Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ The Responsible vs. the Spontaneous

Dear Dr. V  ~

I’ve been with the same guy for a little less than a year. We moved in together about two months ago, and I feel like we’ve fallen into these roles in the relationship, and we need help to break out of them. Basically, it’s like this: He’s the fun one, I’m the stick in the mud who’s always bringing things down, at least that’s how I feel we must appear to our friends. I feel like it’s always me who’s making sure all the bills and housework get taken care of, it was me who made sure all our stuff for the Holidays was in order (arranging a cat-sitter, getting our plane tix, etc.), but he’s the one who’s always coming up with spontaneous fun things for us to go to do with our friends, he’s the one who’s kind of the good-time Charlie – but I feel like I do all the work. I don’t feel like this is very fair. How can we fix this?


Dear Jen,

I completely understand why that would be a frustrating situation for you, and I can empathize with your feeling of being perceived as “The Stick In The Mud.” This situation is not uncommon in relationships, and I do have some suggestions on how to, as you put it, “fix” things (although I’d rather think of it as “making adjustments”).

But before we get to that, I think it’s important for you to realize something:

For the most part, it’s best not to give a shit how other people may perceive your relationship.

That may sound a bit crass in it’s phrasing, but I think you’ll find it to be true. Because unless you are in some sort of abusive or incredibly dysfunctional situation where you are being harmed or may potentially be harmed, your relationship is your garden to tend, and really not anyone’s business but your own. More importantly, in all likelihood your friends don’t see things as you do; they don’t have the same awareness of the dynamics of your relationship as you do. So those moments you feel that you come across as a killjoy may not even register with your friends. That’s not to say you two shouldn’t put the effort in to change what’s not working, but I think that’s worth bearing in mind, if just to take some unnecessary pressure off yourself.

Having said that, let’s get to the meat of this. I think at least part of this situation could be merely a matter of your own perception and expectations not just of your own, but also of your boyfriend’s role in the relationship. From how you describe it, it sounds like you two may just have different areas of specialty: His being the spontaneous, goofy stuff, yours being the more pragmatic, here’s-what-we-need-to-get-done-so-that-when-we-get-back-from-our-spontaneous-fun-the-power-isn’t-turned-off side of things. To me, a pairing such as this doesn’t seem like a problem at all, but rather a strength. The obstacle you may be running into here could simply be that you are expecting your boyfriend to excel at your strengths and vice versa. I think if you could find a way to accept what each of your “specialties” are, a great deal of your aggravation might be relieved.

In other words, your being more pragmatic and down-to-earth (some might even say responsible) doesn’t make you a Stick In The Mud: it makes you the perfect counterweight to your boyfriends more spontaneous nature. The same goes for him: his more impulsive aspects could be the balance to your pragmatism. If you can establish a clearer understanding of who’s responsible for what in your home, it could result in a harmonious and complimentary resolution.

The obvious question of course is, how to get there? The first step is to stop anticipating and start communicating. Too often I hear from couples that not only does someone want A, B and C from their partner, they want that person to know how to give them A, B and C without being told. Unless you’re capable of telepathy, that is not going to happen.

Talk about it with each other. Not when you’re upset or when emotions are running high, but rather the opposite, when you’re both feeling relaxed and communication can flow at its clearest. A lazy weekend breakfast would be an ideal moment. Let your boyfriend know how you’ve been feeling, but remember that it wasn’t his intention for you to feel like this, and hopefully that will keep you in an emotionally neutral (even positive?) place. He may have his own feelings on the matter to share with you, too. My gut tells me that the core of your relationship is strong and that once you two are aware of how each other have been feeling, mutual empathy will ease your way through the discussion(s) (there may be more than one. Don’t pressure yourselves to fix everything in one fell swoop). The next move will be to establish who can be responsible for what and when, but within realistic expectations of what you are each capable of doing. So while your boyfriend could agree to doing his share of the housework, grocery shopping, etc., you may find that you want to remain in charge of certain things, as perhaps you do them best. Likewise, perhaps you can take on planning an outing, a trip, get-together or what have you, but also remember that if that’s what your partner’s strength is, he should be allowed to put it to work for both of you.

I realize it’s easy for me to sit behind a computer screen without knowing you, let alone being emotionally involved in a situation, and be as cool-headed and pragmatic as a Vulcan therapist (Oof. Can you imagine Mr. Spock as a shrink? An emotionless being asking, “How does that make you feel?” Talk about irony). However, if you can both step out of the reactive dance of feelings all of us can so easily fall into with our significant others, and bring some of that level-headed pragmatism you use to deal with the outside world into your own relationship, you just might find that the resolution to this situation is not as complex or out of reach as it first appeared to be.

With Love and Light,
Dr. V

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