Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Bossy or something worse? Take a closer look
Married to a Bossy Wife: My wife is bossy. She just is. She sees it as being someone who makes decisions and gets things done, and this is true, but I sometimes feel like an onlooker. She makes decisions about how we spend our money, what the kids do extracurricularly, what we do on vacations. And our life is not bad. She does ask us what we want. But in the end, she is the one booking things, paying for things, and ultimately deciding things.
I have asked her to be more laid-back. To take life as it comes. She says she is who she is and does not think she can change. She says I am free to make my own decisions, but I am paralyzed by this. How do I find some space in this life that she manages?
Carolyn: There's a fine line between "bossy" and "controlling and abusive"; it doesn't sound as if this situation has crossed over, since you do make a point of saying your life is not bad. You didn't say it with much conviction, alas, and your paralysis suggests you have had your sense of self neutralized, which is a device of the abusive.
At the same time, I don't want to trivialize abuse ("She MADE us go to Costa Rica!!!"). So, here's a suggestion that might also work as a layman's diagnostic. Look back on recent situations where your wife had the last word, and conjure what your last word would have been. Scan all fronts of your life — kid activities, vacations, uses of your personal time. Is there anything you routinely want that you are routinely denied? (Except said last word, of course.)
If there's a huge difference in the life you want and the one she's cruise-directing, then this is bigger than "bossy," and you need to express, clearly, both your general unhappiness and your specific preferences.
But if you've surrendered only a few, discrete things to family harmony, then maybe reclaiming those things will both reverse your paralysis and create a pocket of wife-free air. Just feeling more like yourself again can make a dramatic difference in the balance of marital power.
Anonymous: I'm the spouse who plans everything. And I don't like it. This past summer, I told myself I'd wait and let hubby do his share and . . . consequently we didn't do much. He never says, "Let's go out to eat," "Let's go to the beach for the day." Never.
So my experiment shows that it's not me bullying him, but just filling in the voids. I fantasize about being with a man who'd plan nice evenings. The nurturer likes to be nurtured too!
Carolyn: I do hope you've actually expressed your yearning. Without that, this summer's "experiment" was a setup.
Your fantasizing means this imbalance is draining your affection for your husband; it's only fair to give him a chance to give you what you need, by asking for it explicitly.
He may not be willing or able to, in which case the next step is to try to embrace what he does offer you — say, his easygoing nature, the absence of battling wills, etc. Gratitude for each other leads to natural balance at home.