It’s All In How You Say It, and The Self-destructive Shopkeep
Dear Dr. Hurd,
Everything seemed perfect when we first met eight 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 Phyllis 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. Gentle 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.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My girlfriend and I vacation in Rehoboth and I love your column. So here goes: Back at home we own a retail store. She works there while I keep a second job to make ends meet. The problem is that I’m hearing stories that she’s being critical of the nearby businesses. I know that some of our retail neighbors make fun of her because of that, and worse yet she’s alienating potential customers.
I know she thinks she’s being “competitive,” but business is dropping and I just know this is why. We are partners, personally and financially. What to do?
Dr. Hurd replies:
I firmly believe in competition. But, psychologically speaking, it’s not a very good motive because it can enable a person to rationalize behaviors that actually work against his or her productive self-interest.
A prime example is your girlfriend. She appears to believe that talking badly about people will put competitors out of business and benefit the two of you. But it usually doesn’t end up that way. “What goes around, comes around” usually ends up being true.
It’s fine to want to be #1. It can energize you with a sense of purpose. But the only way to become (and stay) that way is to provide an excellent product or service. If that’s the case, you don’t need to cut anyone else down. Your superiority will speak for itself.
You’ve probably tried criticizing her approach, but that’s not likely to work. She sees her behavior as survival. If you argue against her tactics, she’s going to think you’re arguing against your survival as a business.
It’s better to take a positive approach. She’s probably insecure about how things are going. You said sales are dropping, and she’s probably fearful you’ll lose everything you both worked for. I suggest you initiate a discussion with her about how to make the business better. An idea for a new product, perhaps, or a special, or whatever. Try to find positive ways to increase business that will excite and energize both of you. This will give her something to think about and, with any luck, distract her from speaking ill of the neighboring stores.
It’s at least worth a try.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email Dr. Hurd