The Case of the Compulsive Quibbler; The Other Side of The Toy Story
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I work for a charity. I answer to the executive director who makes me responsible for various fundraisers that I am expected to plan, advertise, and set up. However, she then undermines me by either doing things that I should be doing (without telling me she’s doing them), or discouraging me from putting extra work into making sure the events are successful. I almost feel that she wants me to fail, which is interesting, because failure, though it would certainly make me look bad, would ultimately reflect on her.
I’ve heard the words “passive/aggressive,” and I believe that this is her approach towards me. I love my job, but her attitude is frustrating and insulting.
Dr. Hurd replies:
She’s your boss. It’s probably not wise to ask for a talk about her behavior. I wouldn’t say, “We need to have a talk about your undermining me.” Instead, I’d handle these situations case-by-case. For example, when she asks you to do a task then turns around and does it herself, say something like, “Did you want me to work on something else, or do you want us to work together on this?” Be polite and respectful, because you want to keep your job.
You feel that she’s deliberately trying to undermine you, but it’s more likely that she’s enthused—even anxious—about getting things done right. When she dives in to complete or tweak something you’re doing, it’s quite possibly in the interest of getting things done right—or at least how she interprets “right.” But you work for her, so that’s her prerogative.
You’re interpreting her desire for perfection as an attack on you. But think about it. She’s a perfectionist, which, strictly speaking, means trying to do the impossible. She sees you cannot do the impossible, so she attempts to do it herself. This is much less an insult than it is a reflection of her anxiety-ridden, unrealistic expectations. You can be annoyed, or you can flip it around and admire her quest for excellence. Either way, it’s probably not personal, though it might seem that way.
“Passive/aggressive” refers to people who don’t like confrontation, so they express their unhappiness indirectly. Your boss is just a micromanager. That’s why I suggest handling matters case by case, keeping the communication strong and friendly. Right now you go to work every day feeling attacked. That’s a shame, because I doubt that’s her motive.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I was cleaning out some drawers and found a column of yours from sometime last year. I am sure the question was written by my partner—why else would she keep this issue? In a nutshell, last year she brought home a bagful of what she referred to in the letter as “marital aids.” She wrote that I “freaked out” and made her return them. Truth be told, I was insulted. I am fairly conservative, and I associate these things with deviant behavior, etc., etc. Furthermore, I want “me” to be enough for her when we get intimate. I don’t need the help of multicolored plastic things.
I had no idea I hurt her feelings enough to make her write to you. Is there any way I can communicate this to her? I guess the first thing I have to communicate is that I found that issue of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth—quite innocently, I might add—in her dresser drawer.
Dr. Hurd replies:
Let’s back up. What’s the purpose of sex? It’s about the giving and receiving of physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction. Your partner wasn’t insulting you. She was simply trying to maximize her pleasure and satisfaction. What’s “deviant” about that? (By the way, “deviant?” Seriously? This is the language that has been used to insult gays and lesbians, among others, for centuries!)
You’ve said that you don’t need sex with artificial aids. But your partner begs to differ. If you agree that sex is about the giving and receiving of pleasure, i.e., mutuality, then the moment one of you is dissatisfied, there’s a problem. It’s not you versus her. It’s about, “Oh, I’ve been happy, but she’d like to spice it up a little. Let’s explore and see what I’m willing or not willing to try.” It’s not the end of the world.
I realize your preferences and hers are different. That’s certainly OK. And I’m not saying you have to do anything you don’t want to do. What I am challenging here is your idea that she means to insult you. She loves you. If you question that, then that’s an issue to explore outside of sex. But if you feel her love elsewhere, she deserves the benefit of the doubt.
It must be shocking to find a column about something so personal in your partner’s drawer. You’re right to wish she had talked to you directly, rather than writing some columnist. But she was trying to find ideas and answers.
Let’s try to convert your shock into liberation. Tell her you know about the column, and you want to have a frank discussion about it. Look at it as an opportunity to get closer.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office may be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.