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Relationship Test: Protective or Overbearing?


Dear Lynda,

We’re planning another leg of our round the world trip, and I really want to go to Africa, but my boyfriend is reluctant. He says he’d go if he was alone, but he’s hesitant because we’re travelling together. I get that he’s being protective, but at the same time it really bugs me – I’m not a child that needs to be shielded from the world!”

– Simone


Dear Simone,

The knee jerk reaction is to dump the guy and go to Africa. You’re obviously competent and capable of dealing with things that arise, and his fears are his problem. But I doubt you’d be asking this question if you’d didn’t like him and want to at least try and work it out to your mutual satisfaction. Assuming that’s the case, and that you both possess the ability to have a reasonable conversation, let’s instead focus on several important issues that need to be addressed.

Here are a few questions you could pose that might initiate a potentially rich and meaningful discussion: ‘I’m curious what you are afraid of. What is it like for you to feel the need to protect me? Is it simply because I am a woman and you are a man? Do you see me as competent adult? Can you understand that it’s important for me to go and that I am comfortable accepting the associated risks? If we were to reverse roles how would you react if I wanted to restrict where you went based on my fears? Can you help me understand why it’s okay for me to give up my dreams to appease your fears?’

Can he hear your passion and support it despite his anxieties? If that’s the outcome, is he willing to go because it matters so much to you and can he live with a degree of discomfort, recognizing it’s his issue and not yours? If some of his concerns are valid, are you able to acknowledge them and work on mutual solutions you can both live with while still going to Africa?

But what happens if he simply can’t comprehend that he is asking you to give up your dream and won’t budge? Then turn the question inward: will you feel resentful over time if he wants to limit your passions due to his fears or his stereotypes? If that’s the case then perhaps you need to be re-evaluating the relationship, not the destination.

Yes, people may suggest other options such as separating temporarily for portions of the journey: you go to Africa with a friend while he travels elsewhere so he doesn’t have to feel responsible for your safety and you are able to enjoy the freedom of seeing someplace you’ve always wanted to go. That may be a viable option as long as it addresses the larger issues: that he is not calming his fears by restricting your actions, and that in your heart you would rather share the journey with him but will go with others instead just to make him feel better. Neither of those solutions bode well for the long term.

It’s reasonable in a partnership to compromise, but that’s vastly different than muting your dreams to appease his fears, or being left to feel like a child. In that case you aren’t dealing with compromises, you’re looking at giant red flags.



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