He won’t work on the relationship.
He won’t do ANYTHING.
He says things are fine as they are.
He says there’s nothing to talk about.
And what you hear is:
“I don’t care how you feel.”
“I can’t be bothered to lift a finger.”
“You’re not worth of my effort.”
You’re pinned into a corner.
Either you live like this forever—because he’s not going to change—or you walk away and never look back.
But there’s another way to handle it that could just shift the energy…
And that’s to have a meta conversation.
Who’s Responsible for Your Relationship?
This power struggle is so common in relationships.
I call it a power struggle because ultimately it’s about who is responsible for the emotional work in your relationship.
If you think about the typical couple, who is the person that invests the most effort in the emotional health of the relationship?
It’s usually the woman, right?
This is no coincidence. From the time they’re young, girls are taught to be responsible for the emotional health of their relationships.
If someone’s feelings are hurt, girls are taught to apologize.
If someone doesn’t feel included, girls are taught to invite them in (yes, I know girls can be mean, but when trying to invest in relationships, these are default behaviors).
These girls grow into women who take responsibility for the emotional labor of a relationship.
Emotional labor is the work of managing everyone’s feelings.
It takes effort to plan an anniversary surprise, remember to ask how your partner’s project is going, and make him smile when he seems down.
All too often, men are happy to leave that role to women.
They take responsibility for other aspects of the relationship, ones that don’t involve feelings.
This division of labor seems natural to them, because they don’t consider themselves experts in emotions. They don’t know what a woman needs to be happy. They assume she’ll ask if she needs anything.
But that leaves them without tools or strategies when a relationship gets bumpy. They don’t know what to do.
If she can’t fix what’s wrong, they think, how can she expect me to figure it out?
He’s Not Clueless – He’s Stubborn
But maybe that doesn’t describe your guy.
Maybe he knows exactly what he needs to do, but he refuses to do it.
This is where the power struggle comes in.
A power struggle sounds like:
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Just take a chill pill, will ya?”
It also sounds like silence, the refusal to talk about problems.
Power struggles are a normal stage in the evolution of a relationship. It’s not easy to make a life with someone, especially when you’ve been in charge of your own life for so long.
But it’s a stage you MUST get past.
If one of you has to win and the other has to lose every time you come into conflict, you’ll end up resenting one another.
The thing about power struggles is that you can’t solve them at the level they were created.
If he’s not doing something that you feel is important, telling him multiple times to do it isn’t going to work.
To get a man to work on your relationship when he’s resistant—either because he doesn’t want to or he doesn’t know how to—requires a different kind of conversation:
A meta conversation.
Talk about How You’re Talking
A meta conversation is when you zoom out and look past the problem to examine how you’re dealing with the problem.
It’s incredibly helpful to assume that you’re not able to resolve this because your wires got crossed somewhere (not because he’s a jerk and doesn’t care).
Maybe you both have different expectations about your roles in the relationship.
Maybe you’ve looked after the emotional health of the relationship for so long that he doesn’t feel like he has anything to contribute.
Maybe he’s terrified that if you talk about the problems in your relationship, you’ll break up.
Maybe he feels like you’re saying he’s not doing enough when he feels he’s doing a lot.
Chances are, when a man is resistant to working on a relationship, there is something that’s going unsaid.
You can start a meta conversation by saying something like:
“I know we’ve tried to talk about things before, but would you be open to having a conversation about how we talk to each other? I know that sometimes I get defensive or critical, and I’d like to try again. I want to hear your perspective on how we can best work on the relationship without hurting each other’s feelings.”
Again, this isn’t a conversation about your issues as a couple.
It’s a conversation about how you communicate those issues, and how you can be better at making each other feel heard and understood.
Strangely enough, many issues seem to resolve themselves once both parties feel heard and understood. The power struggle disappears. You both feel like you’re on the same side.
And when you’re on the same side, you can work together—which is exactly what your relationship needs.