Dear Jennifer: I am ending a long-term relationship and am trying to do it in the best way possible. Even though I am trying to be nice, my partner calls me unreasonable, says that it is all my fault and that I am being mean. I would like to still be friends when it’s over but he has become so demanding that I have had to hire an attorney and it is all getting out of control How can I end this in a nice way, without being mean?
Jennifer’s Answer: When we do things for ourselves, others will respond according to their needs and fear. It sounds like your partner is resentful of your actions and is doing his best to show you how angry he is with your decision. You can’t control his reactions or responses and have to do what is best for you, in spite of them. How important is it to you that he sees you as a ‘nice’ person and what are you willing to do to create that? The bigger issue for you, though, is how you define being mean or nice.
In any situation, are you the one who always tries to keep everyone happy, to make sure that you are nice to everyone so they will be nice to you? Did you do this when you were a child? Who was the ‘mean’ person in your life, the one who always criticized and judged you, who wasn’t concerned about your needs and who didn’t seem to care if you were happy no matter how nice you were to them? Your desire to be nice is based on your desire to have everyone be nice to you. The nicer you are, the nicer others will be. In your experience, there are two ways that people treat you, they are either nice or they’re mean.
But where is the middle ground between mean and nice? For you, there isn’t any. People are either nice to you and treat you well, or they are mean to you and treat you badly. This is an unbalanced viewpoint that just makes you work very hard to be nice because you don’t want to experience the other outcome. But what you are finding is that no matter how nice you are, someone is being mean to you. And being nicer isn’t fixing the situation but it is making your life more difficult. This isn’t the outcome you expect so you are feeling very confused and having to do something you try to avoid at any cost, being mean (at least by your definition).
What do you have to do before your partner admits that you really are nice and acknowledges your efforts? What will it take to create a space for that and how big do you think that space has to be before your partner sees, acknowledges and steps into it? How far are you willing to go and how long are you willing to wait? And if he still thinks you are mean, how important is that to you? He is teaching you a valuable lesson, that no matter how nice you try to be, some people are going to disagree with your intentions and there is nothing you can do about that.
Trying to be nice to everyone, all of the time, and having them agree with you is a huge burden you place on yourself. And it is an impossible task because no matter how hard you try, you cannot make anyone happy unless they first choose to be happy. What you can do is make yourself happy, to make powerful, fulfilling choices for yourself and your life and let others have their opinion without feeling that you are responsible for it or for their feelings. Your choices are impacting your partner’s life and he isn’t happy about it.
Let him have his opinion and continue to do what is right for you. Eventually you will both move on but I don’t think you will still be friends. But whether you are or not, this situation has taught you about the importance of your boundaries, to learn to love yourself and to find the balance between nice and mean so you do not try so hard to be nice to others that your own joy suffers in the process.
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