With any luck and no small amount of perseverance, we’ve all achieved significant things in life: completed our educational goals, built successful careers, and maybe even raised children. Every one of us can claim at least one major success in life.
When we want something badly enough, we’ll work until we get it.
And yet, why do our love lives often feel so impossibly difficult?
I get some version of this question almost every week. My response: Yes! Getting the love you want is tough. But the skills you need for intimacy aren’t much different than the skills you’ve already developed for life. You just need to learn why and how to apply them.
Believe it or not, success in any aspect of your life—including love—requires aggression. Sounds contradictory, I know. We think of our ideal love as gentle and forgiving, while aggression is best saved for the board room and rush hour traffic. But those are just two examples of aggression. What I teach in both love and life is the
concept of constructive aggression—the ability to assert one’s self for the purpose of self-preservation. In other words, it’s a fancy way of describing the act of sticking up for yourself.
In a relationship, you may notice that a feeling is nearing a tipping point. Something about your partner, something they do or don’t do—pay attention when you want it, offer help when you need it, talk when you’d rather they listen—is wearing you down.
Maybe it’s on your mind all the time or causing symptoms such as excessive alcohol use or destructive fantasies. This is the perfect time to call on your constructive aggression to resolve the feeling.
You have to either present your need to your partner or deal with your anger. For example, you could say, “I need you to please talk to your mom less during our evenings together,” or “I’m furious that you interrupted me when I was talking.”
I admit that this can be tough. We tend to fear that using our constructive aggression will come off as mean or selfish. The problem though is that focusing on other people’s feelings more than our own is a recipe for disaster. For starters, you can’t determine in advance how or what people are going to feel. Plus, taking care of their
feelings is their job, not yours.
In contrast, constructive aggression actually helps your relationship by settling your emotions. You’re not allowing the feeling to build and blow up later, and you’re not letting it eat away at you until you are not pleasant to be around.
When you act with constructive aggression, you walk a middle road between sticking up for yourself and causing pain to those you love. With practice, it is possible to express your needs confidently and with kindness. It is possible to accept that the ones you love may not like what you say, but that they will respect and honor it. And if they can’t, then maybe you don’t have the level of intimacy you’d hoped for.