August 15, 2013 | by Michael Radkowsky
Appealing or annoying?
women, gay news, Washington Blade

The bottom line: Respect your partner’s choices, while recognizing that neither of you must be bound by the other’s preferences. (Photo by Bigstock)

Dear Michael,

My wife and I just got married two years ago and now I’m worried that we’re going to get a divorce.

We fight a lot and always seem to have the same fight: Somehow, we can’t agree on how we should be living our lives. Sandy is always quick to point out what she thinks I’m doing wrong and how she thinks I should handle things. It can be as small as how I load the dishwasher (I put the wrong things on the bottom rack, evidently) or as big as my buying a convertible with my own money (she thinks they’re unsafe and refuses to ride with me).

My complaints to her are mostly how she won’t stop telling me what to do. OK, in fairness to her, I also sometimes am critical of her choices, but that’s because she is always so serious and ultra-practical (see car example, above). What kind of way is that to live? It’s fun to be adventurous and a little wild sometimes!

The thing is, when we met, I liked that she was so stable and I think she liked that I pushed her to have fun. But now the things we liked about each other are driving us crazy. If we can’t find a way to be on the same page, is our marriage doomed?

Michael replies:

I’m glad you’ve noticed that the two of you keep having the same fight. Now, all you have to do is stop having it. Easier said than done, I know. Nevertheless, that’s the best route to a happier marriage.

You and Sandy are essentially having a fight about who is right. But there is no correct answer to this question, so it’s an unwinnable argument. Every individual has preferences for how to live. There’s no one right way and it is pointless to try to prove that your way is best. As long as each of you tries to convince your spouse that you are right and she is wrong, you’ll keep having a rancorous relationship.

Deciding to stop having this fight is the first step to a better marriage. But what if your wife wants to keep arguing? I’d advise you to find a way to back off, respectfully.  Putting her down — even subtly — for wanting to continue the argument is just going to perpetuate the “I’m-better-than-you-are” cycle that you both are in.

Ultimately, if you and Sandy are going to have a happy marriage, the two of you would do well to accept your differences. Doing so would mean that you back off from lecturing each other about what you think is best. It would also lead to your doing things separately sometimes, when you each have your own strong views of how to proceed and have good reason not to yield. While it’s a cliché that lesbian couples fuse together, merging their identities, it is true that women tend to lean toward closeness. So you might be uncomfortable with the notion of more separateness. Nevertheless, less fusion and more autonomy would be helpful to reducing the tension between you and would give you each some breathing room.

By the way, it’s natural for us to be attracted to difference at first. One of the fun things about relationships is that we have someone who shakes up our world and pushes our boundaries — a little. But over time, what was once novel can become annoying.  Because almost no one likes to be told how to live, one important component of a good relationship is to honor each other’s differences and not try to force your views on your partner. Know that while you can absolutely advocate for what you want, there is no guarantee that you will get your way.

The bottom line: Respect your partner’s choices, while recognizing that neither of you must be bound by the other’s preferences.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

2 Comments
  • I've seen similar situations, and they have an element of control: One person wants to live his or her own life, and the other insists on making the decisions, big and small, for both of them. You're exactly right about less fusion and more autonomy; let's respect our partners' boundaries and get rid of the notion that the two shall become one.

  • That's always been my approach to relationships. I want a partner, not a slave, and not another hunk of me wandering around; nor do I want to have to conform to someone else's idea of who I'm supposed to be. Appealing to difference as a source of insight rather than viewing them as things to conquer and then change ultimately prevents the abundance of arguments one might run into.

    That said, commonalities are important too, as not being able to relate to somebody makes it really hard to do much with them.

    Giving up the idea that there is a way to win at life by doing things "right" is probably the best thing a body can do towards being able to co-habitate with others, or at least other. Recognizing that one of the human animal's strongest instincts is for dominance, recognizing when that instinct is causing problems, and then dealing with the instinct helps tremendously in not having pointless arguments all the time.

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