I have been noticing lately a pattern that some couples go into where the gender roles have switched from the previous patriarchal ones to now being matriarchal where the woman in the relationship will be dominant and the man will be more passive. It is a tendency I’ve seen increasingly when I observe couples and also to a certain degree in my relationship with my partner.
Both through observing other couples and my own relationship, I’ve come to see that the experience from the woman’s point of view has to do with creating expectations towards ‘how things should be’, where the woman has come to believe that she alone knows what is best for the family and where she doesn’t trust the man or value his perspectives in the same way, often due to mistakes he’s made or points of inconsideration that she then uses to justify being dominant.
When I observe deeper what this pattern is about, there are several dimensions. One of the most primary ones, is the fear some women experience of things not being ‘right’ or even ‘perfect’ and all of this particularly has to do with the ‘realm of the home’; cleaning, house decoration, the garden, clothes, how the children behave etc.
The other day for example when my partner and I were on a restaurant, I observed a family with two kids where the mother was very bossy towards the father and spoke to him in a harsh, demeaning tone about the food they had to order and did the same with the kids, all rather subtle under the guise of presenting themselves as a ‘happy organized family’.
It is as though a transition is happening in our gender roles where, because the males are now more present at home and home life has been given a higher status and because we’ve broken with the patriarchal family dynamics, it has created this switch where women now are becoming dominant, but in a completely different way that males were in the past; something that I am sure by a lot of males is experienced as ‘nagging’ and that probably also is a cause of marriages falling apart and husbands cheating because they feel more and more disempowered and disenfranchised in their relationships.
What I have seen is how the males becomes more and more passive and in the worst case scenarios either accepts themselves to become doormats which also allows the woman’s obsession with perfection to spiral out or they start retracting themselves from the family and eventually may leave or cheat to regain a sense of self-empowerment.
In terms of looking at solutions, I have seen a particularly interesting perspective on these dynamics that had to do with how my partner and I have taken care of our cats (that I’ve also described in previous blogs).
In relation to our cats, I activated a ‘motherhood’ program within my mind where I basically became obsessed with keeping our cats safe and happy and content, and I created this ideal expectation of myself of being a perfect cat owner (or ‘mother’ as it were) which, the more I participated in it, made me more and more anxious and worried and controlling. Even when I wasn’t at home or with our cats, I would worry about them and how they were doing and would feel immensely guilty if I thought I was doing something that didn’t make them happy or content, often causing me to experience immense internal conflict because sometimes making them safe, meant doing something that wasn’t their preference. (I’m sure many mothers can relate to this as well).
The more controlling I became, the more my partner tried pulling in the opposite direction, because he obviously saw that what I was doing wasn’t commonsensical. I saw myself as knowing at all times what was best for our cats and that he was a brute, was inconsiderate and careless and I did not trust him to take care of the cats. He, on his side tried introducing a more relaxed approach that sometimes, in common sense did not consider what was best for the cats, and the more he did this, the more I went into the controlling behavior.
We had many fights and discussions about how to solve the situation, and two particular instances lead to us finally coming together in a mutual solution. First of all, my partner asked that if he was to step up and take more responsibility, I had to back down, stop being controlling and stop distrusting him and saying that he was doing it wrong all the time. He explained to me how demotivating it was for him to expand himself and become better at taking care of the cats that I, even when he tried, scolded him in suspicion. I on the other hand, wanted him to step up more so that I could let go of control and fear that I couldn’t trust him. We both agreed to change our approach. I backed down and backed off and he committed himself to stepping up. I realized that I could never support him to expand who he was in relation to taking care of animals if I didn’t stop distrusting him – I didn’t have a choice.
So slowly but surely I backed off more and more, with the occasional setback of reverting back to the old behavior, which he could then point out wasn’t supportive due to our new agreement.
My obsession with perfection in relation to taking care of the cats, and my fear of doing it wrong and not being right hadn’t stopped though. It started slowly but surely escalating more and more when our living situation changed and our female cat died, which in my mind was partly due to me not honoring what I saw was best but instead backed down. (In that situation I didn’t back down from a common sense perspective, but because I didn’t want to be seen as a nag and as overprotective, so I compromised what I saw was best.)
It culminated in a moment of insanity where I literally felt like I was going mad from the intensity of worry and need to control. I literally broke down on the floor during a conflict with my partner in relation to the cats, and in that moment I realized how unhealthy my experience has been, that it almost took me to the brink of insanity because I had allowed it to escalate and consume me.
I knew that I had to stand down, this time not in relation to my partner because we had by then come to a more mutual understanding and agreement, but within myself. I had to force myself to stop participating in thoughts about the cats and their well-being and my worry of being a bad ‘cat parent’ because I could see what it could lead to if I didn’t.
I also realized how much support my partner could be to me, because his perspective on taking care of animals was so much more relaxed than mine. He was so calm and at ease with it and I suddenly saw how I could actually be supported by his way of doing things, which was facilitated by him also having stepped up within himself. I stopped, and I am still in the process of stopping seeing myself as the ‘matriarch’ when it comes to taking care of our cats and I have started listening to and respecting my partner’s perspectives more as well as asking him for support and perspectives. We are now more equals in our care taking as I am not as controlling or obsessed with perfection and he is more considerate and caring.
This is for me a really cool example of the process towards equality that we as couples must create if we are to create a mutually supportive and enjoyable relationship.
As women who have become controlling in our strive towards perfection, we need to back down and step back – and especially realize how this all comes from a starting-point of fear of not being good enough, of not being/doing right and of expecting ourselves to be able to be perfect. As women (and here I’m generalizing) we have an amazing sense of specificity and overview and an ability to see what is best as well as being able to consider others and care for others. This ability gets stifled by our fear and need for perfection and we end up creating fake families or partnerships that are just for show, to present a perfect image, but without actually having a substantial foundation of support and care for one another. When we stop our strive for perfection and fear of things not being ‘just right’ we can begin supporting our partners, with the same care and specificity we tend to give our children and homes, to expand their perspectives, to become caring, compassionate and considerate beings.
I have also met many men who have become passive, withdrawn and who have entered a state of ‘not caring’ and how this is equally a stifling of a set of skills that are most supportive and valuable, namely the ability to respond calmly, to detach oneself in a constructive way in ‘crisis situations’, to keep one’s head cool, to focus and concentrate on one point at a time. All of these are skills and abilities that we women can learn so much from and be supported by, if only we would come together with our men and open ourselves up to learning from one another.
We have to remember the fact that we, for eons of time have been programmed very differently from one another, that females have developed acute awareness when it comes to having overview and seeing practical solutions whereas men have learned more how to focus on the task at hand (like a hunter stalking a pray with full concentration) and that this doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with either of us or that either skill set is more or less valuable than another. On the contrary, we can all expand and learn from each other and grow – and we can do so together as a team in a healthy and supportive relationship.
None of us are the bad guys or the good guys in these dynamics. Both males and females who access these dysfunctional patterns are both responsible and innocent and this is an important factor to consider when deciding to stop these unequal and damaging gender dynamics.
I’ll share with you here a list of self-forgiveness statements written for women (and men) to address, open up and take responsibility for the female ego that is at the core of what I’ve discussed here.