Who Gets To Choose?

It takes two people to have a relationship. In what seems like an ideal situation, those people work together to create the terms on which they interact, and to define how their relationship works.

In reality, though, that’s almost never the case. We happen into friendships through circumstance, we follow a cultural patterns for dating interactions, we have coworkers and metamours and family members that we don’t get to choose, but have to make the best of.

There are plenty of situations where one person wants something different from the relationship than their partner does. Sometimes, the resolution is easy: Let’s break up! Or, stop drunk dialing me! Or, I’d like to ask you on a date. The other partner can say,”I’m sad about breaking up!” Or “No, thanks, I don’t want to go on a date with you.” That’s an easy situation (relatively – breakups and date rejection are not actually¬†easy, just straightforward).

On the other hand, what do you do when one person wants something different from the existing structure of the relationship, and their partner isn’t on board? Whose desires should take precedence? To be clear, I mean this in a situation where no one is in danger, where people just want conflicting things: if two family members want to run their shared relationship differently, who gets to decide?

Where do we change gears from “siblings because of the circumstances of our family” to “friends because of our choice?” When does the need a child communicates take precedence over the way a parent wants to take care of them?

How do you start a conversation with a partner about this? What do you do when they won’t hear it?

I started this post out with the idea that I had some kind of answer, but I don’t think I do. In so many of the relationships that I have with people, I can have these conversations, we can talk honestly, but it’s not always the case. Have you been here, wanting something from a relationship that you just can’t get? How to do you handle it?


image courtesy daftgirly


7 thoughts on “Who Gets To Choose?”

  1. This sounds like an article about control, not partnership. Either you decide together, or the relationship can’t last. You don’t get to decide to treat someone in a way that they don’t want to be treated without risking that they won’t be in your life anymore.

    1. Yeah, I guess the question really is about control, and about making a transition within a relationship that has a pre-existing power dynamic. I want to maintain a relationship with someone who wants it her way or the highway.

  2. The boundaries of physical and emotional safety of both parties with respect to the issue are probably a reasonable to start looking for the answer. That is, if I want to have indiscriminate, unsafe sex then that crosses a clear physical safety boundary for my partner.

    Maybe I’m missing the point but I think this is really a question of autonomy. For people equipped to make their own life choices it becomes a question of whether you can show cause to impose a decision on someone else because of a safety concern you have or because it otherwise inhibits you from exercising your own autonomy.

  3. This is really a very difficult question to answer. I have a couple of stories that I should probably write out in detail about this, but the quick and dirty:

    I think the person who has the most dedication to their position wins in the end. I once said no to someone when she said we should break-up. Ultimately (a few weeks later), she had more dedication to not being in the relationship.

    In more than one case I have been deeply hurt by someone and not wanted to be around them, by the time I got over it they weren’t around anymore, and because they never showed dedication in repairing the relationship I just didn’t care.

  4. Seems like there’s a large range of relationships addressed here. I think the answer is: It depends. In general, I think one must set boundaries and protect those boundaries, often by changing the subject or walking away, long term or short term. If we want more from the relationship than the other wants to give, we can ask, but each partner really does decide. I’d say, look at what the other wants from you and know that you have power to give it or not… also, what do you want in return? As Carlos implies, feelings can mellow and points of view shift. Relationships do take commitment… and a long-term perspective on their value and prospects.

  5. A well thought-out posting, something I have come to expect from Rose and Carlos.

    I and Barbara (my wife) don’t tend to talk about relationships the way many (or most) people do. For example, we rarely talk about what we expect out of a (or our) relationship. We talk about what we would do, or not do, in a given situation. We talk about expectations from life – and if our partner cannot supply it, we look elsewhere, if this is feasible. I play bridge, Barbara doesn’t – so if I expect to play bridge with a regular partner, it cannot be with her. Barbara likes going to spas, I don’t – so she may well go to one without me.

    Now, when it comes to important decisions – to have or not to have kids, how to raise those kids, where to live, what people to befriend together – we tend to agree already, which is one reason why we got married in the first place. If we really didn’t see eye to eye on such things, I sure hope we wouldn’t have tied the knot, instantaneous attraction or not (that was an unintentional pun).

    Of course there are always different levels of intensity for one’s likes and dislikes. When this happens, the one who cares more about something will win out. For example, when we started to think about where to retire to, I could have picked quite a large number of places. That’s because I have lived an international life most of my life and I am good at learning languages. Barbara had, however, more focused ideas – she far preferred Vancouver, with Toronto a distant second. So Vancouver it was – it’s hardly the armpit of the universe, after all. There are two key points to go with this kind of decison making: (1) No matter whose idea prevailed, the other person should go along with it wholeheartedly. No bellyaches, no what ifs, no regrets. (2) It’s not tit-for-tat: I did this for you, now you do this for me. People in a good relationships get to know each other after a while, and will, almost instinctively realize what is of key importance to one person and what to the other.

    Since we have been together for 31 years, and are not known among our friends (or children) as that couple who always fight, we must be doing something right!

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