Using work management techniques in your personal life can lead to relationship problems, a psych explains

relationship managing
Image: iStock / SeventyFour
This article is sponsored by RSVP.

Managing people and personalities is part of the parcel when you have a job – regardless of whether or not you have anyone reporting directly to you – in order to get something done or to get a conversation to go in the direction you want it to.

This happens in everyday life too for the very same reasons. However, it can become problematic in relationships because of an implied power imbalance and assumed situation-manipulating techniques. It could be triggering for some and remind them of an unfavourable situation or person. In fact, in a recent study by RSVP, it was found that members connected over a shared distaste for certain personality traits, just as much as they did desirable traits.

We spoke to psychologist Vashti Wallace, who works in organisational and employee wellbeing, about what managing your partner can look like and when it can be unhealthy.

What might “managing” your partner look like?

Management involves planning, organising, resourcing, leading, and controlling one or more people to achieve a goal. Management tasks include solving problems, making decisions, implementing courses of actions, and reviewing decisions and actions and making any necessary changes. Leadership involves influence, which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Leadership can either be transactional or transformational.

Transactional leadership involves guiding or motivating others in the direction of established goals by clarifying roles and tasks and monitoring and correcting mistakes. It typically involves an exchange of resources such as pay for productivity and task completion. Motivation is either through punishment for mistakes and/or reward for achievement, and is based on the assumption people are lazy and unmotivated.
Transformational leadership involves inspiring others with a compelling vision that encourages new ways of thinking and acting. They show concern for others and their development and as their world is transformed, so are they.

Transformational leadership involves:

• Idealised influence – they have charisma, build trust and act with integrity
• Inspirational motivation – they motivate and inspire others
• Intellectual stimulation – they encourage innovative thinking
• Individualised consideration – they coach people and treat them as valued, unique individuals

Transformational leadership results in greater employee satisfaction, discretionary effort, productivity and performance, and lower turnover. Managing your partner might look like giving them instructions, making decisions that impact them without consulting them, and taking control during challenging situations. However, it could also involve motivating them, guiding them, providing advice, protecting them, taking responsibility for their welfare, and helping them grow and reach their potential.

Why is “managing” your partner unhealthy in a relationship?

Managing another person implies a power imbalance, whereas a healthy relationship requires an equal distribution of power. Whilst some situations may require someone to take the lead and ‘manage’ the situation, this should depend on the person’s skills and attributes appropriate to the specific situation. If one person takes control of every situation the power dynamic becomes unbalanced which can lead to resentment and retaliation by those being ‘managed’.

Could this kind of behaviour potentially lead to anything more sinister?

A good manager will put the needs of their people ahead of their own. However, when the person in charge makes decisions and takes actions for their own benefit, and not the other person, many undesirable outcomes may arise.

Research has found a directive management style is useful in a crisis situation, and with unmotivated and incapable subordinates. However, it has been established that an autocratic and coercive approach leads to poor performance, a lack of engagement and disloyalty. Subordinates do as they are told when the manager is present, due to fear of punishment.

However, as soon as the manager is not present the subordinates tend to do their own thing, and they may also sabotage and undermine the manager when given the opportunity.

People who remain in a controlling relationship can become dependent and insecure. Co-dependency is a concept that attempts to characterise imbalanced relationships where one person enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.

For a co-dependent person, the need to be in a relationship is more important than being healthy, happy, and successful. Trauma and abuse in childhood can often lead to co-dependency as these people were not securely attached to their caregivers, and therefore do not learn how to form healthy relationships as adults.

Signs of codependency include:

• Difficulty making decisions in a relationship
• Difficulty identifying your feelings
• Difficulty communicating in a relationship
• Valuing the approval of others more than valuing yourself
• Lacking trust in yourself and having poor self-esteem
• Having fears of abandonment or an obsessive need for approval
• Having an unhealthy dependence on relationships, even at your own cost
• Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others

What strategies can ‘manager’ types use to stop this behaviour?

Strategies manager types can use to stop this directive behaviour include active and empathetic listening, collaborative decision making, empowerment, encouragement, and a focus on the other person’s goals and growth.

What sort of feelings might partners who are ‘managed’ experience?

Feelings that partners who are being “managed” may experience include: anger, resentment, disengagement, powerlessness, hopelessness, helplessness and insecurity.

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