Heaney: Don’t be a boss in a relationship (column)
April 16, 2018
When a relationship has become trapped by the routines of life, I hear a common complaint. This is when committed couples describe how their relationship has transformed into a business. It's all facts, logistics, spreadsheets and budgets. Inevitably, one person is left feeling more like an employee of the relationship than an intimately loved partner.
When a relationship turns into a business, it's a symptom of lost connection. The couple is running through the motions, unable to be present or engaged in a heartfelt way. This wasn't what they signed up for when they moved in, said their vows and committed.
Both partners suffer here. But it's usually the one who feels more like the employee who tends to voice the complaint.
"I don't want to be bossed around. I didn't sign up to be another one of their employees."
They long to feel valued for their thoughts, opinions and ideas, rather than be instructed on what to do, when to do it and how.
Recognize the pattern
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Now, it is my experience that the "bossy" or directive partner is far from ever intending to be this so called "boss." And often they are hurt or offended by being seen, by the one they love, in such a light. They tell me they're trying to run the home, organize the chaotic scheduling and their experience is, "If I don't do it, then no one will." They are often anxious, without a solid sense of trust that their partner is truly there as a co-captain.
This pattern plays out through defensiveness that drifts the relationships further and further from feeling securely connected. So, the boss becomes more demanding and even critical. While the employee is disgruntled, resistant and shut down. Together, they've both become victims, always losing and never winning. Because it's become impossible to be fully satisfied in the relationship.
The antidote is to recognize the pattern and to call out that your relationship has become a business and not a loving refuge. While keeping the family and life running smooth is of course important, keeping your connection solid is an essential element to experiencing life as smooth sailing.
When we're connected, we're more able to cruise over the bumps of life.
If you're the boss
Ask for help. You can't do it all. After all, a great leader is a great delegator.
Tune into the possibility of underlying anxiety that might be driving some of the demands.
Step back and create space for your partner to show up.
If you're the employee
Step forward and engage. Show your partner that you're willing and able to help.
Try to understand that your partner is trying to keep the ship of life afloat and move away from the defensiveness. Try appreciating their efforts.
Remind your partner that you would like to be consulted rather than demanded from. Explain that you would like to support them and feel supported. Then explore what this could look like for you both.
Need help moving your relationship away from being a business? Contact Jessica Heaney, your local relationship therapist and Vail's certified emotionally focused therapist. Learn more about the Vail Relationship Institute at http://www.vailrelationshipinstitute.com.