Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas Into Discoveries – Dealing With An Over-Controlling Partner
How does your garden grow? Here, finding the right balance of attachment, equality and autonomy in your relationship.
Q. I’m married to a man who likes to have control over almost everything in our coupledom. He’s outgoing, smart and extremely capable. I’m more of an introvert, much slower at doing things than he is, but I too am quite capable. The problem is he doesn’t want me to take on anything by myself and wants to be involved in everything. For example, I want to design a small garden in front of our house and he’s essentially told me there’s no way I could do it on my own and he insists on being involved. He’s also a lot busier than I am which means I’m always waiting for him to find time. I’d like to take ownership of a project or two on my own.
A. This isn’t a project issue, it’s a relationship issue. This would-be garden is a symptom of something bigger. According to London, Ont.-based clinical psychologist and author Dr. Guy Grenier, there are three functions that have to be “assiduously attended to” in every relationship. The first is attachment (you gotta have love, trust and respect). The second is equality (both equally benefiting from the relationship) and the third is autonomy (each of you is still entitled to your own thoughts, attitudes, needs, and desires).
In your case, this last function is where “the rubber hits the road,” as Dr. Grenier puts it. “This man may want to rule the roost, but if he doesn’t respect his wife’s autonomy in wanting to do the garden alone – and she’s perfectly entitled to want that – then resentment is going to build.” People who lack autonomy in their relationships, adds Dr. Grenier, “often feel lost and alone despite their partner being present. They often harbour lingering resentments towards their partner for lost opportunities and can feel second-class, minimized, and taken for granted.”