Q Usually my wife organizes things around the home—like summer projects, social events, and even travel. She tends to get pushy about what she wants. She accuses me of being too slow to make decisions and says that if it weren’t for her “nothing would get done.” I agree that I do drag my feet, but I also find her to be obsessive and making decisions in a hurry. After a point I just don’t want to get involved and let her do what she wants. Then I get upset that she made choices that I didn’t like. How can we function better as partners?
A The first question to consider is whether there is a big difference in your values and choices regarding activities, projects, and social life. When you finally reach decisions together are they what you each want? Or is there a big disparity in preferences? If so, then it’s first an issue of you two wanting different things in your life.
Take some time to understand your unique interests and values. This can be challenging because implicit differences may become explicit and then you have to deal with your honest reactions to how you actually are versus how you wish you were. This can lead to a crisis because the dimensions of each of your personalities that you didn’t want to show or see in your partner will become more apparent. This is a significant juncture in any relationship and needs to be addressed with care and skill. This includes non-blaming curiosity, active listening, and making enough space in the relationship to get to know each other more fully.
For many couples the issue of functioning better together is about organization and each person learning to integrate his or her partner’s style. Are you happy dragging your feet? Do you prefer operating that way? If not, then you could learn something from your wife’s faster and more directive style.
Partners often find each other because they complement different ways of being and in some ways need each other. Your wife may actually feel a bit comforted by your slower, calmer, or more stable style. She activates you and helps structure your life and get things done.
I wonder what would happen if you took the lead in certain situations and decisions. Would she feel relieved or oppose you? What would it be like for you to be more proactive and assertive?
Shifting roles can be evocative, growth-inducing, and powerful in refreshing your relationship. Each person learns to communicate more clearly about what he or she wants and also respects a partner’s preferences or personality. A mature relationship can tolerate and, in some ways, appreciate these differences because more can be experienced and accomplished when couples work together to make the big decisions in their lives.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com