Who’s the Boss in Your Relationship?

Dear Dr. Hurd,

Everything seemed perfect when we first met 8 months ago. Now, my girlfriend is starting to get bossy and controlling. She interrupts me, finishes my sentences, and always seems to have a better way of doing everything. She insists on deciding when we go out, and with whom we socialize. It angers me and I am not happy. Are we doomed?

Dr. Hurd replies:

Hey, slow down! Doomed? Not necessarily. Some changes on your part might alter the dynamics here. Will you then be happy? I don’t know. Can we predict with certainly how she’ll react? No. But things will change.

First of all, does your girlfriend actually do some things better? If she does, then you have to give her credit for that. Be glad she’s competent, and embrace the quality and efficiency this brings to your lives. Don’t fret over her taking charge if she’s actually better than you at something. It’s not a competition!

Secondly, some things are a matter of preference. Does she treat everything like it’s right or wrong, when in fact it’s just a matter of mood? If so, then try communicating with her like this: “I know you prefer Chinese food tonight. But I’m not in the mood for it. Why don’t we try something else we both want?” Or, “I know you feel like being with Barb and Joe tonight. But frankly, I’d rather be alone with you. How about that?”

There’s a world of difference between that and, “You’re always telling me what to do. What about what I want, for a change?!” Troubled couples communicate like that because that’s what they honestly feel. But the way you say it can make or break things.

Nobody is the boss in a healthy relationship. Sometimes one partner defers to the other. Maybe you don’t care about something she feels strongly about. Or maybe a particular decision is something you know more about than she does. In such cases, it benefits both if one of you defers.

But giving in is a choice. It’s called reciprocity, and it’s part of the give-and-take of any adult relationship. It doesn’t mean keeping count, but it does mean that sometimes one partner will give in on something. That’s OK. It’s good for the relationship. Relationships without reciprocity quickly degenerate into power struggles.

If your girlfriend insists on a relationship where she’s always the boss, that’s her prerogative. But if you don’t want that kind of relationship, then you’ll have to go your separate ways. But this could be just a misunderstanding or a lack of self-awareness on her part. Rational communication can bring this to her attention. If being with you is more important to her than being perpetually bossy, then the problem is fixable.


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