Saturday, July 27, 2013

Marriage 101: Reining in your dominance

(Who's the boss? Cochin, Kerala 2010)

In every relationship, there is a dominant one and a not-so dominant one. Some couples stay in that role for life, and others go back and forth all the time. It is part of the natural yin & yang of marriage. Sometimes there are two dominant personalities in a relationship, one has to "let" the other take charge a bit more. After all, marriage is about making equal compromises...but the dominant spouse usually gets the final say. Either that, or they can just persuade a bit better!

Dominance can easily get carried away and turn into a controlling relationship. And that is a big no-no. If you are feeling insecure and selfish, one can become like a dictator. A spouse can be dominant without becoming controlling, but that is a seasoned skill that one has to learn - the dominance must be reined in. If you have many dominant traits in your personality, you must be careful not to smother your spouse with your assertiveness. 

You can harness your dominance by always putting your spouse's feeling first, by romantic gestures, communication, and really trying to understand their viewpoints. A marriage is a partnership of TWO people and your spouse must always get an equal vote in every decision - whether it is buying a house, or what cuisine to have for dinner.

Sometimes dominance is developed naturally and other times it is learned from what we see in our families' relationships. For example, if your elders are all dominant men/women, then you will probably end up imitating them, even if it is subconsciously.

I have struggled with this a lot because I come from a long line of dominant women, and I have had to learn to harness this personality trait. The reason why it works is that I am very considerate of my husband's feelings, and am not a selfish person. I would say I definitely have the final say on any major decisions due to the fact that I think very long term and wide ranging (I'm a Libra!). BUT I value my husband's ideas and respect that he has a lot of valuable opinions to bring to the table, so I always ask him for advice. Sometimes I follow his advice, and sometimes I do not. My dominance sometimes makes me feel like I know best 100% of the time, but sometimes I don't - and when I make a mistake I apologize and immediately own up to it. At times, the dominance goes back and forth - he "lets" me, and I "let" him, but I'm probably the more dominant one 70% of the time!

Sometimes in a marriage it can appear that a man is in control, but it is really the woman who is calling all the shots, and vice versa. There is a funny Greek saying that is "the man is the head, and the woman should be the neck...turning the head in the right direction".

In Indian marriages (and many Asians too) the sons are favored and therefore raised to be dominant. And there's no stay-at-home dads in India (even though many modern Indians do participate in co-parenting). Indian men have very traditional roles of "the provider", and it is very much connected to their own sense of masculinity. It was made very clear to me from the beginning that husband-ji should be the breadwinner, and if I wanted to work I could, but I was not required to as it is his burden responsibility as a man to financially take care of me. As a Western woman, I do not need a man to financially take care of me, nor is it expected - but I've had to learn to play along with this as this is the culture that I married into, and the Indian culture is present in so much of our daily life.

What about you, dear readers? Who is the dominant one in your relationships? Do you find that dominance has to do with gender & culture?


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4 comments

  1. I don't see marriage like that at all. But then I'm working on my second marriage. My husband is your typical Tamil strong willed male, but funnily enough he taught me how to show affection.

    See, as western feminists we've been taught to fight from an early age, and in the end we can get trap in this dominance game. But it is not very nice. I'm happy that in my marriage now the relationship is more like smooth dancing.(Padparadscha)

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    1. Hi Padparadscha,
      As a Western woman I have had to really rein in my dominance. I think it was easier for me because I started my relationship with my husband when I was 20 years old, so I was more flexible. But if I had met him when I was 30 or 40, I would have been waaay more set in my ways and it would have been very difficult for me. My husband has relaxed me a lot, and the funny thing is that his family says the same thing about him meeting me, even though he is the more relaxed one of us!
      That is nice you are will a Tamil fellow too. My Tamil husband is a strong silent type :)

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  2. I am Indian and I am the dominant one in the relationship with my American husband. As you rightly mentioned, often Indian women are brought up to NOT be dominant. However, this is precisely why I ended up being dominant. I saw how the women I grew up with were treated and thought I never want to be like that. I think I have become a bit better about exercising my dominance and luckily my husband is the laid back type. When I know something really matters to him then I let him take the lead, but about 80% of the time I would say that I am the dominant one. I am still working on reducing my dominance.

    Raina.

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    1. That is so interesting....yes, my mother is definitely the dominant one and sometimes it is just so automatic for me that I have to tone it down. My MIL I feel *could* be dominant, but she was raised to be more submissive...and my FIL is also a strong personality - a.k.a. you can't argue with him....lol!!
      Sometimes I feel bad that I as a woman have a dominance, I wonder if my hubby feels "emasculated"....but then again he is more laid-back too. In relationships is is always like a dance...

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