One of the chronic complaints I hear from mostly women around their mostly male partners is they want to feel lead in their relationship, they have a longing and a desire that their partner take the lead in their family life & their love life, so they don’t have to do it all the time. They’ve had this desire for such a long time that there are often built up resentment around it. Sometimes, couples will attempt to change this dynamic, but what commonly happens is the man attempts to lead and doesn’t do it as well as the woman, and she critiques him which then leads to resentment.
The answer to this very common problem? You have to let him do it badly.
You (together) have created whatever the dynamic is in your relationship. If you want to create a new dynamic in your relationship, you need to be more committed to the dynamic than to getting exactly what you want – or things going just the way you think they should- in a given moment.
Case in point: I worked with this super successful mother & wife who was complaining about how her husband still didn’t know where their children’s lunch boxes were. I told her it was probably because every time he asks, she tells him. Not only does he not have to know, but he doesn’t have to even remember. In the moment, she thought she needed to tell him because if she didn’t, the lunches wouldn’t get made, or they wouldn’t be on time, etc and then for years, she ended up resenting him for not knowing when you gave him an answer every time he asked.
(watch the full video for many more examples!)
If your partner does something chronically, you have trained him to do that, which is perfectly fine, but you have to take responsibility for your part, rather than just resenting it. If you want to change it, respond differently in order to train differently.
We don’t get leadership from the other person by bringing leadership ourselves because that role is filled & there is no space or a void for him to step into. We don’t get leadership from the other person by picking at everything they do, and how they do it when they attempt to step into a leadership role. If you’re criticizing how someone is doing something, you’re suggesting you know how to do it better.
And the distinction many women (who want their partners to lead them more) need to understand, is the difference between “I want you to lead, or guide, me” and “I want you do this specific thing”. The latter is actually you taking the lead, in telling him what to do.
If your partner is floundering while trying to take the lead, are you willing to give up getting exactly what you want in the moment, in the service of creating a dynamic you deeply yearn for in the long-term?
Several years ago, after a long day at the river with our kids, my boyfriend turned to me, a little flustered & asked, “what should we do about dinner?”
Now, there are moments to just step in & choose where to take the family for dinner.
But I could also feel that this was a moment I could let go; that he really did have us, and had just gotten flustered & forgotten for a moment. This was also at a time where our dynamic was shifting, after years of me handling almost all the decisions related to the children. So it was important that I allow space for him to lead….’badly’.
I turned to him, softened the front of my body from the inside out, truly felt how I trusted him to take care of us, and said “I trust you”. That was all it took. No long conversations, no irritation that he had asked me, no telling him that I needed him to lead us. I simply offered my trust.
And, in an instant, his entire being shifted & he said, “Nevermind, I know where we should go. Get in the car.”
This may seem like a small thing, but our relationships are made up of small moments just like this. These are also the moments that build trust between you & your partner, so that you know how to show up for each other in the ‘big’ moments when more important things than feeding the kids dinner is on the line.
On the surface this might seem like playing dumb, but there is a much deeper level, of being willing to relax the part that thinks you know better. And, in doing so, you allow the part of them that does know how to lead to arise.
This requires trusting that, even if things don’t go exactly the way I want them to in this moment, at a deeper level, you are creating the dynamic of you not always being the one who has to know & do & initiate All The Things in order for anything to ever happen at all.
(in the video, I share more about the energetic component required to do this well)
Foster the dynamic you desire in your relationship over the specificity of getting exactly what you want right now.
The Power of Praise Practice
In the moments where your partner steps in to lead, even on a micro-level, lean into it with praise and encouragement. If you want more of the dynamic -even if there are lots of things they could have done better- it’s important to praise what they have done. This is so important, that I have literally trained myself to start my sentences with the words, “What I love about that is….” – and there is almost always something to love! It might be small, but it’s something that can be built on.
One time, my partner wrote me an email with some pretty strong wording around some things he didn’t like. He even told me, in no uncertain terms, something he wanted me to not do in my business. I could easily have dismissed him, by saying he doesn’t know what he’s talking about with regards to my line of work. Or responded by complaining that I wished he had talked to me about these things in person rather than write me an email with bullet points. However, him sharing his thoughts with me in this way – especially anything ‘negative’ – was something I really wanted to encourage, so I wrote back immediately with a huge THANK YOU & I LOVE that you shared these feelings with me!
There is always plenty of time to share how we might like things to be different & I honestly believe that people don’t praise each other nearly as much as they could.
Life is too short to withhold generous love in this way.
(watch the full video for more examples of Praise Practice & why it is an essential practice in intimate relationships.)