Your “Demanding” Partner and Being with Upset
It could be that your partner really is making demands of you*. It could also be that your partner is really making a request and you mistakenly perceive a request as a demand. When this is the case, you likely encounter a look of exasperation on your partner's face as s/he wonders how to ask you something in a way that won't be heard as a demand.
Reflecting on your own experience in this situation you might notice that you are saying things to yourself like: "It's better to just say yes and preserve the peace." "S/he will be upset if I say no." "Why is s/he is always telling me what to do?" "As usual, I don't have a choice." These are all signs that you might be hearing a demand where there isn't one.
If you have a history of experiences in which people close to you couldn't hear a "no" to their request without lashing out at you in some way, then you might hear lots of requests as demands. Perhaps even your current partner has gotten pretty reactive in the past when s/he was met with a "no" from you. In this situation a disappointed partner isn't just a disappointed partner. Looking through the lens of past pain, a disappointed partner means there's a threat of pain and punishment.
To avoid this potential pain, you might find yourself trying to manage your partner's emotions. If s/he is anxious, you are anxious. If s/he is disappointed, you rush to make him or her happy or try minimize or explain away the difficult feelings. You aren't able to tolerate your partner's upset, because it is linked to punishment and pain for you.
This is no way to live. It's stressful and over time builds toxic resentment in you both. To shift this dynamic, there are a few key things to which to attend. For you there are, at least, these three things:
There is the practice of noticing when you hear a demand and then checking it out with your partner to see what's true.
Then there is setting a boundary when your "no" or you choosing what's right for you isn't met with respect.
Lastly, there is the practice of tolerating the anxiety or defensiveness that arises in you when your partner makes a request. You want to be able to manage your own reaction long enough to find out if there is really a demand and to mindfully receive your partner's respect for your choice when it is present. When your partner is respecting your choice, it doesn't mean that s/he doesn't feel sad or disappointed. It does mean that s/he takes responsibility for meeting needs in another way and maintains a loving connection with you. This last one is really the core work of creating a new association to setting boundaries with people you love and seeing that neither you nor the connection is threatened.
Your partner is hopefully earning your trust by making requests in a clear way, and showing that s/he can tolerate the disappointment of hearing you say "no" without resorting to pressuring, punishing, inducing guilt by naming all the things s/he sacrificed for you, or other forms of disrespect. If your partner isn't able to offer this, then it's time to get some extra support for your relationship.
Life gets a whole lot easier when you and your partner hold each other as capable of being with difficult emotions without having to rescue one another from them and without lashing out. In addition to all the difficulties mentioned above, you also want to say yes to requests because you care for your partner's happiness and want to contribute to that. In those moments when your choice doesn't please your partner, you can still express caring. Caring comes in many forms - empathy, affection, honesty, warm tone of voice, etc.
Take a moment now to reflect on a moment when you have felt the pull to say yes to someone's request without considering your own needs and preferences. What could you have done to make space for your own needs? What would it have sounded like to check in about whether the other person was coming from request or demand energy? How might you have expressed what came up for you hearing the request?
*For this situation see the Connection Gem called "Handling Demands"