In our closest relationships, be it at work, with friends, family or with our intimate partners, feeling appreciated, respected and fulfilled are of paramount importance. So vital are those feelings, that many of us have developed a keen sixth sense — we can sniff out when we are being overlooked and disrespected like a shark smells blood in the water from miles away.
One way of dealing with the inevitable disappointment of being let down is to learn to let go, as we have discussed previously. I highly recommend that as your first course of action. But how do you know when it’s time to speak up? When it’s time to demand? Or even, when it’s time to leave? Are there any guidelines? Are there any rules? Where do you draw the line?
Your Bottom Line
During my graduate work at Northeastern, a great therapist of mine introduced me to the “Must-Have Pyramid”. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a must-have pyramid is a 5-level deep list of needs, deeds or traits that are required in order for you to stay engaged in a relationship.
Your Must-Have Pyramid is unique to you — only you can define it and, it will change over time. As a compass-point for your relationship, it can help you navigate the most difficult times, and aid you in making really difficult decisions.
The bottom levels represent the most foundational criteria for your relationship. In my case, the first and foremost is trust. I just will not be in a relationship with somebody whom I cannot trust is honoring our basic marriage vows of fidelity. The next most important must-have for me is that my spouse is responsible with our children. Third, without loving-kindness, the home becomes a war-zone and, well, no thank you. Intimacy is a defining ingredient in marriage, and finally respect. [A note on Respect: While being treated with respect is non-negotiable and part of trust, responsibility, and loving-kindness, actually respecting me is less important to me. I don’t so much care about how you feel about me as opposed to how you treat me]. Yours might look different, based on your values and priorities.
Keeping your cool
One of the great things about the pyramid is that it helps me pick my battles (more importantly, it helps me ignore them too!). For me, I try my best to keep to the three following rules:
- Any argument, difference, annoyance, or disappointment that doesn’t directly fall out on my pyramid is just not worth fighting about. Bill not paid on time? Pass. Kitchen left a mess? Pass. Respond rudely to me? Pass. Went over our budget shopping? Pass. And the list goes on. Only something which directly affects my pyramid concerns me.
- Unless I’m suspect that one of my must-haves is really threatened, it’s not going to set off any alarms. Just because an interaction has a tinge of impatience and annoyance doesn’t mean we don’t share loving-kindness.
- If one of my Must-Haves has clearly been compromised, I wait six months before I make any major decisions. During this time, not only can I re-evaluate my understanding of what actually happened, but relationships have the ability to repair and restore and rebuild trust.
These are your Non-Negotiables
Bear in mind that we are talking your “bottom-lines” here — your non-negotiable needs. They do not preclude having great & consistent conversations about any hurt feelings or ways to improve your connection. Ideally your relationship flowers with an abundance of honor & respect, love, romance, good-will, great communication, and lots of shared experiences and intimacy. However, your must-haves are the cornerstone to designing, building and creating and protecting your best partnership.