I wrote this to post over at This Thing We Do Forum, and then thought that it would be a useful post for the Punishment Book as well. I also want to encourage people–especially tops, we REALLY need some tops over there–to check out the forum and join in the discussions there, if they are so inclined. It’s a pretty great place, or so the people who are members keep telling me. 🙂
W asked me to post about this, although I admit that I can’t remember all of the specifics of what she wanted me to say. So I will go with my best memory, and add some things from my own perspective, and we’ll see where that gets us.
We have been struggling for a while with W establishing her authority. I am frustrated. I feel like either I’m making myself follow the rules and behave–which undermines my perception of W’s authority, because I feel like I’m the one in control of what happens, and whether or not we get into fights. Or else I’m breaking the rules, and causing W to respond to my behavior–that kind of topping-from-the-bottom thing, which makes me feel like I’m still the one in control of the situation.
W, on the other hand, is frustrated because she feels like she *is* establishing her authority. From her viewpoint, either I’m following the rules, or I am breaking the rules, and she is enforcing them. And then she’ll get feedback from me, usually afterward, that says, “Well, but I felt like I was the one in charge of that situation.” Which, frankly, undermines her confidence in her authority.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to tease out what’s going on for me, and I think that a lot of it is that I need W’s authority to come irrespective of my behavior. Which is to say, I feel like I need her to be able to visibly demonstrate her authority even when I am not misbehaving. And that is a huge shift in the dynamics of our relationship.
For lots of reasons–our basic personalities being the core of it–the usual dynamic in our relationship is that I tend to make the decisions, and take care of household organization, and really, boss her around without thinking about it. And the problem is, I’ve realized that I wind up not really respecting her… if I’m not paying attention, I’ll be thinking about her like one of those buffoon-ish husbands on a sit-com, and (obviously) thinking of myself as the all-knowing sit-com wife. Which, when it gets down to it, is not a great dynamic for a satisfying relationship (or for a good sit-com, for that matter).
Someone posted a snippet to the forum a while ago, from one of those HoH type sites, talking about the dynamics of that kind of relationship, and how a woman’s natural need to submit, and a man’s natural need to be dominant, have been thwarted by things like feminism. And that’s the kind of thing that I normally dismiss out of hand, particularly since we’re both women in my relationship, and that dynamic that the site attributes to gender is full blown. (Plus, if you’re looking at the surface, my dear wife is about 100 times more femme than I am, which would make her the “woman who needs to submit” in that theory, and she is totally not.)
But the person who posted it suggested looking past that for some useful insight to the dynamics of our relationships, and when I did, it really did help me to get in touch with where I feel the problems are. It’s not about gender. It’s about personality. Heck, it might even be that I’m a frustrated submissive, and need someone to establish dominance over me.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, at least in my relationship, the benefit of W establishing her authority, and both of us consciously treating her as the Head of Household is not that I need to have her be in charge of everything, and me totally submitting. It’s that, as it currently stands, the dynamic is the opposite. By having W act as the HoH, we rectify that. Where it will bring us is into a more equal balance. Because, let’s face it, I’m not going to become all *that* submissive. I’m a smart, capable, confident person. Plus, I’m utterly perfect and always right. (Okay, maybe not so much the last part.) If we are consciously treating W as the HoH, I will hopefully learn to treat her as someone who is as good at being in charge as I am. I will hopefully learn to consider her opinions equal to mine. And she will hopefully get some practice in standing up to me, putting her foot down, and pushing back when I unthinkingly begin to steamroll over her in the relationship.
One of the problems we’ve been having with this, though, is that W is not accustomed to being in charge. And, for a lot of reasons, she is uncertain in her role as an authority figure in our relationship. We both believe in a consensus-based style of decision making. Well, her more than me. I act like consensus is pretty much me convincing everyone else that I’m right. W is waaaaaay better at actual consensus than I am. We want everyone to have their say. We want everyone to feel like they are sharing control.
And then we add beliefs about parenting and discipline. We both believe that rules for children should be there for a reason–I mean, you don’t let them run into the street because it’s dangerous, not because you want them to submit. Rules, in our mind, should be there for a reason. Consequences should be saved for times when rules have been broken. Authority, in this sense, can be very much in the background, rather than constant and overt.
During one of our endless processing sessions, trying to figure out what’s going wrong and how to fix it, W said something like, “Well, I can’t just tell you to wear a dress or something like that. It would just be arbitrary!”
My immediate response, emotionally and verbally, was, “YES. You could! That would be the point of establishing your authority. Doing it just because you *can*.”
But it’s hard, and W isn’t in the habit of looking for ways of establishing her authority arbitrarily, just because she can, just because she and I both know that even if I’m following the rules, I’m doing it to maintain control of the reins of our relationship and resist her authority.
So the reason she asked me to post–and by “asked” I actually mean “told”–is that she wants advice. She wants suggestions of different ways she can establish her authority. And it doesn’t work out very well for us, if I’m the one giving her the suggestions. Particularly because, being as consensus-oriented as she is, she then wants to ask my opinion about the smallest mechanics of any particular suggestion I’ve offered.
I am stating here for the record–and much as I dislike it, dear readers, you can feel free to remind me that I’ve made this promise–that I am consenting to W making decisions without my input. I trust her, deeply and absolutely, to hear me and respond appropriately if I tell her that something is dangerous or not safe for me to do. I trust her, even, to listen if I honestly believe something she’s asked is unfair. But I am right now giving her the authority to steamroll over me, whether it’s for my own good, or just because she can.
Also, in the interest of getting the discussion off to a good start, and getting people thinking of ideas that play to W’s strengths, I will now describe an incident in which she quickly, easily, and directly established her authority.
Several weeks ago, we were going to the movies one night. We hadn’t been talking about rules or structure, we were just going through our ordinary, daily life. I was feeling irritated by people getting in my way and annoying me (hazards of urban living!), and as we walked into the theater, I breezed through the door, letting it go so that it closed in W’s face.
She caught up to me halfway across the lobby, rested her hand on my arm, and said quietly, firmly, “Let’s try that again.”
I had no idea what she meant. She explained, and my initial reaction was, “That’s STUPID. Why go back outside? You’re in now. Sorry I didn’t hold the door for you. Oh well. Next time.” (I didn’t say all of that, but I know I said some of it.)
She continued to be firm: “No. We are going back outside, and you will do that again, properly.”
I was caught thoroughly off-guard. Was she serious?!?! I had to walk back outside, for the sole purpose of opening the door again? Yes, she was serious. And she made me do it.
And, honestly, that was the point where I started thinking really hard about how often I am not respectful to W, in all of those little ways. How often I get caught up in my own life, and don’t take the time for basic courtesy and respect. How I take for granted that she knows I love her and respect her, that she matters to me, and that I want her to be happy. And so, in little day-to-day ways, I treat her badly. And she doesn’t do that to me. She is courteous, respectful, and remembers me in the midst of her own busy and challenging life.
So I’m asking for suggestions of ways that she can demonstrate her authority to me, and enforce it strongly until I’m able to be as respectful of her as she is of me. Knowing myself, that’s not going to be easy. But I think it will be worthwhile.
mija kindly suggested that i add a hotlink to my follow-up post over at this thing we do. so i have now done that. this whole process has really gotten me thinking, and i’m sure that i’ll be posting *something* more *somewhere* in the very near future. i’m sure everyone is just thrilled to hear that. 🙂