I want to do a thing. My partner would prefer that I didn't. What next?
September 13, 2019 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How have you & your lifelong partner handled a situation where you really really want to Do a Thing, and your partner really really wants you not to do that thing?

There are some financial implications, although (IMO) they're manageable. There are also implications that are adjacent to our ethical values, although (IMO) no-one will really be compromised.

The world will continue to turn if I don't do this thing - my life will go on as normal either way, pretty much. But, I really really want to do it. It's a binary choice, without a realistic half-way option.

So: if you didn't do your thing, how disappointed were you & how did you handle that?
If you did your thing, how did your partner get past their disapproval?
Did it have any lasting impact on your relationship?
How was your choice informed by the way that you typically make decisions as a couple?
posted by rd45 to Human Relations (58 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
It's hard answering this without knowing what The Thing is. Why does your partner get a say in this? On what grounds can he supposedly say no?
posted by Amy93 at 9:59 AM on September 13, 2019 [37 favorites]

I did my thing. It was a reasonable thing for a competent adult human to want to do. My partner's preference that I not do it did not outweigh my basic right to do it. In fact, not doing it simply because my partner didn't want me to would have compromised my autonomous nature as a separate individual. There was a halfway option, but it was kind of whacky and much more expensive. My thing was a financially reasonable choice, and the ethical implications that existed were the sort that my partner would disregard if they wished to do such a thing. In any case, my partner's actual objection was entirely personal, not actually based on finances or ethics; although those could have been rallied as points of argument, it would have been unfair of them to do so. My partner acknowledged that their desire for me to not do the thing was preference and some irrational fears, which they discussed privately with their therapist. It was a good thing for our relationship that we were able to talk through all of this and come to a mutual conclusion. I didn't do my thing secretly or under a cloud of resentment. They felt that their objections had been heard and fairly considered. It was good that they had outside emotional support from somebody who wasn't me, so I wasn't doing all the processing work with/for them. This is all very much how we tend to make decisions, though we usually arrive at a conclusion we're both happy with, rather than "you are unhappy but that is yours to deal with; I will be kind but not remove the source of your unhappiness."
posted by teremala at 10:01 AM on September 13, 2019 [12 favorites]

If my partner did something that went against what I believed were mutually shared ethical standards, even if nobody was “harmed” by their actions, I would feel an erosion of all our mutuality. Whatever arguments you have for why Thing isn’t so bad are clearly not compelling to them at this time, which could be a preexisting lack of trust, could be a problem of misunderstanding your arguments, could be a deeply held moral value that isn’t in alignment...and it can be nearly impossible to pick apart, to the point where someone (Partner) will get hurt if Thing happens.
I’m an Ethics scholar so I have a tendency to both analyze and argue for my actions in ways that can leave people behind as well as spend more time deeply evaluating whether my actions are coming from actual values or are merely desires which are not authentically including my ethical standards. I will say that if there’s a mismatch because you don’t think Thing has moral content but partner does think so, you’re unlikely to argue them out of their position.
If this is just something minor, like whether you should wear black with brown or something, it might not wiggle into their conscience. But minor things often are a reflection of bigger things, and I doubt you’d burn a question while hiding what Thing is for something so small. Anything having to do with how one lives their life, like food or sexual practices, or how one comparts themselves in society, like the use of resources which perpetuate injustices on others, are often signals of deeply held claims about What Matters ethically...and a lack of alignment on those axes have longer lasting effects.
posted by zinful at 10:01 AM on September 13, 2019 [25 favorites]

Yeah, the Thing is pretty important. It could be "going to an all-you-can-eat buffet" or "buying a mustard-colored shirt", in which case, it's reasonable that your partner would object, but it's not really anything that would negatively impact them. On the other hand, it could be "going through a gender transition" or "quitting your job and living in a van", which is a LOT more complicated. And there's quite a bit in between, like "getting a tattoo". Without knowing where on the spectrum it falls, it's hard to say.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:03 AM on September 13, 2019 [49 favorites]

Think about it the same way you should think about any relationship-impacting decision: You get to set your own boundaries, including doing The Thing your partner doesn't want you to do. Your partner also gets to set their own boundaries, including deciding they don't want to be with you if you do The Thing. So is The Thing worth that potential extreme but not impossible outcome?

To take a less extreme approach, do you want to do The Thing enough to risk the potential resentment from your partner that might follow? If you do The Thing, will it change their opinion of you, either because of The Thing itself, or because you did it and they didn't want you to?

These aren't meant to be leading questions, but things you should think about seriously. Your answers will change depending on the nature of The Thing.

I got a tattoo against my longterm partner's wishes, because it's my body and if they were willing to leave me over making a decision for my own body, that was a consequence I was willing to accept. It was ultimately fine. I have reluctantly declined other types of Things I wanted to do (including trying certain kinds of substances) that were either physically risky or expensive or ethically questionable, because they weren't important enough to me to risk losing my partner or damaging the relationship over. I know others who would feel the same way about substances as I did about my tattoo.
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:09 AM on September 13, 2019 [14 favorites]

I think the factor you're leaving out here is how high the stakes are. Literally, as in: is it dangerous, is it a threat to future employability (yours OR theirs, if there are ethical gray areas here) or similar security? Also, what will your partner do if you do it? Will they leave you? Will they lose respect for you (which could eventually result in them leaving)? Will it make their life harder in such a way that the relationship is eventually forfeit?

Those are the vectors in which your partner has a say, or at least is going to have strong enough feelings that their boundaries will likely come in to play.

That still maybe doesn't mean you don't do it, it just means you can't make them like it, and you can't force it to not be an issue if it's an issue. You don't get to control them, you only get to control you and do your own risk assessment and decide if the consequences (as far as you can predict them) are acceptable.

There's plenty of people who do this math and do the Thing, having realized the other person's disapproval was a form of abuse or control, either on a highly intentional level or a sort of shitty background noise designed to prioritize their comfort over yours. You should figure out for yourself whether this is that. Sometimes people need to blow up their lives to get to the life they really want.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:14 AM on September 13, 2019 [21 favorites]

I don't think very well in the abstract, so without knowing what your thing is, it's hard for me to say. In my house, we almost never say "no, you can't do that." In fact I can't think of a time that I've ever done so. So I wouldn't say we really do make choices as a couple - if there's something one of us wants to do, we usually do it. Sometimes I say "I wish you wouldn't" but that's usually a scheduling thing - like my husband wants to go to a football game on Christmas.

I try not to ask people for permission/their opinion when it's not going to affect my decision. And once I've made a decision, that's pretty much it for me, especially if I could afford it and it was in line with who I am as a person. Is The Thing in line with who you are as a person? If not, that might be freaking your partner out.

Like if all of a sudden I wanted to buy a fur coat, I could see my husband saying you can forget it, and we would have to go from there. I could buy the coat but he could refuse to be anywhere near me when I had it on. Then I guess I would have to decide which was more important. Did your partner give you any end result if you do The Thing?
posted by lyssabee at 10:17 AM on September 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

I realize I didn’t really answer the question. So, briefly: it’s generally been the case that when partners have done a Thing that went against what I thought was Good, based on a difference in perspective of What Things Are Good To Do, it’s been a source of mistrust in that I didn't know how to universalize from their actions—is getting that tattoo of a lizard riding a rocket ship on their face indicative of values of beauty that will affect our shared life together? Is talking me into non monogamy actually respecting my desires for what a relationship looks like at this time? Is giving that company money just a convenience rather than a reflection of values, and does that mean their comfort always comes first? Those questions led me to hyper evaluate everything until the relationships ended, not from lingering resentment generally but as a progression from that friction.
I’ve been also convinced of other moral quandaries—a long term partner would not have sex when either of us were intoxicated, because the consent stuff was just too blurry for them. I didn’t exactly agree, but their position was sound and I changed my life in minor ways to accommodate their very reasonable different moral stance without resentment. So, really, it just depends.
These are all real examples.
posted by zinful at 10:23 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'd guess that the most important considerations are not about The Thing. They're found in expectations and needs concerning hidden issues in your relationship, usually about something fundamental like control, respect, or security, or integrity.

I would advise not to do The Thing until you have had a chance to explore each of your expectations and needs that run underneath your disagreement. Use a counselor if you need help working through it. There is a very helpful Events, Issues, and Hidden Events model in one of the relationship classes we teach called PREP. Essentially the decision to do or not do The Thing is the "Event" and it's connected like the tip of an iceberg to some underlying issues. If it weren't, you wouldn't be posting about it here. If you want, you can read the book.

Making the decision to do The Thing may very well be within your autonomous rights, but you might want to know what the deeper effects of such a decision means for your partner and your relationship. What's connected to that "tip of the iceberg" you're about to break off?
posted by cross_impact at 10:23 AM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

although (IMO) they're manageable.

This parenthetical imo makes it seem like maybe your partner disagrees with this assertion. In which case if you have shared finances, part of working this out would be, somehow, working out some sort of way to protect your partner if the financial aspect didn't work out like you expected.

Because, hey, sometimes partners disgree and sometimes strenuously. I think part of working it out is figuring out what the disagreement is based on. I had a recent serious disagreement about a course of action my partner wanted to take and it became sort of a thing. (note: we do not live together or share finances) and there were a few things we teased apart...

- while some of my "Don't do that" was based on anxiety, some of it was also based in reality. I had my partner talk to some other people without me present to get feedback on his idea that wasn't from me, to see that some parts of the idea were not likely going to work out as well as he thought.
- I felt like I was getting a "This thing I want to do is a dealbreaker" vibe from my partner (over something that I did not feel should be that way) and so we talked about that. I felt like he was threatening me with his strong desire for doing the thing and we talked out that specific aspect
- ultimately, I wasn't so concerned about most aspects of the thing, but one specific one, so he was able to do the thing, say, at 75% and it turned out that was satisfying for him and reasonable for me. I get that this is a binary option for you, but I'd double check that assumption

Ultimately, there are huge differences in advice based on the thing

- permanent vs temporary (tattoo vs. haircut)
- ongoing vs one time (skydive vs get a motorcycle)
- together vs apart (learn to square dance vs go on guy/girl trip solo)
posted by jessamyn at 10:32 AM on September 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

Hit post too soon, some of this matters in terms of whether this is a relationship-bending thing (i.e. you want to visit an old flame and stay with them) or whether it's a just-you thing (motorcycle or whatever). I'd tread a LOT more carefully about relationship benders than just-you things.
posted by jessamyn at 10:33 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Does The Thing involve commitment of shared resources - family money, property, big commitment of time, or something similar that you and your partner share? Examples might be quitting a job, buying a house, choosing a school for your kids, charitable donations. If so, you use the rule of Two Yes One No: you both have to agree, if one of you disagrees then it doesn't happen.

Is it something that is basically individual? Or something in between?
posted by medusa at 10:36 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Lot of answers already that I haven't read, to keep my own gut opinion uninfluenced. My instinct is to compare the consequences if each option is taken. If you Do The Thing, what consequences will your partner have (emotional, logistical) as a result of you going contrary to their wishes? If you Don't Do The Thing, what consequences will you have (emotional, logistical) as a result of you acceding to their request? Since there is no gray area, which of the two is worst for you as a couple, and/or worst for each of you individually?
posted by WCityMike at 10:39 AM on September 13, 2019

The recent film Free Solo is all about this. The Thing is free-soloing El Capitan. There were no ethical implications, but there were life-or-death implications. He did the thing. It was very interesting to see how the negotiations played out.
posted by artisthatithaca at 10:41 AM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Depending on how to read your definition and interpret your "really really", we've maybe had a dozen Do a Thing moments that we've disagreed on in 20 years of being together. Or maybe we have had none. Some examples that come to mind:

* Becoming a volunteer firefighter (didn't do it)
* Training for and riding a long bike trip (did it)
* Relocating for a far off work assignment (didn't do it)
* Deciding to put down a dog after biting incidents/subsequent training (did it)
* Deciding if/when we should get a dog after that (did it x2)
* Giving financial support (and deciding not to give support) to friends or family (did it and didn't do it)
* A whole bunch of decisions (job-hunting, career changes, how we spent our time, how we spent our money, how we supported each other) during a time of unemployment
* Buying a car that we didn't need that was at the outer limits of our budget just because one person really wanted it (did it)
* Skydiving (did it)
* Deciding to join a church (and then deciding to leave it) (did it and then un-did it)
* Making decisions about foster children (became foster parents, said yes to some placements and no to others)
* Moving to the suburbs vs staying in the City (did it)
* Shifting to a vegetarian diet (didn't do it)

Sometimes the really really didn't want to was because the non-doer felt like it was the kind of thing that should be our unanimous decision and not an individual one (we can't just move out of the city/country, or change jobs/tax brackets, or offer financial help out of our joint financial accounts without both of us saying yes, no matter what)

Sometimes the really really didn't want to was because of concern about safety or time away (you might crash your bike on that busy road and you are going to use a week of vacation for yourself that I was hoping we'd be able to enjoy together later).

Sometimes the really really didn't want to was because it would be emotionally difficult for the non-doer (I love that dog and think we haven't done everything possible for him)

Sometimes the really really didn't want to was because of concern about increased burden on the non-doer (if you are going to volunteer 20 hours a week teaching adult literacy that's great for you but now I have to parent all by myself for several nights a week // if you want to be a vegetarian I support you but I am the one who cooks most nights and I don't want to make several meals.)

Sometimes the really really didn't want to was because it felt like an unfair allocation of time/resources (why do you get to take pilot lessons but I can't do XXXX that I want?)

Sometimes the really really didn't want to was because the non-doer just thought it was a stupid or selfish idea (our car works 100% fine right now so why should we get a new one just for fun).

Understanding the "why" part and listening openly can be helpful in either getting past the objection or in agreeing that you should not Do The Thing. In each case, we committed to talking honestly and in good faith, and we had a joint goal of supporting each other's happiness/fulfillment. Sometimes you won't get to mutuality in decisions, and sometimes the happiness/fulfillment is directly in opposition of Doing vs. Not Doing the Thing, and you have to just weigh the cost and benefit and hope you get it right.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:44 AM on September 13, 2019 [39 favorites]

i mean it REALLY depends what the thing is.

getting a tattoo. would it be an objectionable tattoo? would it cost a lot of money that would come out of shared finances? are tattoos against your partner's religion? would your partner comment negatively on it every time they saw it, making you feel shitty about it?

quitting your job without another one lined up or some other source of money. if you and your partner live together and share finances or resources, they REALLY need to be a part of the discussion and you need to take their concerns into account. when my ex partner needed to quit her job because it was crushing her soul (and had fleas!) i had no qualms even though it was a big financial hit. if she had just be kind meh about it and wanted to quit, that would have been a different story.

taking an awesome trip by yourself/go to an event or something. if it won't be a big hit to the shared resources, then your partner should just accept your desire to go on a trip, unless it's to a super dangerous part of the world where there would be real concern for your safety.

in situations like this, communication is always key. discuss the concerns, discuss your reasons for wanting to do X, discuss any foreseen repercussions. if you or partner can't come up with valid reasons for or against, then that's the decision. the problem is that one of you could resent the other based on the outcome, but hopefully not, or it would be another thing you could work through together.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:52 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's really hard to answer without specifics (are we talking climbing Everest? investing in Bitcoin? joining Sea Shepherd?)

But in general my husband and I are a team, and we approach decisions as a team. I don't get a unilateral veto but my concerns have to be addressed (and vice versa). We've never had a situation where they were completely not addressable. I'm imagining if he decided he wanted to climb Mount Everest. I'd be scared for his safety, scared financially, worried about the time investment, and concerned about the ethics. Safety-wise he'd have to do a lot of training and research into a safety-first guide company. Financially he would need a plan to pay for this without affecting our joint goals. Time-wise maybe I'd be OK with taking over the lions share of household stuff in exchange for something I want. Ethics is probably the hardest to address and there may be nothing he can do to satisfy me about ethics. It may come down to each of us deciding if it's worth risking our marriage by putting our foot down. There may not be an answer that satisfies both of us here.
posted by muddgirl at 10:58 AM on September 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

I wanted to do a Thing.

My lifelong partner did not want me to do that Thing.

I had to choose between the Thing and my lifelong partner.

I chose my lifelong partner.

We are still together. Sometimes I get wistful thoughts, wishing I had done that Thing and wondering how my life would be different if I had. But I'm glad I made the choice that I did. The Thing was really just a thing, and my lifelong partner was and is my Lifelong Partner.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 10:58 AM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

The most essential first consideration here, if it's possible, is open and honest communication between the two of you, carried out in good faith that you're both presenting a complete picture about your feelings.

If you did your thing, how did your partner get past their disapproval?
-We tried to meet in the middle with a set of ground rules. It seemed to be working, but, in reality, it wasn't. I didn't have all the facts. The playing field was not even.

Did it have any lasting impact on your relationship?
-Yes. It ended up being summarized as "irreconcilable differences" on the divorce paperwork. Finding out that I'd compromised without the full facts was the point at which I came to this conclusion, taken from a previous commenter: If my partner did something that went against what I believed were mutually shared ethical standards, even if nobody was “harmed” by their actions, I would feel an erosion of all our mutuality.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:00 AM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

Something that might help you compare your Thing versus the responses you get would be to break this Thing down along a bunch of different dimensions and see which ones matter. Some questions to guide you...
  • Is your Thing temporary or long-lasting? e.g., a bucket list item, a life-long commitment, or someThing inbetween?
  • Is your Thing reversable?
  • Can you do the thing later? Is it a time- or otherwise limited opportunity?
  • Does your Thing impact your partner's identity? How they will see you? How they will see themself? How others will see them?
  • Does your Thing have other impacts? Is it time-consuming? Does it limit your options, finances, or something else? Does it have consequences?
  • Does your Thing lead to other Things? Could it open possibilities? Start a new Thing?
  • Is your Thing visible? Is it public or private? Does it result in someThing?
  • Do you require anything of your partner to do the Thing? Can they stop you from doing it?
  • Is your partner's disapproval of the thing something that you or they will be confronted with the one time, or repeatedly?
  • How do you feel about your partner's reasons for not wanting you to do the Thing? Do these reasons matter to you? Do they have weight? Equally weighted or skewed to one or more reasons?
  • Does your partner's reasons for not wanting you to do Thing spark new answers to any of the questions above? How would they answer these questions? Does it matter?
There's many more, but that covers a bunch of aspects to consider. Good luck to you!
posted by iamkimiam at 11:05 AM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

In my marriage the rule is that if it doesn't endanger your partner or cause them significant material hardship, everything is fair game as long as it's not secret. Perhaps if it's horribly unethical, that would be different. But, having a partner who desperately wants to do unethical things is a bigger mistake. Assuming you're talking about something harmless, like fucking the mailman (with appropriate protection), taking LSD, or throwing pies at the govorner, I'd tell your partner to grow the fuck up and stop trying to control other people. Being in a relationship with adults you respect means accepting they make decisions you wouldn't make.
posted by eotvos at 11:09 AM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

For situations where the financial implications are really small, we each have budget alotments for allowance. The other person doesn't have a veto on what users one's allowance for.

For situations where the financial implications are larger than what can be covered in allowance, one needs to get agreement. Recently, my spouse realized that if she stopped considering getting a new DreamCar, and instead got a user DreamCar, it would be about the same price as new HoHumCar that we'd be getting. Said DreamCar isn't eco friendly which we generally are, but it was DreamCar. And it is now a 5 year old car in the equation vs. a shiny new car with 3-5 year warranty and no "used" issues that might bite us.

I have no dream car; cars are just cars. But I realize my spouse sees things differently. In theory we could have done yankeefog's delegate system, but I'm pretty sure it would have gone:

Me: I'll send 20 delegates to say we shouldn't get DreamCar.
Spouse: I'll send 100 delegates to say we should get DreamCar. No, I'll kidnap the families of 50 of your delegates, and ransom them to vote for DreamCar, so I'll actually send 150 delegates.

So when I could obviously see how things would go, I didn't even bother to prepare the 20 delegates.

I.E. you and you spouse need to find out whether you want to do this more than spouse wants you to not do this. And if the amounts are close, then you both need to work together to try to see it from the other person's view, and see how that shifts how much you want vs. how much they don't want.

And I secretly feel that the person who wants to do something should have a slight advantage, as ultimately the other person is offering advice, or solely arguing about the cost to shared resources (or potentially safety), which in theory you should already be considering.

This is even more so for career/life chaging tasks, instead of experience/purchase. I.e. I had no reservations in supporting my wife going back to college for a career change that would result in more happiness for her, but less money. Plus costs for schooling and short term me having to handle additional family commitments to allow her study/paper writing time. And she had no reservations when I attempted to make a similar chnage of mine, that unfortnately despite spending some $800-1000 in tests and a suit for interview resulted in no change. But it was both a thing that we needed to shoot for, and the other supported their resonable shot.
posted by nobeagle at 11:21 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

And not to abuse the edit window, but my spouse still about once a week will remark about how happy they are driving DreamCar, and it still seems like a dream despite being real.
posted by nobeagle at 11:23 AM on September 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

Assuming you're talking about something harmless, like [...] throwing pies at the govorner

This kind of brings to light an important issue, which is how you vs your partner think about the effects of things. Someone may see something like throwing a pie at an official as fine because it doesn't harm someone permanently or it isn't an inherently unethical thing to do.

To my mind, something like this would actually be a HUGE problem -- it could cause your partner substantial material hardship, if you get arrested and deal with the legal system, and lose wages/time/employability once you have assault charges on their record. And in my marriage, it would not be OK for either of us to jeopardize the household to that extent for anything short of absolute necessity.

I think you really need to get into your partner's perspective on Thing, and consider whether what you're thinking of as "adjacent to ethical values" are truly only adjacent, and whether you're including your relationship and your partner when you say "nothing will really be compromised."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:42 AM on September 13, 2019 [19 favorites]

employability once you have assault charges on their record.

*assault charges on YOUR record, sorry.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:43 AM on September 13, 2019

There was a job I really wanted that would’ve required relocating. Mr. e was not willing, at the pay level on offer, so I took my name out of the running. I wound up really unhappy with the local job I took instead, so I thought about it as a background process basically all the time until I got a better job a couple years later. (Incidentally we just drove through DreamJob town this summer, and he commented on how cute it was, and I still had to work to suppress a smug “HMMM.”)
posted by eirias at 11:46 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is far too vague. Are talking about going skydiving this weekend or quitting your job to get your masters?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:51 AM on September 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

I had a Thing I wanted to do. It only happened once per year. It would have been logical to do this Thing together and share it. Partner did not want to do this Thing. Repeat year two. Year three I made clear I was going to do the Thing.
Partner's reticence was based on fear and projection. Partner decided they'd rather do the Thing than stay behind. End result: partner and I did the Thing over and over again and made many lasting memories from doing the Thing.
posted by diode at 11:53 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are some financial implications, although (IMO) they're manageable. There are also implications that are adjacent to our ethical values, although (IMO) no-one will really be compromised.

I am a little concerned about this language (and have put all the parts of the quote that concern me in bold). Is your partner's opposition based on feeling the implications are not actually manageable, or that it's skating a bit too close to the ethical wind, or that people really might be compromised? If this is the case, I would say that if you can't win your partner over, you shouldn't do it. I may be reading too deeply between the lines, but I get the impression that you want to do something risky, not only for yourself but possibly for others outside your partnership, and you have kind of glossed over things to convince yourself it's OK. One of the reasons we take on partners is to have someone who can provide another voice in situations like this, and I think it's important that you fully listen to them.
posted by ubiquity at 12:08 PM on September 13, 2019 [20 favorites]

Assuming you're talking about something harmless, like fucking the mailman (with appropriate protection), taking LSD, or throwing pies at the govorner, I'd tell your partner to grow the fuck up and stop trying to control other people

Well, that's rather judgemental. People in relationships often have agreed upon terms of the relationship, and changing those without consulting your partner is absolutely a dick move. It's not immature to see non-monogamy as a deal-breaker. Or to not want to be with somebody who does drugs. Or to see potentially getting arrested (as above) as a threat to the relationship. Relationships are negotiations, and that is not automatically controlling.

Really, there's no way for us to resolve this, as ultimately whoever feels strongest about it will probably get their way. The real failure point is dealing with any resentment down the line from doing/ not doing the thing. I wrote several paragraphs about things in my life, but it all boiled down to "we talked about the Thing and our feelings a whole bunch and usually worked something out after understanding each other better."
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:12 PM on September 13, 2019 [39 favorites]

If this is a thing like gender transition or body modification or change in style that you really need in order to feel like yourself, then it's messed up for your partner to ask you not to do it.

If it's not something that goes to the essence of your sense of self, then it's a different question that I don't have the information to answer.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:24 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Given the references to ethics in the original question...if my partner felt strongly that the Thing was immoral, and I could see that it was a good-faith position based on reasonable underlying analysis of good and evil (just one I happened not to agree with), I wouldn't do it, unless I was strongly convinced that not doing it was immoral (i.e., it was a duty, not merely a desire). I can't think of anything that corrodes my own relationships like a lack of moral respect for the other person. (I'm kind of surprised by the number of people here who don't seem to consider it a relevant factor, to be honest.) If we found ourselves in repeated conflict over such issues, we might need to revisit whether we were really sufficiently aligned in life to sustain a relationship.

The particular flavor of rhetoric here ("(IMO) no-one will really be compromised") has a heavy overtone of self-interested rationalization, but obviously it's hard to say without the details.
posted by praemunire at 12:32 PM on September 13, 2019 [13 favorites]

FWIW neither myself nor my partner have ever forbidden the other to do a Thing in this way; however, I did once let my partner know that if he did a particular Thing secretly or unilaterally, without informing me in advance, that it would mean an end to our cohabitation at the very least, and that it would be very challenging for me to rebuild any trust in him.

It has in fact been a real friction point for our relationship in the years since. To my knowledge, he has never done Thing. But he still brings it up sometimes, with a nonzero amount of resentment that he could not do Thing without my involvement or awareness. He considers it a very unreasonable request on my part but one he is willing to honor. (And for my part, I don't enjoy being thought unreasonable, but that's not within my control.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:37 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

The only hard no I can recall putting down on a Thing was when my partner was in the midst of a mental health episode and acting erratically already, I firmly believed the thing to be actively dangerous with a solid likelihood of multiple people being badly hurt. I don't regret the veto and out of crisis, he has no recollection of even being interested in The Thing.

So in addition to valid points above about ethics and finances I'll add: is Thing very sudden or uncharacteristic for you, with potential Iong term consequences? Or is Thing your lifelong dream and low stakes other than your partner's concerns? Those are different scenarios and in the former, there's something to be said for slowing your rush toward Thing.
posted by Stacey at 12:49 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

If I think my partner doesn't want me to do something because they're being controlling, I do the thing. This is generally good for our relationship because it makes my autonomy clear.

If they have legitimate reasons for not wanting me to do it (i.e. it will negatively affect them in some material way, rather than from them not wanting to take responsibility for their own mental health), I hear them out and we've generally grown to understand each other better so the choice is made with mutual agreement.
posted by metasarah at 1:29 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

When we moved to the big city, my husband suddenly lost the ability to go to his dad's farm and shoot to prep for hunting season. He tried a few different options in our new city, including public ranges and even an indoor range. None of them worked for him. But this fancy-ass private range in the burbs did. But they required proof of NRA membership in order to join.

We discussed it. I was dead set against it, because although I accept his guns as part of a thing he enjoys I do not support the bullshit that the NRA is for. We discussed it a lot. He doesn't like the NRA any more than I do, but he saw it as a necessary evil. Eventually we compromised and we would donate double the cost of membership to both the NCCAP and Southern Poverty Law Center.

After Philandro Castile was shot, he cancelled his membership and told the range that he couldn't renew his membership there either if he was required to contribute to the NRA. Funnily enough, the president of the gun club said he wasn't the only one leaving and they felt bad about it, but not bad enough to ditch the NRA thing. I still am frustrated that he spent a few years giving them money, but in the end, he came around.
posted by teleri025 at 2:00 PM on September 13, 2019 [10 favorites]

I did The Thing despite my partner's disapproval 8 years ago. It came to light in the last couple years that there were lasting results from this and my partner has since said that he feels his feelings and opinions don't hold much weight with me and it's really effected our relationship. (I'm not entirely sure if it's The Thing that caused this, or the way I handle his opinions in general, but The Thing is the event that he remembers it coming up first.)

Now, this was 8+ years ago and we are still feeling ripples. My Thing was really, really important to me, so I'm not sure I would have given it up for the sake of my partner. What I would change is somehow making sure he feels heard and respected when he feels strongly about something.
posted by unlapsing at 2:51 PM on September 13, 2019 [13 favorites]

Why not wait a while, then re-ask this question anonymously so you can be explicit about what the Thing is and get answers which may be more responsive to the actual scenario at hand? Something moderately expensive which might be viewed as dubiously ethical could run the gamut from "my partner is a vegetarian and I want to eat illegally sourced panda steaks in an underground restaurant" to sex tourism.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 3:22 PM on September 13, 2019 [12 favorites]

Some of the other posters have discussed the concept of comparing how strongly you both feel and doing what the one who feels most strongly wants. Other things you may want to look at is if doing the thing will impact either of the couple's feeling of security or their concept of the partnership.

For example it's not improbable that if the thing you want to do is sex outside of the marriage and your partner doesn't want you to do it, and you go ahead and do it, they may no longer feel married to you, even if they agreed you could do it. We have cultural expectations that define our relationships. For one person sex outside of the marriage may represent the end of the marriage; for another not splitting the leftover Chinese food fairly may represent the end of the marriage. If your partner says any variation of "If you loved me you wouldn't do it," watch out. They might not even care all that much if you stay out all night on Saturday, but will develop a revulsion for you, because they can't really picture being in a genuine relationship with someone who did that.

Similarly, if doing the thing, makes your partner feel unsafe their could be significant long term consequences. If your partner says variations on, "If you do this I will no longer feel that I can rely on you," then if you want your relationship to last you need them to feel that the thing is not the beginning of the end.

Make sure that you do not convince your partner that it will be alright if you do the thing. If you are the one convincing them, then when they are no longer under your immediate influence putting pressure on them, they will probably change their mind back. They have to be convinced without your arguing for your case. Many a partner has been browbeaten into accepting an open relationship, ended up miserable and walked. Similarly, many a partner has been convinced to agree to a cross country move they didn't want, been completely correct about what a disaster it would be and ended up with significant long term unhappiness, even if they stay married. You can't honestly turn around and say it wasn't your fault if something like that happens. So you want to consider if you are willing to put your partner through the worst case scenario and not minimize the consequences they are envisaging. If your failed business means you never work again and your partner ends up supporting you, the pair of you will be very unhappily married and you will probably never be able to make it up to them. Can you live with the worse case scenario if you see them hurting because of the thing?

If you want to do the thing enough to do it, even if it means a break up, I suggest you don't do the thing, but instead examine if the reason why you want to do the thing is to precipitate a break up. You may actually be wanting to goad your partner into kicking you out or leaving.

Consider delaying doing the thing, if you have not already delayed to the point where you realistically feel it is your only chance. If you want to go sky diving, wait a year and see if you still want to go skydiving as badly next September. Sometimes the desire ebbs a lot. This is a good thing to do with large purchases. If you still want the hobby farm a year later, you probably do want it, but if next year you want to go back to graduate school and are focused on that, it will be a good thing that you didn't get the farm. If you delay a year and not do the thing, this may provide your partner with the security that you doing the thing is not simply the external manifestation of you having stopped loving them.

Consider making a trade. Your partner will not object to you skydiving if you participate in a threesome with them. Your partner will not object to you quitting your job to write a novel if you take on 100% of the housework and house maintenance until your novel is bringing in enough money to pay for contractors and a cleaning service. You can get that tattoo if you take him on a three week vacation to Ireland. If you are prepared to put up a counter offer along this line, it could go a long way to convincing your partner that you are not checked out of the partnership, and also help you calibrate how much you really want to do your thing. If your getting gender change surgery isn't worth more than giving your partner a back massage, either you don't really care if you get the surgery, or you are not invested in the partnership in any appreciable way any longer.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:57 PM on September 13, 2019 [14 favorites]

Consider also, when arguing for your autonomy even if it distresses the rest of your relationship/community/society, that there is probably something they don't do because it would distress you. Maybe you are a windowless monad who can't be distressed by anyone else, but it's not likely.
posted by clew at 4:36 PM on September 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

I know you're trying to abstract the conversation around this away from the thing you want to do, but since these involve human reactions and emotions, the thing in question is inextricably tied to the outcome. So, absent other advice, I'd go in with the knowledge that you don't get to control your SO's reaction to the thing, and that you should be prepared to accept that reaction (whatever it is), as well as the fact that none of us can predict your outcome with any particular degree of accuracy. (Not that knowing what the thing is guarantees any accurate prediction either, but there would probably be more data points of specific experience to draw on.)
posted by Aleyn at 5:02 PM on September 13, 2019 [11 favorites]

You chose not to say what this thing is. It makes me wonder, perhaps you made this choice because you knew what the answers would be if you gave more information (siding with your wife, I assume).

By couching the question as vaguely and charitably as possible, I feel like you're really shaping this to get a certain response from mefites. But without context of the activity, your overall financial/life situation, your partner's history of saying "yes", "no", etc - it's impossible to answer meaningfully.

I will note that in many hetero-normative relationships, this is an argument that is almost always men wanting to spend money on something/do something risky, vs. women not wanting to do that thing. I don't think this is a coincidence; it is a social construction. Men are socialised to prioritise their needs over anyone else's generally speaking, and also to take more risks. Women are socialised to do the opposite.

This is not to say such socialisation means the answer should always be "no". But I think it does need to be taken into context when thinking about this decision, and why you want it/feel entitled to it so badly.
posted by smoke at 5:09 PM on September 13, 2019 [22 favorites]

There are some financial implications, although (IMO) they're manageable

say you do it, and you manage it. does that mean that when she wants to do her own equally expensive thing, let's say next week, just as much money will be there for her?

will you be doing this thing by yourself? how much time will it take? Who will be looking after your children, if any, while you do the thing? What kind of extra work, if any, will she have to do to compensate for your absence while you're doing the thing?

If it is just you doing this thing, how is that you say "no-one will really be compromised" instead of "I will not really be compromised"? I mean, how could your personal private actions possibly compromise her or any third party, even if they were definitely unethical?

or are other people involved in this Thing, with its financial and ethical Implications, who aren't her? and in what capacity?

these are the questions whose answers determine the answers you're after.

if you've been invited into a tontine for heck's sake just say so
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:29 PM on September 13, 2019 [13 favorites]

(I'd say it sounds like you desperately want to hire a cleaning service, and your spouse thinks they're exploitative. it really does sound like that and that would explain the strange hints in the question. except you say your life will go on as normal either way, and cleaning services are life-changing for those who can afford them, so I guess it can't be. but if it is, do it.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:40 PM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

My default is to do the thing, as long as it doesn't directly affect my partner in a significantly negative way. I feel his default should be the same, and I think it is. I would be unlikely to decide not to do the thing just for the sake of the relationship. How valuable is a relationship that prevents me from doing things I really want to do? And anyway, the real problem for the relationship is the mismatch in values or priorities or the lack of empathy or understanding that could lead to one person really wanting something that the other person really doesn't want them to have. That problem doesn't go away if you decide not to do your thing.

I don't know if either of us has ever done a disputed thing as big as the one you seem to be contemplating. We both do small things on a daily basis - playing music the other person doesn't like, spending time or money on something the other person doesn't see as a priority, dealing with the kids or the dog the "wrong" way. And every day we each refrain from other small things we'd like to do. The doing and the refraining lead to a certain amount of annoyance or resentment, but that's the way it has to be when you live with someone else. I think it has to be the same with big things, except that you should err on the side of doing rather than refraining with the big things. I don't want to be the obstacle holding my partner back from the things he really wants to do any more than I want him to be an obstacle to my dreams. If it turned out we wanted strongly incompatible things, splitting up would probably be a better solution than one person giving up what they really want.

I'm having a hard time thinking of an example of something foolish my partner might want to do against my will, something maybe kind of immoral and kind of financially wasteful, but not clearly so. Taking out a series of full-page ads in the paper trying to sway people against Trump using information he knew to be false? I wouldn't want him to do that but if he really, really wanted to I guess I think he ought to ignore my arguments against it and go ahead. If we split up over it (and I don't know that we would), it wouldn't be because he did the thing, it would be because his desire to do the thing and my reaction showed us how incompatible we really were.
posted by Redstart at 5:41 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm guessing it's flying somewhere expensive to do something your wife considers dangerous like scuba diving (my own hobby). Flying is kind of immoral due to climate change but could be somewhat overcome by paying carbon offset. If that's it, I think you should do it but should"reimburse" your wife in other ways such as giving her the chance to spend a similar amount of money on herself and spend a similar amount of time away from household duties.
posted by hazyjane at 11:34 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

If it's a minor Thing, and your partner is this upset about it, there's a deeper issue that you need to examine. If it's a major Thing and you're this blase about your partner's concerns, that's also a deeper issue that merits examination.

My spouse and I very much have a "do your own thing" attitude towards lots of things. But man, if I had ethical or financial objections to a Thing and my partner did it ANYWAY, that would be REALLY REALLY BAD. It's happened, and our marriage survived, but it was ugly.

Look, it doesn't matter whether this is a maid service, a tattoo, scuba diving, or an affair. The fact that your partner objects strenuously is important, and you should deal with that. Either determine that your partner is totally out of line, and accept the consequences of your decision, or acknowledge the fact that your partner also has a stake in your life, your mutual finances, and the ethical implications of your family's spending, and work this thing out (which may ultimately mean Not Doing The Thing).
posted by asnowballschance at 2:34 AM on September 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

You chose not to say what this thing is. It makes me wonder, perhaps you made this choice because you knew what the answers would be if you gave more information (siding with your wife, I assume).

1,000 times this.

It is impossible to give any meaningful advice without knowing (a) the nature of the thing you want to do, (b) your partner's reasons for not wanting you to do it, and (c) other relevant context. There are plenty of things that would be a deal breaker for most people, there are plenty of things that most people would say shouldn't be a deal breaker, and there are a ton of things that most people would agree could be a reasonable deal breaker for some and not others. For example, perhaps the thing is that you want to start buying things from Amazon or you want to give up your vegan lifestyle and start consuming some animal products or you want to hire a cleaning service or whatever. For many people these things would not be deal-breakers, but for others they would definitely be deal breakers. No one her could say one way or another without more context, and you haven't even provided this much.

The only realistic answer to your questions with the information before us is: It depends on what it is, why you want to do it, and why your partner doesn't want you to do it. All the rest of the discussion in this thread is people framing answers around assumptions that may or may not be correct or relevant.
posted by slkinsey at 6:45 AM on September 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

queenofbithynia: I'd say it sounds like you desperately want to hire a cleaning service, and your spouse thinks they're exploitative

ha, whereas see my wild-ass guess of what the Thing is (without looking at OP's profile or past activity) was that OP was female and wanted to be a maternal surrogate. Which would bring up questions about Spouse's opinions on gender roles within relationships, the amount of additional household labor Spouse would have to do while OP is pregnant, potential safety concerns, etc. I was starting to type up a really long comment about how the impacts on the relationship itself and on shared finances/shared labor in the relationship had to be considered, weighed, and probably balanced but I think it really does just depend entirely on the nature of the Thing.
posted by capricorn at 7:42 AM on September 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

My thing that I did was leave my well paying, 4 day a week job five minutes from my house and go back to school. For me, it was NECESSARY. I hated my job, my husband was employed, and I needed to get out. Hubs was very much on Team Stay In Your Job but he also understood that I needed to do this (and would do it regardless of his opinion).

Fast forward three years, I am gainfully employed again, making close to what I made before, and now driving 30+ minutes each way to get to work. Illogically, I am much, much happier. The ripple effects have been wide-reaching: husband does kid pick up now three days a week which has helped my mental health considerably since I was doing all drop off and pick up. I am getting better feedback and awarded for my excellent work. I am able to listen to audiobooks on my commute that make me happy. I have three hours during the week where I get to sit and read outside because I am too far away from the house so I don't feel compelled to come home and do laundry.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 3:01 PM on September 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I want to know what the Thing is, too. But I think this is a much better question when the Thing is not known. If the Thing were named, I'm pretty sure most of us would jump in with our own gut feeling on whether Thing was ok or not. But not knowing thing has turned this into a much more interesting discussion of frameworks or processes for evaluating Things within the context of a relationship.

That said, I especially appreciate those who have offered their own example of Things and the impact of their decision regarding them. Fascinating thread.
posted by bunbury at 10:46 PM on September 14, 2019 [10 favorites]

Lots of great answers, and how lucky & wonderful that bunbury's answer came last. I deliberately kept Thing unstated, exactly because if I'd laid it all out in the open you'd all be talking about how you feel about Thing per se, and not about your experience of how decision making works in relationships - which was the question that I wanted to ask.

The Thing, in my case, is whether to buy a big fancy car with ~40% of the net additional salary I'll bring home from the fancy new job that I just accepted. I think yes. My partner thinks no - because it's a lot of money (financial implication), and because she'd prefer that we emit less carbon as a household & this will mean we emit more (ethical implication). But, it also goes to a whole bunch of long-past childhood crap on both of our parts, based around whether we get or deserve or can afford Nice Things. So that's all in the mix too.

Obvs if I'd asked a question about whether fancy cars are good value, the conversation here would have gone differently. So, thanks for indulging my vagueness, and thanks even more for participating.
posted by rd45 at 7:29 AM on September 15, 2019 [11 favorites]

Obvs if I'd asked a question about whether fancy cars are good value, the conversation here would have gone differently.

yes, because if you'd made the question just about that -- good value -- you would have left out the specific ethical objection your partner has.

I know nothing about cars so my answer would have been the same no matter what the specific luxury item: do you agree with your partner's ethical objection, do you give it the same weight she does, and if so, do you have an answer to it that is not a non sequitur about your own desire for pleasures and whether you deserve them, which cannot possibly weigh in the balance as it has nothing to do with the alleged harm and does nothing to mitigate it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:27 AM on September 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I can say that over a decade after my dad's death, my mom is STILL resentful about how my dad was always buying expensive cars every few years without giving any kind of a shit about her opinion about it.

I don't think "are fancy cars good value" is really the issue here either, it's more of a "will this be causing issues between the two of you for the rest of your married life" sort of thing. Answer: maybe.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

You should specifically do the Money chapter in Eight Dates to examine your assumptions and previous experiences in life in a non-judgmental way. It's chapter 3. Typically you do them in order, but this will be a good discussion.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:07 AM on September 16, 2019

There's a real danger, with the Consumer Good version of this problem, that the ongoing unavoidable presence of the Thing will make this so much worse than some kind of one-off Thing. Especially if the particular flavor of Consumer Good you want is a polarizing or status-signalling one, and it is a status your partner does not want signaled in their life/outside their house, or is the sort of car people assume you'll be using to pick up your newer younger replacement partner, or suggests you imagine yourself some kind of military/stunt-driving badass, or is just generally an embarrassment. But even the plainest of high end German sedans can be a daily slap in the face to someone who thought they had a say and found out they don't have a say.

Aside from maybe a face tattoo or the appearance of the newer younger replacement partner, the only thing worse than a car for making your priorities in life patently clear to your partner is buying a house without their input. Think very carefully about whether this Thing will still make you feel as good if you're single, because this is ultimately a power play, and those rarely work out well in a relationship.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:15 AM on September 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

It's a binary choice, without a realistic half-way option

Here's a possible compromise: lease the big fancy car for one year. At the end of that time replace it with an electric vehicle, e.g. a big fancy Tesla or maybe a more modest Chevy Bolt. You get your toy for a little while, and your partner gets to look forward to lower carbon emissions in the near future.

(I know one-year leases aren't really a thing, but maybe there's some way to make it work or you could adjust the scenario.)
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:03 AM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've been on both sides of this. In the first case, it was about accepting a fellowship, and I still think it was the right thing to do at the time. Looking back, our failure to come to any sort of compromise about that position was one of the early indications that the relationship was not going to make it.

The kind of thing you are describing in your update happens quite a bit in my current relationship. My partner works very hard. I don't understand his attitude to spending money and have had to work to see his-- excessive, in my mind-- spending as morally neutral. But we have made various deals about this issue-- for example, I need a lot of time to myself in a relationship and a lot of personal space. It would not completely surprise me if one day the relationship came apart because of this setup, but at least we have compromised.

I will say that if we had children, I would be more concerned about setting examples for them, and indeed about keeping the relationship together. I wouldn't think my partner buying a nice car would be a bad example if he were spending a lot of time commuting, for instance. If it was hellish hours at the job and that was one of the few dependable pleasures of the day and an incentive to keep working in a hard situation, I'd say go for it. But can you make this really work for your family or not? Some people are talking about this in terms of risk to your relationship but I don't see it as a risk that your partner will react one way or another, more like a necessity to make some kind of a deal you can both live with.
posted by BibiRose at 7:09 AM on September 17, 2019

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