Exploitation happens when one individual is taken for granted, they are expected to do more than their partner, and might even be told off when they fail to produce great results.
You might feel exploited, or you might just feel exhausted and weary most of the time. In either case, there are several things you can do to change the situation. The most surprising part of it is that making these changes won’t only benefit you personally, but has the potential to make your marriage more satisfying and mature.
Your first step in your developmental or healing journey always starts with awareness building. What we don’t know of, we cannot change, which is why it’s important to take a moment and ask yourself a few questions about your current experience.
Exploitation is often quite subtle, which is why we often we don’t even know it’s happening to us, we just feel somewhat off, or suspect that something might be wrong but can’t quite decide on what it really is.
Bear in mind that that part of being exploited (unless you’re in an abusive marriage, in which case seek support in your local community immediately!) also means that we have developed certain ways of being that encourage people to take advantage of us.
Yes, I’m talking about people pleasing behaviour—driven by a feeling that we only matter or we’re only loveable if we’re useful and busy all the time, even if that means sacrificing our mental well-being and often our physical too.
This might have started in our early years, when we felt that the best way to cope with the situation and to feel that we belonged to our family was through being a “good girl”, a “good boy”, someone who is mostly silent, incredibly helpful, ready to listen to parental complaints, take care of younger siblings and never bother anyone.
This might have been your story, or yours might be entirely different. In either case, knowing where it started is the first step for you to realise that you can continue being this way or change your beliefs about yourself and who you are.
This is what we do in hypnotherapy together. I regress you to scenes and memories that are connected with you saying yes even when you would rather say no, or being overly submissive in your marriage. There were crucial moments in your development or later on in your life, where you made some conclusions about yourself and what you’re able to do, and you live by those convictions.
Except something that might have helped you integrate into a dysfunctional family or circumstances where you didn’t feel safe to be yourself might today hold you stuck. If you want a secure and mature relationship, you need to be assertive and equal to your partner. And that starts with awareness.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I comfortable with saying no to my husband / wife?
- Do I stand up for what I believe in or do I tend to go with whatever my partner wants and feel resentful?
- Do I expect my partner to read my mind and to know what I really want instead of saying it to them?
- Do I spend time away from my partner with friends or doing things I love, or am I always with them?
- How easy is it for me to manage conflict appropriately?
- Do I tend to do most of the housework even if I also work full time?
- Am I expected to do all the cooking even when I don’t feel like it or have had an exhausting day?
Create a little map based on your answer. Most of them are yes/no questions, go ahead and journal about the topic to dig deeper into these aspects of your life. However, remain as objective as possible, it’s not about making an enemy of your partner, it’s more about recognising that there’s an imbalance and solving it could benefit you both.
It’s not enough to build awareness, you then need to take action and to develop skills you need to show up differently. That’s when things change. In fact, one of the dangers of reading a lot of books on the topic and informing yourself about what constitutes a healthy relationship without ever applying techniques or doing the healing work is that it can lead to a lot of criticism and resentment towards your partner.
We don’t want that!
What we want is for you to focus on what you can control: your own beliefs about yourself and your behaviour. If up to this point you’ve been avoiding conflict at all cost, and you thought of yourself as a person who isn’t good at it. Now, I invite you to think of yourself who hasn’t learned a basic skill (not unlike reading or writing) that you can do it now.
The catch is that if you believe that you simply can’t do something or doing it feels inauthentic, you can easily fall back into old patterns and never really change anything. Every attempt becomes a reinforcement that you can’t do it and it’s not for you.
There’s also the idea that assertiveness might be a toxic trait, similar to being arrogant or selfish.
Let me challenge that notion. An arrogant or selfish person can indeed be assertive as well. But an assertive person doesn’t necessarily need to be arrogant or selfish.
If you’re assertive, you’re confident: you voice your needs and opinions, you can speak up, you can stand up for what you believe in, and you handle conflict appropriately. Basically if an assertive person says something, you know they’re honest and you can rely on them. There’s no fear that you might be exploiting them because they would say so. Nor is there an issue with misunderstandings because they initiate agreements instead of relying on expectations.
If you’re assertive in your marriage, you will sit down with your partner and talk the thought things over, create agreements and stay accountable.
There’s a deep trust that drives you. You trust who you are and your abilities and that shines through in your body language as well. Instead of leaning forward, letting yourself be taken for granted, or leaning backward, bracing yourself for feeling let down and exploited again, you stand straight and tall. You’re strong.
Your posture is a wonderful way to practice assertiveness. Stand like an assertive person, you might even choose someone who you look up to and imitate the way they stand and walk. How does it feel to embody them? What is it like to stand like them? IF it’s too much, tune it back a little, if it’s too little. See what it’s like to speak when you stand up confidently. How does your breathing change? Once you notice these changes and practice them, you’ll be able to gradually apply them in your everyday interactions.
Successful marriages are built on equality.
Equality allows both of you to feel respected and cherished. It means that two adults have committed to solve problems, manage conflicts, and create a loving, lasting future together. Inequality, on the other hand, keeps the marriage stuck and stunted. One of you has low self-esteem and has learned to be around people who they can control. Whereas the other puts up with being controlled because it’s familiar.
If equality isn’t yet familiar, it’s okay. It becomes familiar very fast, if you apply yourself to showing up assertively in your conversations. You can be assertive and compassionate, and that’s when you are building a relationship cherishing culture. Your goal is to put “us” before either of you. Part of which is to work together on things, without either of you feeling exploited.
You might think, “I don’t want to feel exploited, I want him / her to understand me” and for that you need to voice what feels good and what doesn’t, what you agree to and what you don’t. Voicing your needs is your responsibility, even if they don’t immediately agree to it or understand the change.
The easiest path to a happy and lasting marriage is through focussing on what you can control and what your responsibilities are. Once you work on them through awareness, assertiveness, and equality, the nature of your relationship will also change.
Many people waste a lot of time trying to change their partners or expecting them to do some things and then feel disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Your partner isn’t a mind reader and once you’ve created a relational dynamic, most things happen automatically. If you want to change this dynamic because you feel it’s causing you unnecessary suffering, the way to do that is by looking at your own patters, understanding them and then embodying the assertiveness necessary to stand up for yourself and to become equal, emotionally mature partner you’ve always meant to be.
Do you need personalised support?
If you’re interested in honing your embodied relational intelligence skills to build a loving, mature, and lasting romantic relationship either with your current partner or the one you commit to next, reach out or simply buy one of my coaching and or hypnotherapy services and I’ll meet you on Zoom.