Don't dominate your relationship

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

October 15, 1995|By FROM LADIES' HOME JOURNAL Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"In the past, Greg has agreed with me on everything, especially our finances," says an angry Evie, 35, the mother of a 7-year-old and owner of her own computer programming company.

"Greg and I eloped after high school," she explains. "My wealthy parents were furious that I loved a man from the other side of the tracks, so we put ourselves through college on our own and have always worked hard and budgeted wisely," she adds.

But now that they finally have a comfortable income and savings, all Greg wants to do is spend, spend, spend.

"After 18 years, he's suddenly developed a 'live it up today, never mind tomorrow' philosophy that's driving me crazy," Evie complains.

The problem, she reports, started two years ago when the banking chain Greg worked for transferred him from Chicago to the West Coast with a huge promotion.

Greg jumped at the chance, and Evie agreed to uproot the family and move to California.

But real estate prices there proved shockingly high and, after splurging on a handyman's special, they agreed to do all the renovation work themselves and adopt a strict budget to build up their depleted savings.

"So how do you think I feel to discover that Greg not only refuses to devote 10 minutes to home maintenance, but also scorns my efforts to be sensible by splurging on a fancy hairstylist, designer clothes, tennis club membership plus lessons from the club pro, and three fancy tennis rackets?" she says sarcastically.

The only piece of advice Greg took recently was when she persuaded him to quit his banking job for a higher paying one in a local industry.

Arguments over money have also affected their sexual relationship. "We haven't made love in three months," Evie snaps. "Greg says I'm too money-hungry and domineering to be capable of love." Evie is seriously worried about their future. "If Greg doesn't change, I don't think we have one."

Greg, 36, is tired of marching to his wife's drumbeat -- and he's not afraid to say so. "My wife is driving me crazy. For 18 years, I agreed to everything she said. Then I woke up. I realized I was trading my freedom for slavery."

Greg refuses to work like a madman. "Evie's thriftiness is ridiculously excessive. We never allow ourselves any fun," he explains. "During college, we went to exactly four football games. Once a week, we went on a hike. Otherwise, we spent our time in class, in the library or at our jobs."

Looking back, Greg realizes that instead of making joint decisions, year after year, he gave in to Evie's every wish.

"I'm tired of her master plan. I detest the job she forced me to take -- I have an ulcer to prove it."

Is it all that surprising that he dreads making love to such a take-charge woman?

Who's the boss?

"Evie and Greg are trapped in a never-ending power struggle that is swamping their marriage," notes Jane Greer, a New York marital therapist.

Many couples are in similar situations, in which one partner feels controlled and neither can see clearly what he or she is doing to perpetuate it.

Does this sound like what's happening in your marriage?

Before you can break that stalemate, and relate in a mutually supportive way, you must recognize the many disguises of control.

Below is a list of stonewalling tactics partners use to dominate a marriage. Study them and discuss how you both might be unwittingly fanning the flames of conflict in your marriage:

* Control by compliance. You give yourself up by going along with what your partner wants out of fear, obligation or guilt. You hope to avoid the resulting disapproval, but you are achieving that goal by acquiescing.

* Control by instilling guilt or fear. You threaten to leave or withdraw financial support. You give your partner the silent treatment or use tears, blame or sarcasm to make your points. You complain or use illness to get your way.

* Control by indifference. You shut your partner out by refusing to have sex, burying yourself in your work, the TV, a book or your favorite sports or hobbies.

* Control by indecision. Refusing to state how you really feel or what you want, you force your partner to make decisions for you.

When Evie thought about these stonewalling tactics, she saw herself in point No. 2.

When she stopped trying to be right all the time, Greg felt more loving and responsive, more willing to negotiate their differences instead of taking a stand against her.

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