In a top-dog/under-dog relationship? Here’s a tip!

So you’re under the watchful eye of your partner who is definitely the top-dog in your relationship.  He/she lurks in the background watching you; waiting to catch you doing something they deem to be wrong, then they pounce.  You never seem to measure up to their high standards, and you shrink under their criticism.  You’re internally angry and anxious, but afraid to speak up for yourself, so the beat goes on…and on and on.

If this sounds familiar, there is something you need to know:  you are part of the problem.  You may think you’re a victim, but that’s just not true.  Relationships are a 50/50 proposition which means that you are half responsible for creating what you have.  What’s your part?  You’re too passive.  You don’t say enough about how you feel and what you want.  You don’t set boundaries and stick up for yourself.  And because of that, you are teaching your partner that they can control you, no problem.  I know that’s not what you want, so what do you do?  You start with small steps in asserting yourself.

Let’s take an example: you are planting some flowers in the garden.  For once, you’ve chosen the flowers and you’re having a good time, admiring your handiwork.  All of a sudden, your partner comes out and tells you that the flowers are all wrong.  You should have bought petunias instead of sunflowers or some such thing.  Instead of doing your usual disappearing act, you say:  “When you criticize me like that, it makes me feel inadequate and anxious.  I was having fun planting the flowers and even though they weren’t “right” in your mind, please see that I need to be encouraged for my effort rather than put-down.”

Asserting yourself like this tells your partner that their criticism is not okay.  It also lets them see you as an equal, rather than a weakling that they can walk all over.  In the long run, relationships of equals are much more satisfying than the top-dog/under-dog one that you’ve developed.

When you speak up for yourself, know that you will feel uncomfortable because this is a new behavior.  Also know that your controlling partner might not initially like this new you.  Expect that too.  But be brave and keep it up.  You will enjoy your new found feeling of strength, and in the long run, your partner will appreciate the strong person you’ve become.

Check out my book, The Affair: From Breakdown to Breakthrough, A Therapist’s Real-life Journey, for more great tips and insights about relationships. You can read a synopsis of the book on my website, and buy it worldwide from all Amazon websites (both print and Kindle) and Barnes and Noble.

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