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12 Rights Women Have in Intimate Relationships

By Ginny Brown on Monday August 22nd, 2016

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Are You Giving Up Your True Self for Intimacy?

As a woman, it’s taken me a long time to figure out what rights I have in relationships.

Like many women, I was trained by my family and culture to always put others’ needs first. I was taught that sacrificing my own wants and needs was a virtue, and that my adult identity should revolve around my romantic partner (and possible children). I was also taught to trust others’ judgment above my own, because I was automatically more “irrational” because of being a woman.

Most of these messages weren’t communicated directly, but indirectly in a thousand subtle expectations and microaggressions. They got through to me very clearly, nonetheless. So when I started dating, it took me a long time to realize how many of my basic personal rights I was giving up in my relationships.

Are you giving up your rightsMany women give up basic personal rights in a relationship

Knowing Your Rights

The rights I’ve listed below are basic things that everyone should have in a relationship. Many of them are things that I found myself letting slip away in my early relationships, or things that I’ve seen many friends struggle with.

When we don’t have these basic rights, our sense of self is undermined. Instead of growing and developing in our relationships, we feel trapped and stunted. And in some cases, denying these rights is the first step in a pattern of abuse.

With a couple of noted exceptions, the rights I’ve listed below apply whether your relationship is casual or committed, monogamous or non-monogamous, asexual or sexual. If you are a submissive in a D/s relationship, you may choose to waive some of these rights, but you always have the right to renegotiate and take them back.

Disempowered womanMany women are taught to sacrifice their own wants

While these rights are valid for all people, women in particular often find them undermined in relationships, because of the way we’re socialized to prioritize others over ourselves. If you’re a woman who has romantic relationships, I strongly encourage you to read these over, internalize them, and stand up for them in every relationship you have.

1. I Have the Right to Express My Needs and Have Them Considered

A relationship sometimes means compromising between your needs and those of your partner(s), but you should always be able to say what you need and have your partner(s) consider how best to support you.

There’s a huge difference between “After talking it over and exploring different options, I don’t think I can do that for you” and “No, I’m not interested in expending my energy to support you.”

You have the right to express your needsYou have the right to express your needs

2. I Have the Right to a Balance of Give and Take

There are always times when one partner needs to support the other, whether it’s for an evening after a bad day, for a few days when one person is sick, or for months or years through a long-term illness or depression.

In general, though, times when you step up to support your partner should be balanced by times your partner steps up to support you.

Women in particular often find that they drop everything and silence their own needs when a partner is struggling. And then, when they’re having a hard time, that partner only makes tiny adjustments to take care of them (often while expecting lots of credit).

Finding balance in a relationshipFinding balance in a relationship

That’s unfair. You have every right to ask your partner(s) to step up for you in the same ways you step up for them, even if it takes some work and adjustment for them to learn how to do this.

3. I Have the Right to Make My Feelings Heard

Your feelings are your own responsibility, just like your partner’s feelings are theirs. But “it’s my responsibility” doesn’t mean “I have to deal with it all on my own.” Whether your feelings are rational or not, you have a right to voice them, and to be heard with compassion.

Women are often accused of being hysterical or unreasonable when they express feelings. This is sexist and false, and it’s a common way for their partners to justify not listening when a woman says how she feels.

Making your feelings heardMaking your feelings heard

It’s worth having a conversation about what you want when you express feelings: solutions, commiseration, just a listening ear? A caring partner will want to learn how to respond to your feelings in ways that help you feel better.

4. I Have the Right to Ask for Sexual Pleasure

If you are in a sexual relationship, you have a right to ask your partner for the things that will please and satisfy you. That doesn’t mean they have an obligation to do those things – they have a right to their boundaries and dislikes. But you always have a right to ask and to explore compromise.

Often women in relationships focus on their partner’s pleasure and ignore their own. Some men who date women will act as though their partner is being demanding and unreasonable when she asks for something that will satisfy her.

She’s not – she has just as much right to ask for the sex acts that please her as he does.

The right to ask for sexual pleasureThe right to ask for sexual pleasure

5. I Have the Right to Set Sexual Boundaries and Have Them Respected

There is no circumstance in a relationship that takes away your right to set boundaries: from “I don’t want to have sex that way today” to “I don’t want to have sex at all.” It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together, and it doesn’t matter how much they’ve done for you. You get to how and when your body will be touched.

If your partner sulks, argues, or pressures you when you set boundaries, that is sexually coercive and not okay. If your needs and boundaries are very different, you may need to change something about your relationship (or even end it), but this discussion should always be respectful and free of guilt-tripping.

6. I Have the Right to Make Informed Decisions About My Sexual Safety

You have the right to ask and receive honest answers about things that affect your sexual safety. This includes other people your partner is having sex with or making out with, any STDsyour partner knows they have, and when they were last tested.

Talking about STDsBeing open about STDs

There are different norms and expectations around things like “When is a relationship sexually exclusive?” or “How often do you get tested?” So I don’t recommend making any assumptions until you’ve had a conversation. But your partner should answer honestly any questions you ask, and once you’ve made agreements and shared information about your sexual health status, your partner has an obligation to tell you if anything changes.

If your partner prefers to keep information about their sexual health or other partners private, they have the right to do this, but then they shouldn’t make you feel bad if you decide not to have sex with them for safety reasons.

You get to set your own comfort and risk level.

7. I Have the Right to Interests and Relationships Outside My Partnership

The rest of your life doesn’t go away when you get into a relationship. While the balance of time you spend on things may shift, you still get to maintain your friendships, family relationships, interests, and activities.

The right to hang out with friendsThe right to spend time with friends

A partner who complains when you see your friends or belittles the interests you have that they don’t share might just be very insecure or have some learning to do about boundaries. Or it could be a precursor to abusive and controlling behavior.

Either way, you have the right to a life outside your relationship – and a partner who supports this.

8. I Have the Right to Be Consulted on Decisions That Affect Me

For partners who live together, consider themselves highly committed, and/or share finances, decisions about big lifestyle questions should be made with the input of both/all partners.

Even if it is primarily your partner’s decision to make, like whether to stay in their current job or look for a new one, they probably owe you a discussion about how this will affect you both before handing in their notice.

Being consulted on decisionsThe right to be consulted on important decisions

Even if you’ve agreed that one partner will make the decisions in a certain area, you always have the right to renegotiate that agreement if you want to be more involved.

In less entwined relationships, you should still each have the same level of independence and accountability about decisions you make. If your partner can take a two-week vacation alone without telling you, but gets mad when you plan a weekend away, that’s a bad sign.

9. I Have the Right to Be Shown Respect by My Partner – Both in Private and in Public

You can disagree, you can find things about each other irritating, but in a respectful relationship, your partner will not mock or belittle you in a way that you find hurtful. They will not act like they’re ashamed of you or put you down in public. They will treat you like an adult and an equal, not like a child or an employee.

The right to be shown respectThe right to be shown respect

Sometimes a partner teases because they feel awkward, or because they think it’s fun for both of you, but if you tell them that it’s hurting your feelings and ask them to stop, they should listen.

Sometimes a partner tries to micromanage your life or give you orders because they think that’s how to be helpful, but if you tell them you don’t want that level of input, they should back off.

10. I Have the Right to Grow and Change

Nobody is the same person at forty that they were at twenty – thank goodness!

Healthy long-term relationships grow and change right along with the people in them, finding new ways to connect when old ones don’t work any more. But often, people feel threatened when their partner starts changing in significant ways, and try to pressure them into staying the same.

The right to grow and changeThe right to grow and change

Some changes may have major impact on a relationship, like a change in religion or sexual identity. And sometimes these changes mean that you’re no longer compatible with your partner.

It’s okay for them to feel hurt, confused, sad, and even angry.

But it’s not okay for them to act like you’ve done something wrong, or to try to force you to stay stagnant and repress yourself for their sake.

11. I Have the Right to Feel Safe in My Home

Your home is your physical safe space. You should not have to go about your own home worried about what your partner might do to you. Even if they haven’t been directly violent toward you, if they throw things, punch walls, or make threats, and you’re left feeling afraid, that’s not okay.

The right to feel safeThe right to feel safe

If you don’t live together, you have the right to set boundaries on when your partner gets to be in your home. Showing up at your doorstep when you’ve asked them not to, or using their spare key to get in uninvited, are boundary violations.

You may need to talk to make sure they understand what your boundaries are around them coming over, but once you’ve communicated it, they need to respect it.

12. I Have the Right to End a Relationship That Isn’t Making Me Happy

Most relationships have their rough patches, and it’s a good idea to work on conflict management, compromise, and flexibility together. But at the end of the day, if your relationship isn’t making you happy, you have every right to end it.

You don’t need a big reason or excuse: “I’m not happy” is enough.

The right to end a relationshipThe right to end a relationship

If your lives are deeply intertwined, and especially if you have children or if your partner is dependent on you, the transition may be complicated, and you may need to maintain some kind of relationship, at least for a while.

But you always have the right to decide not to be romantically or sexually involved with someone any more, and you don’t have to answer to anyone for your reasons.

Standing up for all of these rights does not make you unreasonable, demanding, or too picky – and anyone who tells you differently has probably internalized some pretty crappy messages about what women are worth.

The truth is, you deserve all these things as a bare minimum in your relationship.

Standing up for your rightsBuilding a healthy relationship by standing up for your rights

If you’re realizing that you’ve let some of these rights get overridden in your relationships, don’t blame yourself. Standing up for ourselves is really hard and takes a lot of practice. I’m still working on it, and I couldn’t do it without the help of supportive friends and my lovely therapist.

Reading lots of books and articles about self-empowerment, talking with a counselor, and getting perspective from friends who are good at standing up for their needs are all good ways to develop this skill.

Good luck! You deserve it.

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Words By Ginny Brown

Originally posted on Everyday Feminism

 

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12 Responses to 12 Rights Women Have in Intimate Relationships

  1. Very interesting article, thanks for sharing.

    I must say as a male, the title triggered me, but I decided to read it and see why. I do still find the title interesting as it really could have been “12 rights we all have in intimate relationships.” As a man bought up by a overly-dominant mother, I too have created many of these situations in my life in relationship too. I have too transitioned out of many of them through self empowerment. There is still much work to do though!

    I can see that the journey of self empowerment of the author is much like the one in my life, Firstly the realisation that you are disempowered, then anger, pushing back against the blurry boundaries that you have created in relationship. Then pointing the finger at the other for not respecting you. And over time you take responsibility for the life you have created for yourself (all the time building self esteem & self respect), before it just becomes normal in life to know where your boundaries are and easily managing them without anger or unhappiness on anyone’s behalf. Because you have self respect, people automatically respect you. Your inner world creates your outer world.

    Its a shame that the author of this article is still in the anger phase. Putting out anger to the world only opens the door to attract anger back in (usually in greater quantities). So, don’t be surprised if you are at this stage, that you get anger back from those around you. Things are adjusting. Work on your own self respect. Once your belief in yourself is strong, there won’t be any anger. There will just be “here is my boundary” and the other will say “oh yes, there it is, I see it and respect it” and there will be little or any emotion involved.

    In my experience, anger is an important part of the process, but don’t get stuck there. Life is much more enjoyable when your self respect and self empowerment is strong and clear.

    • But often, people feel threatened when their partner starts changing in significant ways, and try to pressure them into staying the same.-on the anger from others. Others not you should be taking responsibility for their anger and emotions. It is not anyone’s responsibility to make anyone else happy. Happiness is an individual responsibility because it is different for everyone and changes throughout life. Just because an unstable person comes into your life does not mean you created it. We are all CO-creators. Children don’t create there abusive parents.

  2. I don’t usually find this qaulity of advice on these facebook connected article pages. Though I do give them chances. This is the qualities of a true strong women. THE TERM FEMINISM HAS BEEN USED TO KEEP PEOPLE, MEN AND WOMEN FROM LOOKING AT EMPOWERING WOMEN. Any women that tries to empower herself in relationships and life is just stereotyped as a feminist. Though there are SOME extremist women out there, those women have usually been extremely hurt and those do have anger hatred and bitterness.

    • hasnt been used to keep them from looking at empowering themselves its used to highlight the egregious manipulations and one sided ness of their protestations and they dont want to practice any so called equality unless its benefits them exclusively! usurpation disguised as equality is one more manipulation by originally androgynous women who started the movement and some of the those who inherited it, -that is now institutionalized that needs to be exposed. never are the men that are hurt by antics that are to numerous to go into here- are spoken about they suffer till this day psycho-emotional tearing down manipulation and abuse either from their mothers or their first girlfriend that treated them like a plate left over dog food or their wives who treat the children and the family pet better than they treat their husbands. (having spoken to many men and seen it first hand myself)

      http://www.naturalthinker.net/trl/texts/Vilar,Esther/The_manipulated_man.pdf

      https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2000/05/the-war-against-boys/304659/

    • I suggest you do what I’m expected to do when I read things like the constitution……wherever it says the gender you don’t identify with, know it means you too and feel honored to be included.

      • I would think that in 2016 something like this would be more equal though compared to something written 100’s of years ago. Its not always as easy as you say as sometimes it frustrates people hence why feminism was born.

    • they r eally dont care about males this is a feminist run society and as it said she can express her feelings to you any way she wants even if it is abusive but if you raise your voice above a whisper with the inflection that does not connote praise and worship to her majesty ..then you are a “abuser” these one sided approaches this country loves (western society in general) really only serves to make gender issues more difficult and make thinking men dislike modern women.

  3. This is very interesting. I just wrote and published a 30-day journal for women in relationship, and one of days is about balancing out rights for women and man, and responsibilities. We have rights and we have responsibilities. It probably would be too long comment if I do it here, but I will try anyway:

    A good relationship is one in which each person has equal rights, opportunities,

    and responsibilities. It is based on respecting a spouse and communicating clearly.

    This means no manipulation, guessing, giving hints or punishing. Did you know that

    raising your voice or withdrawing in silence also is a form of punishment?

    There are a few basic things people want from their relationship:

    • Love

    • Intimacy and sexual expression Communication

    • Trust and commitment

    • Equality and respect

    • Companionship

    • Emotional support

    • Loyalty

    We tend to have relationship issues in these categories. These are our “roses” in

    the “rose garden” we talked about yesterday—areas to cooperate with each other,

    share our expectations, exchange and change our opinions, learn and develop.

    Today’s activity: Write down your rights and responsibilities, using the list above:

    “I have the right to love and to receive love, be loved and feel love towards my hubby.

    I have the right to experience and receive intimacy and sexual expression. I have

    the right also to show and give it to my hubby. I have the right to communicate and

    to express what I feel and think. I have the right to have a relationship based on

    trust and commitment, that my hubby will not make any intimate connections outside

    our marriage. I have the right to have equal rights to express myself and to educate

    myself. I have the right to be respected just for the fact that I am a human being. I

    have the right for companionship with my hubby. I have the right to receive emotional

    support from him. I have the right to expect loyalty from him.”

    Remember the scale? A balanced life is what we want because it is in harmony. We

    balance our rights with responsibilities and vice versa. Now, we will balance our

    rights in marriage with responsibility. Write:

    “I have a responsibility to show love to my hubby (write his name). I have a

    responsibility to be intimate and to show sexual expression towards my hubby. I

    have a responsibility to keep my appearance sexually desirable to my hubby. I have

    a responsibility to communicate and to express myself. I have a responsibility to

    develop myself to be the best ME (write your name here instead of ME). I have a

    responsibility to say what I feel and think. I have a responsibility to do my best so

    my hubby can trust me completely not to make any intimate connections outside

    our marriage. I have a responsibility to keep my commitment to him. I have a

    responsibility to be equally responsible for everything in our family, beginning with

    my own wellbeing and decisions, to financial responsibility. It is my own responsibility

    to create and live the life I wish I would have and like.”

    After that, write a list about your hubby. For example: “My hubby has the right to

    love me and to receive love from me, to feel loved by me. My hubby has the right

    to be intimate with me and to experience sexual expression from me. He has the

    right to discuss it and to show desire. My hubby has the right to communicate with

    me. (Remember, communication is not only with words.) My hubby has the right

    to trust me and my word. If I say something, I will do it. My hubby has the right to

    my commitment, that I will not seek out another man, but will stand against our

    challenges, even during difficult times. My hubby has the right to be equal. My hubby

    has the right to receive respect from me in words, attitude and action. My hubby has

    the right to my companionship. My hubby has the right to receive emotional support

    from me. My hubby has the right to my loyalty.”

    Now—write down HIS responsibilities the same way as you did yours. Of course,

    you can change the text. I just gave you examples, and now it is your turn to work

    on your marriage “Rights And Responsibilities” list.

    Ask your hubby what is important in his life. What are his needs, values, and

    expectations? Do not forget to write them down or record them (if he does not mind)

    on your phone because within a few minutes, you will think about it, and after a day,

    you will still think about it, and you might confuse what he said with what YOU felt

    about that. It just happens. But if you have an opportunity to go back to what was

    recorded, it might prevent you from the possibility of misinterpretation.
    (If you want to read all other days – that is in my book now on Amazon, and the name is “Relationship Guide For Married Women: Your 30-Day Journal”)

  4. this must have been written by a woman, its sets up some good points but by and large the weight should not be one sided as is the american feminists view point and conditioning in this culture and in this country. men are men and that means they dont have to be women to be with a women and that seems to be what they want to do ( culture produced metro sexual’s,) she has a right to express her feelings any way she wants ? at your expense? ( goes on more than our feminist society would allow you to be aware of ) NO! what happened to self control !! thats only for men to do.??? many men dont feel “safe” because of the emotional verbal sexua,l psychological, abuse, and constant wrong footing, that women’s mouth and antics assails them with but some how that is only understood when some woman is allegedly abused. ?

    This crap in this culture that a person is all on their own a individual, etc… and she should not have to have family approval of a potential mate as it was in the so called olden days ( they still do this in the east in places where western culture hasn’t destroyed every ones culture there)… is one of the causes of picking knuckleheads! (male and females, but for some reason horrible women, that men met plenty of -before they find a marriage partner is never discussed in this culture but bad boyfriends are ) many times mom dad aunty grandma grandpa could have told you that t he guy you picked was no good for you but we are taught in this country to not listen to them and not even require it. since this is the case i dont think they there should be a list of crap what a woman needs and there isnt one designed for what men need. what this produces and the last 30 yrs has proved this to be so… is a arrogant victim playing parlay manipulating arrogant entitlement poisoned pain in the ass self centered female who is raised on-conditioned…that they are always right, always abused did nothing wrong and every one (men) should be kissing there ass for a plethora of emotional idiosyncrasies from A-Z otherwise the men are heartless brutes. ( both sexes are actually !! thats the problem!!! they just do it in different ways – but the feminists wont say that!!)

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