It is a normal relationship concern to be worried about being taken for granted. And, in some ways, over the long term – if you stay together for years or longer, get married, have kids – you can’t avoid being taken for granted on a certain level. After all, your spouse will quite reasonably expect you to be there tomorrow morning when they wake up, and they’ll expect you to pick up the kids at school, fix dinner, or do whatever chores you have in the relationship.
But on a more short-term, immediate level, you may worry about the other person taking you for granted. How can you avoid this?
We take people for granted when we think we’ve got them all figured out. When you’ve known someone for a while, been dating for a certain period of time, when you’ve become more intimate with each other, you can both get a bit lazy and take the other person for granted.
To protect yourself against being taken for granted, the first thing is to stop taking yourself for granted. By that I mean you must continue to learn new things, to be ambitious in your job and your career, and to allow yourself to have dreams, both big and small. Don’t stop being a curious, interesting person. If you have hobbies and interests outside your relationship, you will always be a bit of an interesting enigma to your partner, because they won’t be part of that world. It doesn’t matter what you’re interested in, so long as you are interested in something.
Don’t let yourself become a dull and predictable person. Read some interesting books – some serious books, too, real literature, not just the novel of the moment that everyone’s buying in the airport bookstore to read on the plane. Go back and re-read some of the books you read in school (or were supposed to read, but never got around to reading). You may be quite surprised to find that you get something different out of a book when you read it as an adult.
Don’t just read literature – read other things that interest you, like history, or science, or economics. Be curious and indulge your curiosity. Don’t tell yourself you can’t read these subjects, or that you won’t be interested by them – that’s being lazy and taking yourself for granted.
Not only will all this reading be good exercise for your brain and your mind, but it will keep you an interesting person, because you’ll have interesting things to say and will be able to have a good conversation, either with your partner or with someone at a cocktail party.
Go see movies, learn to cook, learn a new language, study art, play sports (don’t just watch them on TV), listen to music, travel – all these sorts of things keep your mind busy and active and interesting. Some of these things you may want to do with your spouse or partner, as they are fun to do together. But you shouldn’t shy away from doing some of them on your own, too.
Take care of yourself, too. Brush your teeth, floss, get exercise, eat healthy food, get enough sleep. Don’t deny yourself these important things, as that is another way of taking yourself for granted. You deserve this kind of self care, and it’s important to take the time to take care of yourself. Don’t allow yourself to sacrifice your own important personal needs for others. Get in the habit of taking good care of yourself, and other people will follow your example and treat you better.
In the relationship, ask for what you need and what you want. Ask politely, but be sure to ask. Just by asking, even if you don’t always get everything you want (as compromise is an important part of every relationship) you will remind the other person that you have needs and wants, and that they are important enough to talk about. It’s good, too, for you to get in the habit of asking for what you need. Even hearing yourself speak up for these important things is good for you. Stay silent about your own needs and you risk being taken advantage of.
Set healthy boundaries with the other person. Even people who’ve been married for decades need good boundaries for a healthy relationship. If you’re being asked to do something you don’t feel good about doing, then say no. You are allowed to have secrets, to have intimate, personal thoughts and feelings that you don’t share with anybody if you don’t want to. That’s normal, healthy, and OK. Don’t be afraid to say no sometimes.
It’s important in cases of relationship conflict to trust your gut feelings. Watch out for resentment, which is a big killer of relationships. Try not to agree to things that you will resent, because that resentment can grow over time if not addressed, and it will eventually come back to hurt you. For example, if you hate going every year to visit your in laws in New Jersey over the holidays, but you never say anything about it or propose an alternative, like only going every other year, for example, then you are setting yourself up for a major, toxic resentment. Year after year you will endure this holiday journey that you hate, until eventually you blow up at your spouse in a major fight that will be very ugly and painful for everyone.
I’m not saying you will never have to visit those in laws! But if you take active steps to ask for what you need, you will feel better when you do compromise and go on the trip. And some years you may get to do something different.
If all else fails, have someone else send you flowers, or send them to yourself. This is a simple way to remind your partner that you are an interesting, attractive person and that they shouldn’t take you for granted!