Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend and I have had many happy times and are compatible in most fundamental ways. But, as the relationship has gone on, her micromanaging and second-guessing have increased.
She describes herself as a micromanager, and loves correcting everyone on small things, from how to wrap a sandwich to how to tie your shoes. The result is that I can barely put a letter in an envelope without being told I should do it differently. She has the eyes of a hawk, and if I put a shirt on the wrong chair, I will hear about it.
I recently spent time with her family and saw many of the same traits on display. Once I moved a book off the shelf and had to explain to her father why I did it. If you leave the basement door open or put the dish on the table in the wrong spot, the disapproval will be noted, even if subtly. But it is not a two-way street; she doesn’t accept suggestions for doing things differently.
She denies that her micromanagement extends into our relationship (it does), and says also that I can do and say anything I want anytime I want (I can’t). Can this situation be broached through conversation, or is a micromanager always a micromanager?
Never miss a local story.
I’ve never liked the, “Once a –––, always a –––,” construct, because people change themselves all the time.
When they want to for their own reasons, and try to.
Since you’ve already spelled out that you don’t appreciate being corrected like a handsy toddler by the person whose equal you expect to be — right? — and since your girlfriend’s response was to deny any such correcting, you can reasonably conclude she doesn’t want to change and doesn’t intend to try.
Please also take a moment to recognize the breathtaking arrogance in the self-defined micromanager. The whole premise is that every little thing must be done a certain way, which only she is competent enough to achieve.
And then regard the suffocating arrogance of someone who cannot be corrected herself. If this were about attaining a perfect outcome, then she’d welcome your suggestions – so this is all just a need to control.
Even that might be an acceptably small price to pay for her companionship in, say, a 98-2 solution — as in, you are 98 percent happy equals and she has lapses into micromanagement that account for 2 percent of your time together. Certainly we flawed beasts can have one thing we’re fussy about without becoming undatable.
But you’re not talking about a small and contained percentage, but instead a large and growing one. Misery.
One point where we disagree: You can, in fact, “do and say anything I want anytime I want,” because she can micromanage you only to the extent you allow her to.
Assuming you give this relationship another, time-limited chance to work before you run from it like your hair is on fire and break up over the constant corrections, I suggest you adopt a terse, factual phrase — “I’m XX years old,” for example — to use verbatim and in your calmest voice every time she tries to teach you how to tie your shoes.
I don’t have great hopes, but some verbal clonks to the head actually do get through.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.