Entitlement is an issue of epidemic proportions. According to Forbes.com, “entitlement (or an entitlement complex) basically means you believe you’re owed something intrinsically” (Alton, 2017). As usual, I found one Urban Dictionary definition of entitlement to be particularly on point. It describes a person with entitlement complex as “someone who thinks something is owed to them by life in general; or because they are who they are” (Meadow Soprano, 2005). That last little bit is what I find especially true. Many people feel that because they have always been told they are special and unique, they deserve special and unique treatment.
But we are special and unique, right? We are each fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and deserve to be loved for who we are. So where do we draw the line between acknowledging what we deserve and making demands based on perceived entitlement? I think this is partly why I have struggled to develop healthy expectations of how someone else should treat me. Entitlement bothers me, so I don’t want to assume I deserve to be treated in any particular way. This has led to underappreciating myself and allowing others to walk all over me. In particular, this led to being taken advantage of within my romantic relationships and marriages.
My mistake was never developing standards by which I held myself and others accountable. I found an interesting article by Jason Sackett, an LCSW, called Setting Standards for a Healthy Relationship(2012). Clearly this is something I need to take notes on while reading. The first thing that really resounded with me is that he describes standards as someone’s limits, or “a threshold for behavior, traits, and values, below which they are unwilling to tolerate a partner.” He also says that “a person feels certain qualities must be present (or must not be present, in the case of unwanted behaviors or values), and failing to meet these requirements results in a ‘deal breaker.’” (Sackett, 2012). I have plenty of theoretical deal breakers, but I don’t actually let them break any deals. That responsibility falls on me and me alone.
The obvious example that comes to mind is the fact that I married a man who has always wanted children (yes, plural), even though I have never wanted kids (zip, nada, zilch). I made it clear from the very beginning that children were not on the table for me. I even put that on my online dating profile with the hopes that it would weed out anyone who actually wanted kids. That was my first mistake – trusting that someone would pay attention to those details and respect them. Early on, we had more conversations than I can count regarding whether or not we could “compromise” on this item. My opinion is that compromises can be made about what color a couple paints their house or where they go to eat for dinner, not about whether or not to bring a human being into the world. That’s all or nothing…no in-betweens. His idea of compromise: “I want two kids and she wants none, so we’ll just have one.”
Compromise: “To find or follow a way between two extremes” (n.d.).
My desire to not have children is not one that came about on a whim. I like to say that God forgot to give me a maternal instinct when He made me. I was never one to play with dolls growing up and never get “broody” after holding a baby. I suppose I should clarify that I don’t dislike children. I have four amazing nephews, two lovely nieces, and two wonderful god children. I love them all dearly and treasure having them in my life. I just don’t want children of my own. I enjoy being around the kids in my life, but then find even greater joy in giving them back to their parents. I have enough sleep issues without adding a baby to the mix. I also have very strong feelings regarding the moral state of the world. It’s an evil, terrible place and I have no ambition to bring someone else into this mess. The icing on the cake is a genetic abnormality that runs in my family, plus a healthy dose of what I believe to be genetically influenced mental health issues. I know that my anxiety would make motherhood an extremely challenging endeavor, and my depression would present its own set of difficulties. In my mind, it’s a recipe for disaster – and I’m not much of a cook even on my best of days. These are all feelings and convictions that I shared with my partner in an attempt to be transparent and vulnerable regarding a monumental life decision. Being a parent is a huge responsibility and it is not a journey I would embark upon lightly…I would rather not embark upon it at all.
Having fled from a marriage that ended due to chronic infidelity, I was in a delicate frame of mind. I wanted to do everything possible to make my significant other happy so that he would not feel the need to go elsewhere to have physical needs met. I also harbored the fear that if I did not meet his desire to father a child, he would look elsewhere for that fulfillment as well. At the beginning of the relationship, he assured me that spending the rest of his life with his newly discovered best friend was worth giving up his dream of having a child. I trusted that he would not change his mind…that I was truly enough all on my own. As my general and social anxiety became more and more of an issue between us, he began to make more and more references to how nice it would be to have a child to raise – a buddy to keep him company. Despite my own personal convictions, he began to wear me down and my resolve crumbled a little bit at a time.
Not only was I attempting to smother and hide my mental health struggles (which are very real and cannot simply be “turned off” to make someone else happy), but I was also trying to change my very make up by inventing a fictitious desire to have a family. I learned the hard way that “dropping below a standard carries a heavy emotional cost” (Sackett, 2012). I started going to therapy in an effort to develop coping mechanisms that would assist me in fitting into my partner’s world. I endeavored to change who I am as a person so that he would be happy and not have to give up any of his dreams. I told myself this was selfless compromise. In reality, it was emotional suicide.
While my second marriage ended because my partner was not faithful to me, my third marriage ended because I was not faithful to myself. Although my third husband was very much responsible for acknowledging that I was not a good fit for him because he wanted something different than me, I was also equally responsible for acknowledging that fact. Yes, I made it clear that I didn’t want kids, but he also made it clear that he did. He thought he could change me, while I thought his life long dream of becoming a father would dissolve so easily.
I will also add here that he is not a bad person and will defend the good in him. Just because we both wanted something very different, which ultimately led to a failed marriage, that doesn’t mean either of us are bad people. Values and morals may differ, but that doesn’t mean either is “more correct.” I ask that anyone who knows me or my ex-husband personally to not hold anything against either of us. We paid the price of not being honest with each other and ourselves. The pain associated with that is enough punishment without also adding in judgement from others.
As that chapter of my life winds down and I start down a new path, I am finally beginning to realize the importance of setting standards in relationships and understanding self-worth. Establishing and maintaining standards is necessary for the health of a relationship, as well as for the health of my own emotional and mental state. It is okay for me to ask that my partner respect my values, convictions, and wishes, while being true to their own values, convictions, and wishes. I am learning that standing my ground and demanding respect does not mean I have an entitlement complex. It means I value my own basic human right to happiness and peace. It means I see myself as much as I see others.
Alton, Larry. (2017). Millennials and Entitlement In The Workplace: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/larryalton/2017/11/22/millennials-and-entitlement-in-the-workplace-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/#56bbd05f3943
Compromise. (n.d.). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compromise
Meadow Soprano. (2005). Entitlement. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=entitlement
Sackett, Jason. (2012). Setting Standards for a Healthy Relationship. The USC Center for Work & Family Life. Retrieved from https://uscworkandfamilylife.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/setting-standards-for-a-healthy-relationship/
Ziceless. (2016). Standard. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=standard