Who Controls The Relationship?

Here, we explain how to manage the three key battles that crop up in budding romances.

By Alan Goldsher

ure, we all like to think of the early stages of a relationship being all good and easy — cuddling on the couch and basking in the glow of your flat-panel TV with your new sweetie, heading out together to meet friends for dinner... catching a late show and sharing a sack of extra-buttery popcorn. But often
You should establish a schedule where each of you gets what you want and need.
during these supposedly easygoing times, there’s an underlying tension in the air. Because, on a certain level, every move you two make is setting the tone for your future roles in the relationship. Who’ll call the shots? Who’ll be the “flexible” one? What will you do if the two of you can’t agree on any of this? These issues are especially true in relationships where one or both partners have previously been married — and may be used to either being ruler of the roost, or the go-with-the-flow type.

Allow us to help! Let’s look at three key control issues that can needlessly derail a burgeoning relationship. For the greatest happiness, here’s how to handle them with finesse:

1. Who decides the friends you both see socially?
This can be a touchy subject for a new couple — as he wants to be with his friends, and she wants to be with hers — but they also still want to be with each other. The fact is, you should establish a schedule where each of you gets what you want and need, friendship-wise, even if that means sometimes dividing and conquering. London-based love mavens Em & Lo, authors of The Big Bang and former advice columnists for More magazine in the U.K., believe that once in awhile it’s OK to go your separate ways. “Just because you’re a couple doesn’t mean you’re joined at the hip. You can hang out with your friends without always dragging your partner along, and vice versa. A woman can tell her boyfriend, ‘Hey, I’m going to a ladies’ night next Wednesday, why don’t you call up your pals for some guy time?’” A healthy relationship is based on selfless compromise without compromising
Fair’s fair, and splitting the decision-making 50-50 can work just fine.
who you are. But if you don’t like your partner’s taste in entertainment, food, hobbies or friends, then you might want to consider getting a new partner.

2. Who decides on the flick and the food?
You know how it goes: he wants pizza, she wants sushi. He wants The Expendables, she wants Dear John. And this can feel like a huge issue if, say, the “he” in question had to sit through weepy dramas during his years with the ex. Now, if you and your honey have constant stress in this arena, Em and Lo feel you need to work it out mathematically. “If you can’t naturally find a balance, then use Excel or get a dry-erase board for the fridge and keep score. For every romantic comedy one partner gets, the other gets an action movie. And if it was Chinese takeout last time, then it’s Italian the next time you order in.” Sure, the cheeky Brits are being a bit, um, cheeky, but they have a point: if you can’t work it out verbally, put it on paper. Fair’s fair, and splitting the decision-making 50-50 can work just fine. This also avoids one partner “going with the flow” (and, say, attending what that person considers to be uninteresting art films) only to explode at a later date with a line that usually goes something like, “You always make me watch those boring foreign films!” Head that one off at the pass by learning to negotiate early on.

3. Who controls the remote?
It’s a cliché, sure, but for good reason: All across America (and possibly the world), couples in various states of commitment continue to argue over who controls the clicker. Andrea L., a single 20-something from New York City, doesn’t feel the problem is always as silly and unimportant as it sounds. “In most relationships, one person is opinionated and the other is laid-back. However, even the most passive people can go totally insane if you try to deny them the viewing pleasure of Mad Men.” Andrea’s logical, straightforward, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-myself solution? A compromise based on days of the week. “Monday, Wednesday, Friday,” she says, “the guy has the remote, even if that means all ESPN, all the time. Then on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, she can get her ‘revenge’ with a Lifetime movie marathon.” Sundays? Well, maybe the couple in question needs a day off from TV — or possibly each other. Em & Lo have a solution that should shore up budding relationships: “Get a DVR.”

Alan Goldsher is the author of the book Modest Mouse: A Pretty Good Read.
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