There are many marriages where one person leads most of the decisions made for the couple. Over time that can lead to a few scenarios:
a. The couple adopts this “single decision maker” in their relationship with ease and falls into a comfortable pattern.
b. The person making the decisions feels exhausted and burdened by the weight of handling everything.
c. Both partners share the responsibility or take turns to be the lead in their relationship journey to avoid any fatigue one person might feel.
d. The partner who does not take the decisions starts resenting the decisions made by their partner which can also then lead to resenting their partner.
My client R is in the last category. Her husband was her classmate and they have been together since they were both 14 years old. They are now 32 and the husband, K, has been the lead decision-maker throughout their relationship. Before they got married they broke off their relationship on four occasions.
The first time was when they went to different colleges. The decision to break up was K’s. A few months later they got back together again. This call was also made by K. The next three breakups were again K’s decisions and occurred every time he either went to another city for further studies or work took him to another country. He would break up before he relocated and change his mind a few months later and get back together again. R went along with whatever K decided every time.
When I asked her how she really felt at such junctures, her only take was that she liked the familiarity that was there in their relationship. Their families always assumed that they would end up with each other. Everyone always said that they were ‘made for each other’.
K also checked all the boxes of being a successful, alpha partner. The fact that he always came back to her meant something, she thought. K had had a series of short relationships every time they broke up. R on the other hand had not even dated any other man. The decision to get married four years ago was also K’s. From where they will live to how often they will socialise with friends and family, K decided everything all along.
What amazed me was that for almost 16 years R did not question this, and having no say whatsoever didn’t bother her at all. The penny finally dropped for her when she’d turned 30 and K wanted to have a child. R says she never felt strongly about anything before that, so it didn’t matter to her. But she definitely wasn’t ready to have a child when K decided it was time.
The last two years have been extremely rocky for their relationship as R finally wants to take charge. K’s dissonance with R’s new behaviour is also understandable as she has never refuted anything that K decided to do before. They are at an impasse. K is baffled at R’s out-of-character behaviour, and R is very resentful about her own lackadaisical attitude and now the lack of understanding on K’s part.
Neither is wrong. If K assumes that R will follow his lead, it’s because she has done so from day one. R now wants to express her opinion and she has every right to do that too. To R’s credit, she is taking responsibility for the fact that a huge part of the reason she and K are in this place is her own lack of involvement in the decision-making they should have done as a couple. That’s the reason she still wants to work on her marriage.
The fact is that there is a decision to be made at every juncture in a relationship. Whether it’s lifestyle, finance, travel, parenting to even health and medical issues, somebody has to make a call. What I have seen work for most couples is to divide the decision-making responsibilities. It’s like running a company — each one picks the department they are competent at handling. The wife might pick up the financial investments and the husband might pick the health and well-being of the family.
This division of labour — for a lack of better analogy — brings in ease, clarity and equal involvement of both partners which any balanced relationship needs. It also keeps away the fatigue a person is bound to feel when one ends up handling all of these aspects of life. Or even the discontentment that R felt as the person who takes no decision in the relationship even if it was initially her own choice.
It’s easy to slip into such unequal patterns in a relationship unless one is vigilant and conscious. Life is about decision-making and relationships are a huge part of life. Taking responsibility for decision-making as equal partners is what truly makes the relationship a healthy, deep, and even ideal one.
This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org