We have a tradition in our family: when it’s your birthday, you get to be the center of attention for the whole day. You get to make the important decisions
by yourself, like what you want to eat, how you spend the day, and when you will open your presents. Rules get bent in your favor. You don’t have to share with anyone. You always get to go first. You are the center of attention and everyone wants you to be happy. For that one day, you sit at the top of your world.
It’s cool to revel in the feeling of power and entitlement that comes from being on top. Everyone respects your right to be there, after all, you’re really special.
Some adults act as if they are the center of attention every day. They seem oblivious to the inequality, even when those around them are not. Monday, I wrote about how to handle a request for change if you’re in such a relationship and you have the better part of it.
Sometimes, you discover you’re the one getting far less than you deserve and things have been that way for too long. You want more than you’re getting. You want to be respected as an equal. You want what is rightfully yours. So, how do you do that? How do you make the other person stop being the center of attention? It’s not as hard as it sounds.
Our family birthday tradition only works because we all agree that the birthday child gets to be on top. Brothers, sisters, friends and cousins go along with it because they know they’ll get their turns when it’s their birthdays. It all evens out over time.
Bring Balance to Your Relationships
It helps to picture your relationship like a seesaw. When the other person is always on top, the relationship is out of balance and it is not moving. Relationships that don’t move, don’t grow. In time, they die. Equal relationships go back and forth, sometimes the other person gets a little more, sometimes, you get a little more. You both enjoy the ride.
A seesaw holds one person on top only as long as the other person is willing to sit on the bottom. If you’re on the bottom, the power to put the two of you on an equal plain is all yours. You just have to be willing to stand up for yourself.
Remember how standing up, off of the seesaw, immediately brings the other person back down? The same is true in your relationships.
When you identify a situation or relationship that is perpetually unequal, turn off the spotlight and stand up for yourself. It’s really not that hard to ask for what you want. You just need to believe that you’re worth it.
An easy place to start is by taking inventory of how things work now in your relationship. You’re already aware of where the other person is getting more than what you are, so start there. If you’re timid, go ahead and start acting to rebalance the relationship.
You can ask for what you want in part simply by acting as if you already have it. If the other person has a fun night out alone with friends every week, schedule yourself to do the same. If she expects you to always pick up her kids and yours from soccer practice, ask her take turns, or balance the situation in some other, such as by paying the full transportation costs, in a ‘I’ll fly, you buy’ way. If he wants you to listen to how his day went, make sure you tell him about your day as well.
While you may be tempted to keep your reasons for these changes in your behavior to yourself, don’t. Soon, you’ll need to explain, directly, what is going on: “I am making some changes in my life so that I have what I need. What I need is to rebalance our relationship so that the two of us are equal participants. In the past I have felt like we aren’t. By making this change, I believe we will have a better relationship. I want you to understand that while this change is not open to debate, I’m happy to talk with you about the specifics and to negotiate how we move forward.”
If you don’t speak up, you can’t expect others to do what you want and need if you’re not willing to say it for yourself. When you do, you’ll be amazed at what happens. Nearly always the other person will be quite willing to share the spotlight, to let you have what was yours all along. Even better, you’ll realize an incredible boost to your confidence and self-respect. You may start to see other areas of your life where you’ve been willing to let others hog the spotlight also.
When you let the relationship move naturally, back and forth, it’s more enjoyable for both of you. Not only is it more fun, a relationship that is equal is more fulfilling. It’s no fun being the servant all the time, and being on top simply means you’re alone, away from everyone else.
“I know, up on top you
are seeing great sights,
but down here on the bottom,
we, too, should have rights.”
~Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle
Live Honest, Open and True
When a relationship is in balance, there’s opportunity for the two of you to have a deeper and more meaningful connection. That’s true across all kinds of friendships. If you’re in an unequal relationship, would you rather regret something you’ve said, or regret the words you never had the courage to speak? Be willing to speak to others about an imbalance in your relationship with them and insist on the changes you need to restore or achieve balance.
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