“We’ve all been placed in situations with family members, friends, or coworkers where we’ve shared our experiences and given advice only to have it fall on deaf ears. From my personal and professional life, I’ve learned that most people don’t heed “sound advice.” As a matter of fact, they aren’t even looking for us to tell them something. They just want talk and be heard. Therefore, my role in this quarterly comes with the following caveat: you are the expert and the authority on your situation. I am a conduit to help YOU uncover the answers that you already possess. The goal here is to promote richer dialogue. So, I wouldn’t define my responses as advice per se, rather respectful curiosity to assist with the process of personal discovery and more informed decision-making.” ~NIKKI
THIS ISN’T WORKING!
Name: Anonymous Woman | Location: Louisville, KY
My girlfriend and I have been together for a little over a year and a half. I care about her because we have a lot in common and she’s genuine and kind. But the gender roles in this relationship are becoming overwhelming. Most women I’ve dated have been very open, but she’s inflexible sometimes and this causes tension and spats. I’m flexible, but I have demands. What should I do?Anonymous, gender roles are an issue I’m really passionate about. So, humor me while I sound off a bit. Few people have undefined roles in their relationships. And even fewer could withstand having no roles at all. Our socialization prescribes our adherence to some social or behavioral tasks that are usually appropriated by our gender expression. Without conscious resistance, even same-sex couples can struggle with role integration. That is, we also have dominant-passive and inflexible characteristics, and unequal role distribution, responsibilities, and expectations in our relationships too.
You care for your girlfriend, but want the relationship to be different and better. Your partner is inflexible and you feel overwhelmed about not having your demands met. Of course, I’m not sure what the gender role division looks in your relationship, but your question suggests that inequality is present. In order for you to increase gender egalitarianism in the relationship, propose the following comments and questions with your girlfriend.
~ Most relationships are not static. There are times of push and pull, up and down, and give and take. So, have there been times when your partner was more “flexible” and willing to negotiate roles? If so, what was different about those times? What did each of you do differently?
~ On one hand your partner is genuine and kind, but she’s also rigid. What have you done to encourage her to compromise? How would she respond to that question? What exactly does your girlfriend need to do in order to make you feel she is being more responsive to your desires?
~ As the axiom goes, “actions speak louder than words.” So try the following: act out a situation where the two of you experience unequal roles. Experiment with switching those roles, and then discuss the experience with each other afterwards. Discuss any positive changes you saw in each other during the role-play, and how compromising and switching things up could benefit the relationship.
~ To engage your girlfriend, make sure that you validate what she says during conversations. Take turns speaking, avoid interruptions, stay action-oriented, and remain present-centered. If the two of you can address these questions, then it is a testament to your ability to communicate well, without tension and spats.
Nikki Jones is a therapist-in-training and second-year graduate student at the University of Louisville. She currently works with families, couples, and individuals at a community mental health agency.