Do you keep your mouth shut when your partner makes you mad? Do you have dinner at a restaurant you hate because you just want your partner to be happy? Communicating what makes you happy is just one of the things you can't be afraid to say in your relationship.
When I worked with abused women as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate (and also as a Planned Parenthood-Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator), I found that much of the time, being afraid to speak up in a relationship meant one of two things. The first is that there's something going on with you. Maybe you have low self-esteem. Maybe bad things have happened in your life that make you fear conflict. Or maybe you're just really, really nice.
The second scenario is that you're in an unhealthy relationship. Unhealthy relationships are usually built around power and control. Even if your partner is often kind and never physically abusive, he or she could still be using fear and manipulation in subtle ways in order to keep the upper hand.
In healthy relationships, both partners are free to express whatever they're feeling without fear. They share opinions, make decisions together, call each other out when they're wrong, and tell each other when they need support. Hopefully you're not afraid to say any of the following things to your partner:
This one really touches at the heart of whether or not you're in a healthy relationship. Respectful, loving partners can tell each other "no" without fear. They can refuse sex. They can refuse food. They are safe to refuse any type of treatment or situation they aren't comfortable with. If you're not free or safe to say no, you may be in a controlling, unhealthy, or abusive relationship. If you're free to say no, but you're not comfortable saying it, you need to explore those feelings to prevent future resentments from popping up.
2. You're Wrong
You got your partner's back. And hopefully your partner has your back. But that doesn't mean unconditionally. If your partner screws up, sometimes you have to say something. You kind of owe it to each other to help make each other better people. Plus, right is right. You can't be afraid to disagree. Disagreements are healthy and have their place in all relationships. You also have to show your partner that you support them, even when they're wrong. But as long as you're not afraid to disagree, you'll be able to find the line.
3. I Don't Like That
If your partner does something, and you don't like it, you don't necessarily always need to speak up. I don't like it when my partner watches creepy murder shows, but it's her house, too. But if you do want to speak up, you need to feel like you can. I know that if I said, "Hey, I'd really rather not watch shows about murdered people right now," there would be no problem. The point I'm getting at is that it's your relationship, too and sometimes things get to be about what you want.
4. I Want Tacos For Dinner
Omg. You have an opinion, too. Your opinions matters. Your partner wants (or should want) to hear it. Sorry, I had a moment. If I had a dollar for every time I heard the "what do you want to eat?" "I don't know, what do you want to eat?" conversation, I would not be typing this from my tiny apartment in a non-tropical climate. Sure, sometimes you don't know what you want, but not every single day. If you don't feel comfortable telling your partner what you want, if you fear making a wrong choice, or if you think you'll upset or disappoint your partner, than that's a serious conversation you need to have about trust, safety, and your fears.
5. I Need You To Just Shut Up And Listen
You should never be afraid to tell your partner exactly what you need. Your partner may be pretty good at knowing what you need most of the time, but you can't expect any sort of mind reading to happen. It's better to be blunt and to say "I need you to shut up and listen" or "I need you to give me an hour of alone time" or "I need you to snuggle me for an undetermined period of time." And on a less emotional note, you should also be able to express needs like "I need you to pick up dinner tonight" or "I need you to help with the housework more."
6. I'm Scared
Phew. Feelings are scary. Commitment can be scary. Moving in together can be scary. It's totally fine to be scared and to tell your partner your true feelings. If you have emotional issues stemming from tragedy or bad breakups, it's perfectly natural for those things to have an impact on your feelings. If your partner loves you and you have healthy trust and communication, you can support each other through those uncomfortable feelings. Keeping negative emotions inside usually backfires, anyway.
7. I'm Not Sure What I Want
You should be able to tell your partner, with 100 percent honesty, where you're at in life and where you're going in life. Even if you have absolutely no idea if you want to gt married, move cross country for a job, travel the world, or go to grad school. If you're not honest about these feelings, then your partner could think your relationship is heading in a direction that you didn't sign on for. If you want to embrace what life throws at you, but do it as a couple, you need to have that conversation as well, because you might assume your partner would move across country for you, and you might be dead wrong.
If you find you're unsafe to express yourself in your relationship, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help. You deserve better.