Truth can be hard to face when considering the balance of power in any relationship. What does Top Dog relationship mean? It means you participate in a hierarchy of power by either swallowing & ignoring your more authentic self or by enjoying the role of being manipulatively in charge with your demands being met.

The Top Dog gets to skip all the boring complications of negotiating. You may appear to negotiate but instead you are really strategic in making sure you get what you want.

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Are You a Top Dog or Do You Cooperate in a Top Dog Relationship?

A Top Dog relationship means you participate in a hierarchy of power by either swallowing & ignoring your more authentic self or by enjoying the role of being manipulatively in charge with your demands being met. The narrative of every couple must be written by two people, not one to have authenticity.   

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Those who cooperate in a Top Dog relationship, swallow their real opinions & who go along to get along often end up buried in unexpressed resentments.

I was inspired to do this episode by reading a piece in Vanity Fair about Michiko Kakutani the NYT book reviewer for 35 years who has written her own book The Death of Truth and she says she was struck by “…how those in power get to define what the truth is.”

The narrative of couples must be written by two people, not one to have authenticity. As you have heard me say many times before in other episodes; truth always lies in-between people. The elegance & art of couple’s work is to help each individual see the other’s truth more accurately. No one person has a corner on the market of the truth.

When you are in a Top Dog relationship one person is defining the truth. It is certainly much simpler to submit to one version of the truth…. (again) “those in power get to define what the truth is.”

I’m reading a biography by Caroline Fraser of Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote Little House on the Prairie. I find myself annoyed with her because her husband builds an expensive house when they are first married & she never even poses the question “Can we afford this?” which is culturally the norm in 1885 but they end up in trouble because of it. Then later after years of financial turmoil he buys a fancy clock & again she does not question it. Later on her daughter takes a pre-fab Sears & Roebuck house that is under $3,000 & turns it into an extravagant $11,000 project. Her silence baffles me because her life was a constant financial struggle. How might the truth have emerged if she had been more authentic in facing their problems?

Denial & pretending are certainly the most powerful forces in the universe.

Making excuses instead of speaking up to be part of creating a more accurate picture is a big mistake.

If you are someone who goes along to get along the first step would be to ask more questions. The second step would to be to make more statements instead of asking questions. Instead of “Can we afford this?” to be able to say “I don’t believe we can afford this.” Taking ownership of what you believe to be true by saying it out loud to someone else.

It can be really complicated to respect 2 points of view at the same time. So the third step might have to be asking for more respect for your point of view. “Look, I know you don’t agree with me but I deserve the respect of sitting down together & going over the numbers.”

The fourth step would be not allowing deflecting or avoiding to erase that opportunity to go over the numbers. The fifth step would be to interrupt excuses with a faith & deep belief that reality & truth really do matter.

If you swallow your truth then you are allowing your partner to define a false reality as true. No one can be domineering unless you allow it.

If you are someone who enjoys being in charge, you need to recognize you pay a price for that. While there can be a sweet victory in getting your way most of the time, you are in fact creating future problems. Being domineering is basically a disrespectful attitude. The first step of change is self awareness; this would mean recognizing you take up too much space. When you are a control queen that often has a very self righteous flavor to it. I still remember my father in law wanting everyone to have apple pancakes at this restaurant. The other daughter-in-law ordered strawberry. He went & convinced the waitress to bring her apple. I was incensed, but he didn’t change my order.

When there is a pattern of someone dominating a partnership or marriage for decades they control the narrative but lose out on a real relationship where both people have grown up & learned from each other. Often the partner who has been resentful will up & leave to the confusion of the other which may explain the upsurge in Baby Boomer divorces. Or the too silent partner silently gives up and goes into hiding while staying in the home.

The second step for a demanding personality would be to ask your partner questions & seek out their opinions. A third step would be to stop interrupting them. Consider putting your finger over your mouth to prevent interruptions. A fourth step would be to edit all your opinions. You are no longer in the over persuading business you are in the “I better have more respect for my partner” business.

A 5th step would be to have gratitude you figured this out before your partner left you or went underground. Respect is more important than love for relationship longevity. Remember the ultimate test of respect is being able to influence each other to be better people. If Laura had spoken up to both her daughter & husband & if they had listened to the important reality check she offered their struggles with money would have been far less.

As the song first sung by Marvin Gay says:
It takes two, baby
It takes two, baby,
Me and you
You know it takes two

Both people in a healthy couple need to share power & define their truth together; even though this certainly requires a lot more effort from both people. The narrative needs to be shared & explored together by BOTH people in order to be truthful & authentic.

Reality is only in between people. Truth matters. If you are watching the Emperor who has no clothes and you don’t risk saying it then you are participating in a false reality. Those who watched the movie The Matrix or read Ursala LeGuin’s book The Lathe of Heaven have a very clear idea of how tragic a false reality is for your soul.

Which of the set of five steps do you need to pursue?

My challenge for you today is to determine whether you dominate & control or are silent & resentful then begin the five steps to improve your relationship. Ask yourself what harsh reality or hard conversation are you ignoring? You have to decide one person in a partnership can not decide the truth because that is a false world being created. You must decide to value the work that real truth requires.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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