Traditionally, couple relationships have tended to reproduce a kind of affective bond in which there are two distinct roles: the person who commands and the person who obeys. This phenomenon has been recently questioned with the rise of egalitarianism, but its effects continue to be noticed in the small details of our love and intimate life: even today, it is frequent that there are male and female bosses within relationships .
There are several factors that explain why, if we look closely at our relationship as a couple, we will most likely see that we are prone to adopt the role of leader or obedient party without regard to reasonable criteria.
More than just different personalities
That in couples there are both male and female bosses can be seen relatively easily by realizing that it is very common for one member of the relationship to be more concerned about pleasing the other, to apologize more often and with more emphasis, and to always accept the decisions made by the other.
It may seem that this is simply a sign that in couples there are always certain personality differences , but the truth is that there are more factors that influence this and that make, to a greater or lesser extent, many people embrace the roles of bosses and vassals.
Who wears the pants in the relationship?
The dynamics of domination in which one person makes the decisions, takes great risks and rules over his partner in something that has been closely related to the man’s role as leader of the family. Not for nothing in several Spanish-speaking areas it is common to ask who wears the pants in your relationship? , using this resource based on metonymy to inquire about who is the “man” in the couple.
At least within the domestic sphere, there is still good reason to believe that women are usually subject to obligations that men do not: just look at the studies conducted in virtually every country that explore the weekly hours spent by both sexes on domestic tasks. The female sex earns overwhelmingly in the time dedicated to household chores , on many occasions complementing these with those that men have been carrying out: work outside the home and higher studies.
Therefore, heterosexual relationships where both people live together are still biased towards male leadership in the maintenance of living conditions. Women still do most of the work at home and often also have careers outside the home. However, the boss or head of a relationship is in several aspects that go beyond the work in the house and the collective influence of culture. We must also take into account what we have all learned individually.
The comfort of the role of boss and obedient party
If we start thinking about the concepts “boss” and “obedient party” as something abstract, we will most likely come to the conclusion that being the former is preferable to being the latter. In the end leadership is related to the ideas of freedom, autonomy and power , while obedience conveys the opposite sensations.
However, in practice it is not difficult to put oneself in the shoes of people who prefer to assume the role of the one who obeys. Giving up the role of boss means not having to worry so much about the future, living in less unpredictable situations and not making complicated decisions. This is partly why there are so many relationships in which there is a clear leader : the other party has come to internalize the idea that adopting a passive and obedient role interests him or her or is “the norm” . He has learned this from previous experiences.
Thus, if taking the initiative and leading teams (formal or informal) of people has left us feeling good most of the time, this will also have an effect on our relationships. The same is true in those cases where, even if unconsciously, we have learned that it is best to do what is asked of us. Dating and marriage are not a world apart from those in which we learn to relate to all people in general.
A real time lace
Of course, the emergence of the role of the boss in relationships is not only about culture and whether we live more or less anchored in our past experiences. Also is decisive the way in which we share a time and a space with the other person , the way in which our personalities fit in real time depending on the situations we usually live together and the context we share.
Thus, a proactive person with a good level of self-esteem could be displaced towards the role of an obedient party if his partner is not especially determined but with a much higher socioeconomic level.
Different leaderships for different situations
In addition, it is also common for one of the partners to be the boss in very specific contexts, but not in others. Sometimes this is for well-established and to some extent rational reasons; for example, the man may be the boss when it comes to maintaining the house garden because he knows more about it. However, it is the other leaderships, which cannot be justified based on values such as equality, that put the balance in the couple’s relationship at risk.
Some of these cases where unjustified bosses emerge can be reinforced by tradition and culture; for example the old custom of the man having to pay a woman for dinner. But the other cases of unreasonable leaderships not based on community customs can be, simply, a symptom that the couple’s relationship is based on a false symmetry : in it, there is someone who believes unjustifiably that he has a higher value than the other person, with whom he adopts an attitude of authority and paternalism.
Avoiding extra leadership
Even if the boss believes that he or she has this role by default and that this is part of normality, the truth is that this dynamic of daily and affective relationships is not based on anything other than the idea that one deserves to be the one who commands and decides for the other person.
Avoiding the appearance of these leaderships based on small-scale authoritarianism is essential to make the two people committed to the couple’s project able to give and receive equally.