from giving and giving and giving, eventually she will be a less-than-effective partner, mother, friend, professional, and any role she plays in life, because she is, as Virginia Satir put it, walking around with an empty bucket herself.

In the long run, there is a piece of folk wisdom that absolutely takes precedence over the giving of 50 or 100 percent cliché. That is: "If Mama ain't happy, ain't no one happy."