I am not the boss of you
May 24, 2012 4:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm tired of being the bad guy at home. How to better communicate this?

Hi all. The old me would have thrown things and screamed hurtful things. The new me is asking for help. For whatever reason, I've gotten myself into a dynamic with my SO such that any unpleasant or non-fun activity is my project to move forward. Some examples:

exercise: We both would like to exercise more, and we both decided we would like to do so together. After reading around, we found the couch to 5k program, which she found particularly appealing. As soon as we started actually doing it, though, I ended up being the enforcer. Days, times, details, etc. were all handled by me. Each day, she waited for me to say it was time to go out again, and would complain about it while she got ready. I bailed on this project when she joked that the very fact she was even doing this along with me showed what a great gal she was. I stopped bringing it up, and it stopped happening.

budget: We're trying to save money for things like large purchases and vacations. We both agree we need a budget. Again, the entire baby is in my lap. Other than agreeing that it needs to be done, she won't raise a finger. I suggested scheduling a meeting. She agreed. The time came and went. She apologized for missing the meeting, and told me to schedule another one and let her know when it is.

When she thinks I might be upset with her, she says things like "do you want to do some laundry?" as if that would be the greatest thing for me to hear. Mind you, this would be all her laundry, as mine is all done. I got tired of all the pushback I got when we tried to do laundry together, so I just do my own now.

I have no interest in being the RA in this relationship. I've communicated this in the past, but it keeps happening. Earlier today, she bragged that she had emptied the dishwasher, then said she did it so that she wouldn't get "in trouble." "Trouble" in this case would have been the guilt that she felt when I emptied the dishwasher like I was planning to: I have never asked her to either load or unload it.

Part of me wants to say screw it, blow off any common goals, and just pursue my own ends. That just sounds so... wrong. I'm not sure what to do or say next.

tl;dr: SO is setting me up to be her mom. how can two people achieve their common goals when one of them still has to be dragged there?
posted by Gilbert to Human Relations (32 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
That sounds really frustrating. I don't have any great answers for you except to just do your own thing as much as possible and invite her along if she wants to come. That doesn't help you on mutual finances planning but it might for things like exercising.

Anecdata: I have done the same thing as your SO (and still do, mentally, but now I don't usually let it escape my lips). When I'm in that mode, it's all me. It's bad childhood habits coming up. You know the saying "The child's solutions are the adult's problems"? This is one of them.

It does happen more often if I am feeling railroaded into things, which my SO does on accident, because it doesn't take much for me to feel railroaded, but then I remember that I can say "no," or "okay, if/but" and I can even change my mind if it turns out I've ended up on the hook for too much stuff. It sounds stupid, but I have to consciously remember that I have the right to live my life as I see fit. When I forget (often!), I get sulky and childish over feeling obligated to do things I don't want to do, including fulfill some role or other. Hmm. I'm not explaining well, but it's easy for me to hand the responsibility for my life and happiness to someone else, which comes out to a bad end for all concerned.

I have hugely changed this awful habit by going to Al-anon, but it still comes up when my SO becomes too much of my life. If I'm not hanging out with friends, doing my own hobbies, and generally staying busy independently of him, I turn into that irritating child/victim again. Not pretty.

I might just be projecting, but if I'm not, there's not too much you can do except remind her that she's in charge of her own life, not you, and that you don't want that responsibility. Remind her each and every time without getting mad, if you can.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:47 PM on May 24, 2012 [14 favorites]

The answer to your question is that you can't. You can control your own behavior, and make progress towards your common goals; she might follow you.

I would strongly encourage you to keep your finances separate and each pay into a common pool (if necessary) rather than being financially entangled with someone who does not act like an adult.
posted by janell at 4:57 PM on May 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

Being a leader is not being a bad guy.
That having been said sound like on chores at least agreed on division of labor will at least get things done.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:57 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is this likely to be a deal-breaker?

My partner and I suck at working together. We do great with completely separate and defined spheres of influence. I would never think of working out with him, for example. It's just not our thing. It works fine. Money--we don't save together beyond our emergency savings (which I'm in charge of, and keep track of). It works okay for us because we're both pretty independent people.

I get the idea, from your question, that you would not be okay with a relationship like mine, and that's totally fine! But it sounds like your girlfriend is more on the independent side of things. Or maybe she's just not mature enough for a live-in relationship. Like, instead of saying "no" she agrees to things and then undermines you.

Have you sat her down and been like "look, I'm not your mom, and when you try to make me into your mom, it makes me disappointed and upset--if you don't want to do something, you need to say so, because right now I feel like I'm being lied to when you agree to do something and then act like I'm forcing you into it"? That's probably what I'd do next in your position.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:57 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

This will not change until you decisively stop it by leaving the relationship. Do you really want to be involved with a person who won't be a responsible grown up and pull her own weight?
posted by Sublimity at 5:04 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you are having difficulty successfully communicating with a significant other about an issue which is very important to you, couple's counseling can be a good venue.

If nothing else, saying "we really need to get on the same page on this 'I don't want to be the bad guy here,' and I'm willing to go to therapy with you so we can figure out how to make that happen together" may inspire her to actually listen when you say you don't want to be the bad guy. It's entirely possible you've said it in a way that she hasn't successfully heard (which may or may not be your fault, but is a "must be fixed with behavioral changes from you because you're the one who knows it's a problem" kind of thing.)

This would drive me insane and would have been a complete deal-breaker the second or maybe third time it happened - my defining "successful relationship" moment always seems to be "can we do a complicated road trip without anyone acting like a baby or dictator, everyone having a good time, and all the pre-trip goals effectively accomplished?" I demand the ability to navigate and make decisions and stick to them with good humor, as a condition of my sanity and continued involvement in the relationship. So, you have my sympathy.
posted by SMPA at 5:05 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't mention age here. As small_ruminant suggests, her behavior sounds very childish, and ultimately nothing that's going to help her get on with her life. Mid-twenties and onward, I'd be doubtful she has much hope of changing without serious therapy. Younger than that, I'm with janell:

You can control your own behavior, and make progress towards your common goals; she might follow you.

Seriously, early through mid-twenties, I've seen a lot of people go through very positive changes as they grow up, learn from mistakes, achieve maturity. Past that, you're starting to deal with ingrained traits that are very hard to move past without serious assistance.

Good luck.
posted by philip-random at 5:05 PM on May 24, 2012

I'd be doubtful she has much hope of changing without serious therapy.

I was in my mid 30s, fwiw.

posted by small_ruminant at 5:08 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Does she seem to enjoy this kind of interaction or think it's funny or cute? Some people seem to have a relationship style that involves a lot of what I would call nagging; it's almost like giving and getting that kind of attention makes them feel more secure in some way. Just a thought.
posted by BibiRose at 5:11 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Does your partner lack discipline and follow-through in other areas of her life? If so, this is going to be a doozy.

I think that the place to start is having a calm conversation where you tell her that you feel like she's forcing you into a parental/enforcer role and that you don't want that role. Shared goals require discipline on the part of both parties. It sounds like she likes the exciting planning stages and then expects you to carry her to the finish line.

I'd be frustrated with this as well. It's easy to enthusiastic at the start of projects, but if she's not holding up even the most basic parts of her half, it's not going to work. Right now, she's a responsibility dodger. That's not a good sign.

In as loving a way as possible, she needs to hear and understand that this will become a deal-breaker. This will not sort itself out on its own. She could decide to grow and change. She could also decide that what she really wants a parental partner. It would be best if she made these decisions consciously instead of just letting life happen to her.
posted by quince at 5:12 PM on May 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

I almost see two separate issues here: (1) doing things together that aren't strictly necessary (even if, like exercise, they are good for you) and (2) doing things together that are, e.g., finances (even if you don't need to have to budget together, if you've decided to do this and she's not pulling her weight, that's a pretty big deal).

Obviously, communication is key. It sounds like you haven't really sat down communicated these issues to your SO, but if you have, then you aren't getting the response you want or need (or, really, any response at all). Can you live with things as they are now? What about if (1) doesn't change, but progress is made on (2)? (That is, are you willing to do your own thing more often—that's not inherently bad!—if she meets you half way?) Because if she isn't willing to work on these issues together with you on at least some level, I can guarantee you that you won't be able to change her all by yourself.

P.S. If she asks you again if you'd like to do some laundry, say "No, would you?" (Unless she's reciprocating by doing another chore for you of her own free will, which I'm guessing she doesn't, I find her expectation that you should keep her from wearing soiled garments utterly ridiculous. Laundry is one of the easiest chores around. I could handle this even in middle school. Jeez!)
posted by divisjm at 5:29 PM on May 24, 2012

I am curious as to why you're together because it sounds like you're the one making all the effort to be in the relationship and she's making all the effort to not be in a relationship?

If she's very young or you two have been together a long time, both of those things are things you can work through, if you both really want to, but if you're only a couple of years in, I would take this as a sign.
posted by mleigh at 5:30 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

she joked the very fact she was even doing this along with me showed what a great gal she was.
she says things like "do you want to do some laundry?" as if that would be the greatest thing for me to hear.
she bragged that she had emptied the dishwasher

I'm not sure what's up with the first and third comments, but they do represent some kind of pattern. Maybe she's insecure and wants to reinforce that she's really a good person, i.e. by doing the exercise program with you, and showing that she does actually do chores?

She agreed to do the couch to 5k program, then complained about it.
She agreed to a budget meeting, then didn't show up.
She push backed on doing laundry when you were doing laundry together. Now I'm assuming she doesn't do her laundry?

Maybe she just lacks follow-through. I would try to nip these in the bud as they happen: she complains about exercising, you say, "honey, you're complaining. Do you want to go jogging or not?" Budget meeting: "Why did you miss the meeting? It feels like this is not important to you. Can you schedule it for a time that works for you?" (And if she doesn't do that, ask again, is this not important to you? Can you do this please?)
Laundry: how did she push back on doing laundry together? Was she complaining that she hates it? Does she just have a different method of doing laundry from you? Were the times of day that you were doing it not working for her?

I see that your tendency is just to drop things when they're not working anymore - you don't exercise anymore, there's no rescheduled budget meeting, you stopped doing laundry together. I'd try to find out why the original agreement isn't working for her. Tell her how you feel (frustrated), why these things are important to you, and what you want to see happen, and come to another agreement on how the both of you can move things forward together. Just be upfront about how this is all affecting you - she probably doesn't realize her impact on you, and ask her how she wants to participate. Hopefully a conversation like this will make help her realize she needs to change.
posted by foxjacket at 5:35 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are you really sure that these are shared goals, and that she isn't just agreeing with you just to go along?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:35 PM on May 24, 2012 [14 favorites]

Have you repetitively pointed out in the moment what she's doing?

You: [Potentially upset about something.]
Her: Do you want to do some laundry?
You: I already did mine, but it sounds like you want to, so go ahead. While you're sorting, can we discuss [subject matter she's trying to avoid]?

Her: I just emptied the dishwasher!
You: Cool, thanks.
Her: I didn't want to "get in trouble," hee-hee!
You: Why would you say that? That makes me feel bad.

You: We should budget.
Her: Totally.
You: Want to sit down and talk about it Tuesday at 3pm?
Her: Sure.
Her: Sorry for missing that budget session, let me know when you want to reschedule.
You: Well, since you missed it, why don't you arrange the next one?

If she pushes back harder, I think it would be time for a come-to-Jesus talk about codependency and partnership. If you're having come-to-Jesus talks regularly, I think you have to decide if this is a dealbreaker for you.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:36 PM on May 24, 2012 [19 favorites]

Maybe she's looking for a dominant/submissive type of relationship, but doesn't know how to communicate that well? the "I didn't want to get in trouble!" part sounds like a game that she might be playing and might want you to go along with. If you're at all open to it, I'd ask her if she's interested in that sort of thing.
posted by 3491again at 5:41 PM on May 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you want a partner and she wants a supervisor. It doesn't sound like a communication problem to me, it sounds like wildly divergent expectations around what kind of relationship each of you is after. She wants to be looked after and you want an self-sufficient individual to share plans and goals and daily responsibilities with. This doesn't sound good at all.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:51 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't understand the laundry thing. What's wrong w/ you throwing her underwear in w/ yours?

You sound like you want to stop being a nag. So learn to relax about it all and save yourself the stress. Enjoy her company. You're making the relationship a job for her, and if you want to be a good partner, be nice, listen to her when she complains and say, "If you want to stay home and veg, I'll go by myself." And don't resent her for it. She seems to be trying to figure out how to please you, and you seem to hate her for not being you.
posted by discopolo at 7:00 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am an independent, confident, "bossy" woman - a natural leader. And I have behaved like your SO in a relationship in the past.

It has happened when I felt like my boyfriend was being condescending and controlling, often in a very subtle way - so subtle that I couldn't pinpoint when and how, and couldn't openly communicate about it. I felt like his control was exerted in such minor ways that to pick on any one of them would have seemed silly and quibble-y, and it was only the combined effect of all those little straws on the camel's back each day that drove me to act out.

And act out I did - whining, petulance, passive aggressive behavior (like not cooperating with "shared" plans), sarcasm. I pulled away from him physically. I bickered. It was me rebelling and straining against his condescension and control.

What was he doing that upset me?

Making suggestions that I felt like I couldn't argue with - instead of "I'm going to do couch to 5k. You can come if you want!", it was "Let's do couch to 5k. It will be so fun and we will get in shape." Then if I don't cooperate, I am being not-fun and not-healthy and not getting in shape.

Having strong preferences, always. Picking restaurants, movies, what we ordered.

Nagging me about being late, or taking a long time getting ready.

He made me feel like I always had to be peppy, agreeable, energetic, enthusiastic, optimistic. I felt like he wanted an ideal activity partner who perfectly matched his desires and moods and plans - rather than wanting me. I never had room to be peppy, enthusiastic and energetic about my interests, the things I cared about - my time and energy was too filled with our shared plans, activities, outings. I needed it to be totally okay if I thought his ideas and goals were boring and not-my-thing at all.

I'm not saying that I'm not down for shared activities - but maybe think about how those shared plans and goals are generated. Are they really mutual? Or are they what you hope and want to do, and are you roping her in just because you need a partner? Can you get that need for a partner fulfilled elsewhere? Make sure you aren't expecting her to be your enthusiastic sidekick for the things that you want to (at least not all the time - of course we all make sacrifices in relationships, and sometimes we all act as enthusiastic sidekicks).
posted by amaire at 7:05 PM on May 24, 2012 [33 favorites]

I've been your girlfriend. Hell, sometimes I still am, although it's improved significantly.

Sadly, there wasn't much my partner did to help besides continue being around. My reaction was a juvenile one -- definitely the "child's solutions are the adult's problems" kind of thing. For a long time, I treated my partner as though he was my parent and I was a recalcitrant teenager. I felt like he was telling me what to do -- never mind that he almost never did.

Ultimately, some therapy and a lot of work I did are what made the change. I'm still apt to fall into that pattern -- the Couch to 5K thing you mentioned is something I've definitely done and am currently resisting doing AGAIN. It's a responsibility/guilt issue for me. I feel bad that I'm not doing this thing that I KNOW will make my life better, so I try to make myself feel better by pushing the responsibility for doing it onto someone else's plate. This only works if the other person accepts responsibility for it.

I expect the only things you can do are to a) not accept responsibility for things that ought to be her responsibility, and b) remind her that you aren't her parent and she's not in trouble for things like not emptying the dishwasher. She may sound like she's joking, but when I exhibit that behavior, it's because I'm afraid my partner is secretly angry at me, and if I joke about it, it gives him an opportunity to say, "Actually, I am mad at you," or "Wow, why would I be mad at you for that?"

On preview, some of what amaire said as well. I strongly resist (in a juvenile way) *what I view as* attempts to control me. Rather than saying, "No, thanks," I say, "Yes," and then don't do it. (Again, never mind that sometimes I am perfectly aware my behavior otherwise is unhealthy for me: the classic for us is when my partner says, "Are you happy spending this much time online?" when I've been surfing the internet miserably for the last three hours. Even though I know he's right, I feel like I have to chafe against what I perceive as an attempt to control my actions [even though he's just trying to help], so I'll spend another three hours miserably surfing the internet "to get back at him" or something? It doesn't even make sense to me.)
posted by linettasky at 7:16 PM on May 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Reverse genders and you'll be me, at one stage of my LTR. Although in his defence, depending on the activity sometimes I would be the child.

I used to find myself nagging and hating it so once I hit my threshold of pain, I came to the realisation that all I could do was modify my own behaviour and hope that he came to his own realisation, which he did when he hit 30, bless him, of his own accord. But I had to set boundaries, eg I separated finances and refused to cover him after a while.

In situations when I was the child, eg I wanted him to motivate me with regards to exercising, he eventually went, well, I'm going running, come if you like, but see you! Eventually I worked out my own pattern and when we could go together, we would.

Sometimes you get stuck in dynamics where one person becomes the child in the relationship and, as the sometimes child, sometimes adult, it can be hard to break from the habit. Either you're lazy or you're exasperated.

When SO and I eventually broke up, I realised the many ways in which I let him/wanted him to/subtly forced him to "take care of me" and without him I learned how to work that shit out for myself, and am much better for it. And vice versa. Now we're both smashing it as individuals.

Which isn't to say you guys should break up. A lot of the issues in my old relationship were sorted out while we were still together and we broke up for other reasons. It just takes one person to say "this isn't working" and the other to say "I hear you" - it might take a while for her to hear you and if she doesn't then you can cross that bridge when you get to it.

On a practical point, I'd just do the Couch to 5k on my own and invite her to come along, feel good that you're doing something to better yourself and don't feel guilty if she slacks off and complains you're not taking her with you. Rinse, repeat for other situations.

One question - say you guys want to do a joint activity. She expects you to lead, you set something up, she doesn't follow through and THEN YOU DON'T FOLLOW THROUGH EITHER - are you annoyed because she's being the child and YOU want to be the child? Sub-question: are you annoyed at her for this as well as yourself (relevant only if you also have issues following through on stuff).

Good luck! Don't break up yet, boy that's a drastic bit of advice!
posted by scuza at 7:20 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Sounds like she has a great arrangement - you are in charge of telling her what to do and when you don't tell her, she gets to blame you for her not doing what she's supposed to do. I would walk away from the joint endeavor of fitness since it sounds like she's not interested.

As for the money issue, it seems like scheduling a meeting is a tad formal with a significant other. Since this is an important topic, I would ask her point blank how she wants to handle it and go from there. (Further aside: hubby and I started a system upon our marriage whereby we each get a certain amount of money out of the budge each month called Discretionary to purchase whatever we want. It has been a real marriage saver because he no longer pouts when I bring home new shoes which means I don't lose the joy of the purchase. Hubby is also much more interested in spreadsheets and the like, so he has assumed the mantle of financial guru and keeps me informed).

Overall, you need to step back and be an equal, not an enforcer.
posted by Leezie at 7:32 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a few things going on here. I don't think this is an insurmountable problem and clearly you're not the only one who has experienced this. Primarily, this is a communication issue. Have you communicated how these things make you feel? Have you felt heard? Has she responded with an acceptance of your hurt and thought about why she responds the way she does? If you haven't even expressed yourself then you have to start there. If you have and she has not heard you, you need to also make that clear.

Have you heard about the classic "I feel" statements? When you do X, I feel Y. When you miss our budget discussion, I feel like you don't respect me. When you aren't enthusiastic about exercising together, it makes me feel bummed out and like I'm inflicting some torture on you. When you say that you thought you were "in trouble" about loading the dishwasher, it makes me feel like some kind of mean parent and not your equal partner. Just be careful and don't say: "You always do X!" Nobody *always* does anything and it makes them feel defensive.

Then you have to listen to her statements. It can be pretty difficult, especially if you are already in a communication rut. Which is the second thing, you're in a rut. You can get out of it but you have to recognize it for what it is and both work to get out of it. You might have to do some weird exercises to shake things up. Let her take the lead on everything for a week. If she doesn't suggest exercise, you don't do it. Or you just make prep and go alone. You could offer when she sees you lacing up your sneaks but if she gives you pouty crap just say, "Hey, I want to feel good about this and I don't want you to go if you're not into it. Why don't you stay home and maybe we can do it together tomorrow night." Rinse, repeat. If it's her turn to unload dishes, let her. Even if it takes 3 days. It's worth thinking about. All the while, think about what signals you send off when you're playing out your typical rut. You need insight into your behavior too. Rarely is there a completely innocent party in a relationship rut.

After you've worked through these preliminaries, maybe counseling. This communication rut could be a personality thing or it could even be a health thing (is she overly tired? are there any concerns that maybe she's just completely deflated due to some undiagnosed condition?) but most likely you are both playing out patterns of behavior that you learned growing up. How do your parents communicate with each other? How do hers? There are usually insights there.

I think my husband and I trade off similar roles about different things. And there have been times where he has said, "I don't mind if you nag me," but that's the last thing I want to do. Ugh. No one wants to be a nag. It's a shitty role to be in. Best of luck to you. Unfortunately, I think you need to do the heavy lifting at the start to get this out into the open. It's worth it, though.
posted by amanda at 8:00 PM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: She's really not setting you up to be her Mom. She just doesn't care about these things. In her mind, she's not secretly hoping you do this for her. She thinks you should do it since you're the one who cares. You need to get out of this feeling of being taken advantage of, because even if she cannot express it, the attitude you're expressing is making her less willing to partake.

You need to own up that you're actually asking her to do you a favor. I know you think these are all things any adult should already be doing; but again, she doesn't care. You have different values; anything you ask of her in this regard, she will be doing for you, even if you think it's what she's supposed to be doing.

If you don't feel you can work with this, than you are not compatible.
posted by spaltavian at 8:11 PM on May 24, 2012 [15 favorites]

The old me would have thrown things and screamed hurtful things. The new me is asking for help. For whatever reason, I've gotten myself into a dynamic with my SO such that any unpleasant or non-fun activity is my project to move forward.

This passage doesn't mesh with the rest of the post. How old is the "old you?" Is it a "past relationship" you or an "earlier in this relationship" you? This will make a difference.

If you have ever thrown things around your current partner, or screamed hurtful things at her, then she probably thinks about that a lot. She might not know, or believe, that you are the "new" you now. She might be walking on eggshells to make sure that the "old you" doesn't pop his head out, yet also might be avoiding situations where the "old you" might make an appearance. Like talking about money, or chores.

You say that "for whatever reason" you are in the dynamic you describe. I think you need to think clearly about what that reason might be. I don't have an idea or guess (how could I), I'm just thinking it would help you if you could articulate this for yourself.
posted by newg at 8:57 PM on May 24, 2012 [21 favorites]

newg makes a good points.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:05 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Carolyn Hax, the advice columnist for the Washington Post, often takes questions like yours, and I think her advice is really good so I will repeat some of it here.

First, try having a conversation with your SO about the situation. Tell her you feel like you end up doing most of the work, and you don’t want things to be like that anymore. Create a list together of everything that needs to get done in your household. (Like unloading the dishwasher, making dinner, ect.) Figure out who is currently doing what. Keep an open mind while doing this because you may discover she is pulling her weight more than you think. Then, if there is an unbalance, correct it by reassigning chores.

Second, if she continues to not hold up her end of the bargain, stop doing things for her. Stop doing her laundry. Stop making her food. If she is not going to contribute to the household, then you must let her see the consequences of her actions. (Obviously, you shouldn’t stop doing these things for yourself, but just stop for her.) See what happens when you do that.

Third, if that doesn’t work, couples counseling.

Finally, I just wanted to mention the whole couch to 5 K thing. I know you guys agreed to do it together, but you have to accept that its up to her to do it. You are not in charge of her; you do not control her.

I do have to wonder if you have high or unfounded expectations of her. Her comment of trying not get in trouble with you suggests to me that you see this idealized version of herself, not the reality. Ask yourself, based on the way that she acts now, do you really want to be with her?
posted by emilynoa at 4:58 AM on May 25, 2012

exercise: We both would like to exercise more, and we both decided we would like to do so together. ... I stopped bringing it up, and it stopped happening.

In this case, why did you choose to use her grumbling as an excuse yourself to stop exercising? There were other options (eg to just go on your own or to talk about how to make exercise more fun for both of you); it sounds like you are getting something out of this dynamic and I don't think anything is going to change unless you can be more self-aware about what is happening in the moment.

budget: We're trying to save money for things like large purchases and vacations. We both agree we need a budget. Again, the entire baby is in my lap. Other than agreeing that it needs to be done, she won't raise a finger. I suggested scheduling a meeting. She agreed. The time came and went. She apologized for missing the meeting, and told me to schedule another one and let her know when it is.

Again, this sounds like you are locking yourself into one and only one path. Sure, scheduling a meeting can sometimes work (but can also feel like a dreaded chore). But if your actual goal is to have a better budgeting system in place, there are in fact a whole bunch of other options, from separating your finances to just mentioning at breakfast that you've done some research and put together a couple of sample budgets for her review to making a big wall chart for charting your progress towards the savings goals.

And sometimes in a relationship there are things that become one person's job because they are better at it or the other person hates it more. Sometimes things are great split 50/50, but sometimes that is not the best approach. So if you are suggesting different budget options, indeed one is for her to make you the boss of the money and allow you to impose a financial regime; presumably there is or will be some area in which she takes more of a role.

The tl;dr of this is that it sounds like you are making the relationship a chore, and in the process eliciting passive resistance from her with the added bonus that you are then off the hook for follow-through on your supposedly mutual goals. Is your goal here to get her compliance with your relationship program, or to have good outcomes? Right now, you aren't getting either; I'd suggest that you both will be happiest by focusing on good outcomes rather than compliance.
posted by Forktine at 6:17 AM on May 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Begin by being responsible for you. You already do your laundry, which is good. Now go do that exercise program yourself. Find other things to do. Invite her to go if she is interested, but assume she won't.

One of two things will happen: either she will notice that you are focusing on yourself and demand you start focusing on her -- which gives you ample opening to explain why you are focusing on yourself -- or she will notice and start focusing on herself as well (doing her own laundry, joining an exercise program she likes, and so on.)

The point, here, is that you can't make her do what you feel she should, so if you focus on doing what you feel you should do for you, then you'll either inspire her to the same, or you'll open up a dialogue...and if it is successful, then yay, and if it is not, then you'll already be a more independent person capable of exiting the relationship with less drama.

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 12:52 PM on May 25, 2012

I have similar issues, but no solution. If I say "We're almost out of money, so be frugal getting groceries..." then I'm a controlling jerk who tells her what to do. If I don't say anything, we overdraft.

posted by tacodave at 3:53 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah. Hm. A lot of these answers resonate with my first relationship, when things started breaking down on my end (not in love) so I started to become the ceaselessly optimistic task-master who wanted to learn Russian together, or exercise together, or schedule "meetings" to discuss various things. The reality was that at the time, things just weren't working-- I didn't want to be in a relationship with him, as a person. We weren't compatible, and I was trying to shape the relationship in my own image. I don't know how common this is, but I wanted to have an adult relationship... but there was no organic partnership, so instead I started coming up with a bunch of rules, things I saw other people doing, but didn't realize they did out of mutual and genuine respect. I think you should honestly consider whether you still have feelings for your SO, and whether you're subtly trying to control her to make yourself happier.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:51 PM on May 26, 2012

Mid-twenties and onward, I'd be doubtful she has much hope of changing without serious therapy.

I was mid-thirties when I changed, without therapy. You know what changed me? A new partner.

My ex would be so pissed now if she knew what a clean house I keep. I'm also better with money, do most of the laundry, all of the cooking, most of the dishes, the vacuuming. And I love doing it.

I'm not proud of who I was in that relationship. But I'm very thankful and happy to be in the relationship I'm in now.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:47 PM on May 27, 2012

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