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In male/female relationships, traditionally the man is the one who tends to take charge of things and be the leader; but when does it go too far?

I have a friend, Janice*, that has been dating Carl* for a couple of years.  Carl definitely runs the relationship, but it’s to the point that Janice walks around with the submissive look of a beaten woman in her eyes.

In actuality, Janice is not by any means a weak woman.  She is actually quite successful in her chosen field; however, she takes on a different personality when she’s not at work and is around Carl.  She’s not her usual, smiling self.  She doesn’t initiate conversation, and her responses to anything you say to her are brief.  She works a lot of hours, juggles in her workouts with yours truly, volunteers, and also takes care of her house.

After observing the two together, it’s occurred to me that Carl doesn’t take charge and control Janice by physical means but, rather, by verbal means.  I hear him make belittling comments about not keeping her house clean enough or ordering pizza for dinner during the week instead of making him dinner.  He’ll make comments about her clothes that lead me to believe they’re not up to his standards.

The kicker is that Carl is a very average-looking and underachieving guy.  He doesn’t seem to adhere to the same standards that he holds Janice to.  He comes to her house and watches TV while she makes him dinner.  I’ve never heard of him helping her clean that house that he criticizes her for not keeping up with.  He wears black socks with horribly wrinkled white shorts, so he is far from perfection himself in the Fashion Department.  Lastly, while Janice works a lot of hours and is the breadwinner in the relationship, he works at a job that isn’t necessarily his passion and just gets him by.

It’s become obvious to me that Carl seeks to control Janice by keeping her down, but the part that I don’t understand is why Janice lets him treat her this way.  Maybe she just wishes to be the submissive housewife type, but I think it might be something different.

Janice is what I would call an overachiever.  She does her best at everything.  I’m pretty sure she has never been criticized for anything she has done thus far in life until Carl came along.  Suddenly she’s not good enough.  Her house isn’t clean enough, her dinner isn’t homemade, her clothes aren’t top notch.  Janice has suddenly become aware that all the balls in the air that she thought she had been juggling aren’t being juggled to someone’s satisfaction.  Maybe she’s making an effort to be everything to everyone, much like a people-pleaser, but shouldn’t she be focusing on just being everything to herself?  If she’s going to work harder to rise to someone else’s standards, maybe she should aim a little higher than Carl.

My own thought would be that Carl seems a bit hypocritical.  I think we should all strive to be our best but, when our best isn’t good enough for someone else, when they use our weaknesses to control us and keep us down, is that person really the best match for us?  Maybe Janice is just trying to work with what she has with Carl, maybe she likes the challenge of not being good enough at things and is stepping up, or maybe she truly feels she’s slacking and he’s right.  Either way, I believe our partner should be supporting and helping us versus criticizing us and controlling us.  Especially someone who wears black socks with white shorts.  But that’s just me.

* Fictional name

Risking the Nine Days is Book 2 in the Katie Collins Romance Series, and it’s now available online!