How to deal with changing relationship dynamics.
May 30, 2006 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for articles, books, or insights in any format relating to a common theme in long-term relationships.

As a young(ish), idealistic, progressive, independent-to-the-point-of-stupidity-sometimes, spiritually-oriented man, I've listened to many older men speak derisively about marriage. How they've been emasculated, stripped of freedom and willpower, browbeaten, and untimately controlled. I always swore that I would never become involved in a relationship that would leave me feeling this way.

I have been involved with a woman for almost 2 years, an amazing woman, who has stayed with and helped me through some very difficult times.

I quit drinking 6 months ago, of my own accord, because it was something that needed to be done. Prior to this, she often questioned my drinking, but the decision to quit was all mine.

I agreed, recently, to quit smoking cigarettes after 10 years, both because I want/need to quit and because she hates it.

But recently, there have been many comments about how I spend my time, whether I'm keeping proper track of my finances, why my house isn't clean, why my hair isn't cut, why my clothes aren't ironed, etc.

Alarm bells have started going off in my head.

I'm not asking for advice on whether I should stay with this woman. I'm looking for resources on this "woman changes man" phenomena, especially as it applies to hyper-organized, efficient, rational women who find themselves in love with ex-pseudo-hippie, intuitive, messy computer geeks.

posted by Roach to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Consider the possibility that domesticity changes both sexes equally.
posted by joannemerriam at 4:18 PM on May 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: There is that possibility.

We are currently in a long-distance relationship. When we first got together, I was living in the same city with her while I was at law school.

I left law school and was unemployed for about 9 months.

I've been employed for about 5 months and am doing very well in that arena.

The thing is, she has explicitly stated that she wants to see responsible, clean, on-time, sober, organized, efficient me before she will even consider moving to my town.

I want to be all these things, but without losing the ability to be spontaneous, etc. And I sure don't want to have to become all of these things, up to her standards, on her own internal schedule of personal growth that she has set for me.
posted by Roach at 4:29 PM on May 30, 2006

The only way to know if you should stay with her is to find a time when you won't be interupted and tell her all these things. Don't accuse her of trying to control you, or that you're on the brink of dumping her, etc.

Be honest. Tell her how you feel about what she's saying, and then listen closely to how she responds. If you feel uneasy about her responses, tell her so, and listen again.

It's natural and very good that you should have this kind of talk now, before you move the relationship to a new level of closeness and intimacy. Those old guys decided that they had to stuff how they felt and now they're in a cage of their own making. Don't fall into the trap of not being able to talk about how you honestly feel.

Don't worry if the talk causes conflict - just work with her to not let the conflict get out of control where people get all worked up and say things that they regret.
posted by jasper411 at 4:37 PM on May 30, 2006

Do you prefer being late, not having good control of your finances, needing a hair cut and wearing clothes that are not ironed? If that's what you prefer, then keep on doing what you're doing.

She thinks that you can be better, and if you agree with her that the things she's asking you to do would make you better, then be glad for the support of somebody who cares enough about you to help you.

I think the whole henpecked thing is a stereotype that makes it easier for sit-com writers to strike easy, familiar chords. I wouldn't worry about it too much unless she's asking you to do something you don't want to do in which case feel free to be very clear about your feelings on that matter with her.

That all is separate from the ultimatum you describe which would rub me the wrong way, but whatever.
posted by willnot at 4:37 PM on May 30, 2006

Also consider the possibility that neither of you have changed that much, just that now you are both in new environment(s) and are therefore faced with new challenges, and this causes anxiety and inappropriate or bothersome behaviors.

I'll recommend (1) one book that I found helpful, and (2)one that I have heard is helpful but don't have any direct experience with:

1. Getting the Love You Want: A guide for couples by Harville Hendrix. I really liked the way this book talked about those behaviors we all exhibit that drive others crazy, and where they come from. Good examples about how seemingly opposite people got through their troubles to make a better relationship. There is also a workbook, and a bunch of tasks to complete together at the end of the book. Sounds a little hokey, but I thought it was really good, and my boyfriend even found it enlightening!

2. The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. Do a google search and you can probably find a web quiz that will shortly determine which of the "5 languages" (Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch) you most identify with and value. Not necessarily exactly what you are asking about, but the criticisms you mention may be touched on in this book.

On preview: It sounds like the two of you are negotiating boundaries while trying to maintain the self at the moment, and that is a good thing. Harville Hendrix's books do a great job of covering this. Good luck to you.
posted by sarahnade at 4:38 PM on May 30, 2006

Just re-read the original post, and saw you were looking for resources. I'd suggest John Gottman's work.
posted by jasper411 at 4:38 PM on May 30, 2006

Stick with the girl. She's probably giving up a lot to pack up and move in with you. I went through a similar period with my g/f before she moved from Chicago to NYC (though, admittedly, not as extensive in its demands).

There's nothing emasculating about getting your shit together. Bitching About Your Old Lady is just a modern way to beat your chest in front of the other apes.
posted by mkultra at 5:10 PM on May 30, 2006

Getting the Love You Want: A guide for couples by Harville Hendrix.

When I read your posting this book was what first came to mind for me! I second it.

Also check out Hendrix's 'Keeping the Love You Find' and peruse his website: Imago.
posted by ericb at 5:21 PM on May 30, 2006

You know , people of different temperments and preferences frequently love the heck out of each other, but have trouble putting up with the other's habits, ways of living and so forth. Learn to compromise - that's really all you can do. It's difficult, but a worthwhile practice. And don't think it's just a man-woman thing.
posted by trii at 6:49 PM on May 30, 2006

Speaking as a hyper-organized, etremely rational woman, I have to say that depending upon the person, she could just be concerned with your well-being. A lot of this has to do with how people are brought up -- certain questions (such as about your haircut) may be ways she's learned to express care. Doesn't make it *not* annoying to you, but there is that possibility. Also, she may just like your hair shorter/longer. People do have preferences; expressing them isn't (or shouldn't necessarily be) a deal breaker.

Sometimes women find men who haven't been taking very good care of themselves, and sometimes the opposite happens. Women, however, are trained to think that it's okay for a man to help you with your money, and it's okay for a man to provide, and so on. Men are given this line of bull about being emasculated. Does she have financial skills from which you could benefit? Is she concerned or asking for a valid reason? If so, cut the woman some slack. She may or may not be able to bake pies, but she's trying to help you in the ways that she knows she can.

People who love one another remind each other to take care of themselves. I think it's really that simple. I mean, I don't know this woman, maybe she has some ulterior motive -- you're really the only one who is in any position to know or assume such a thing. But speaking as a girl who found a guy who needed to be reminded to care for himself, I think it's a valid supposition.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:27 PM on May 30, 2006

Best answer: Roach, you said: "The thing is, she has explicitly stated that she wants to see responsible, clean, on-time, sober, organized, efficient me before she will even consider moving to my town."

Are these explicit statements new? Or have you pretty much known for the 2 years you've been together that this is what she would eventually expect if you two were going to move to "the next phase"? If she's always been the "hyper-organized, efficient, rational wom[a]n," then this can't be coming as a big surprise right now.

"Responsible, clean," et al. are not mutually exclusive with spontaneity. People who can unload the dishwasher, keep a job, pay bills on time, and wear a pressed shirt can also be wild and wacky and spur-of-the-moment.

What those things are, though, is crucial to maintaining a successful household. Someone has to pay the rent. Someone has to buy the groceries. Someone has to separate the whites from the darks.

And maintaining a successful household is a key part of maintaining a successful cohabiting long-term relationship. It's not sexy, but there it is. Housework is one of the top five issues couples fight about most frequently.

You say you made these other big lifestyle changes, but you emphasized here that you made them for yourself. Maybe your girl doesn't want to be a domestic shrew, but is feeling a need to see you make a few sacrifices for her -- gestures which would signal that you are ready to compromise and become part of a long-term team.

In my relatively new marriage (one that began as a long-distance relationship where one of us had to relocate), I was the idealist independent dreamer, and he was the meticulous, neat prepared one. We had to figure out how to co-exist without giving up our respective senses of self.

There was nothing so one-sided that a book could help us, so we sought out a marriage counselor and asked him for some pre-marital counseling. He taught us tools for understanding how the other communicates -- that "why can't you ever be on time?" might actually mean, "I'm scared that you don't care about me as much as I do about you, because to me punctuality equals respect." A counselor is the path I'd recommend to anyone who has the wherewithal and is trying to vet a relationship that could be The One.

Yours doesn't seem to be a case of the nagging harpie stereotype coming to fruition, as much as two people who need to figure out how they best mesh together as grownups. A live referee can be a godsend, especially for two strong personalities.
posted by pineapple at 9:01 PM on May 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Dude - You've got a lot of responses from women, and not many from a guy's perspective. May I suggest Castrating She-Bitches From the Planet Earth?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:30 PM on May 30, 2006

i was with a guy who wanted me to change into someone better before he would say he loved me and commit to me. i needed someone who would love me for who i am. i got the hell out of there.

that said, i'd recommend checking out the books by Hugh and Gayle Prather on relationships. i learned a lot about commitment and growth by reading "a book for couples" and "i will never leave you." the latter was given five stars by ten of ten reviewers on
posted by lisaj32 at 11:38 PM on May 30, 2006

i know you're not looking for recommendations about whether to stay or leave this woman, but:

getting sober and quitting smoking are lifestyle changes that are really essential to your health and well-being. you say that you did these things because they needed doing, as well as because she wanted you to.

how do YOU feel about being on time, organized, free of wrinkles, etc? for me, those don't come with the package. i'm just not an organized, efficient, on-time sort of person. i've tried, but i'm more of a free spirit, or an absent-minded professor type or whatever. the best i can promise a partner is that i will do my best.

i've been blessed with a husband who understands that these are not character flaws, but rather, my temperament. it's how God made me. i'm not thrilled about it, but then i'm not thrilled about being 5'3" and prematurely gray. we have to accept ourselves for who we are, and this can be hard if someone else doesn't.

the ultimatum, "you have to be such-and-such or i'm not moving to be with you," -- to me, that would set off huge loud warning signals. there would need to be a very serious conversation, and if my partner proved inflexible, i'd run like hell the other way.

but that's just me.
posted by lisaj32 at 11:59 PM on May 30, 2006

what pineapple said. But also that you sound kinda peeved ("all of these things, up to her standards, on her own internal schedule") and maybe you should tell her.

But, sorry, I'm trying to stop giving unrequested advice and instead come up with a resource for you. Okay, here's one. When I was student-teaching, my students had to create the model of a room that would represent or recreate a feeling or situation. One of the most profound and elegant models I saw was a room that got smaller and smaller as you went along around the corners. But it wasn't a continuous reduction -- you stepped into smaller and smaller cubes. But you didn't just step from one to the next. Between each chamber was a transition zone, like a doorway. From there, you could see that the upcoming cube was cramped, and the cube behind you was more spacious. Each doorway was just wide enough that you'd be there for a full second, just long enough to feel it and notice what you were about to do. He said it was like a relationship he'd experienced. That he'd had moments, he realized in retrospect, when he made a choice between having a spacious area for himself or having the room for his personal self cramped, until he ended up squashed in this little box where he could do nothing but take a chute out. I don't know if that's what this situation is like. In the model's doorways, the only two choices are to submit (smaller box) or to rebel (bigger box). But there are probably many other choices; the situation doesn't have to feel like this model at all.
posted by salvia at 12:15 AM on May 31, 2006

Really, the most important relationship in our lives is the one with have ourselves. So it follows that most of the relationship issues we all experience are rooted in how we feel about ourselves. This all comes back to self-esteem.

Ultimately, we teach people how to treat us. If we don't unconditionally love and respect ourselves, and treat ourselves compassionately, how can we expect others to do the same?

I really like Cheri Huber's books, especially "There is Nothing Wrong With You". Also, David D. Burns' book "10 Days to Self-Esteem" is excellent.
posted by socrateaser at 8:43 AM on May 31, 2006

« Older Drumroll, please...?   |   Is it possible make a browser window go full... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.