He said: "She always wanted to be the boss."
When I married Karen, I was earning a living by shoeing horses and she was teaching school. In my experience of teachers, they always thought they knew everything. And Karen was no exception. Whenever she and I worked on a project, we usually ended up in a battle because she always knew the "right" way to do it.
When we were first married, Karen paid the bills. Her paycheck came once a month, and since I was self-employed, my money came in sporadically. Karen would pay bills until all the money was gone, and there we'd be—broke. We ended up shouting over it every month.
After moving into our own place, I planted some trees. Two were mulberry trees that needed yearly pruning. Karen told me her dad taught her everything there was to know about pruning trees and she would handle it. I went along with it because I didn't know much about pruning. Karen said, "You have to really cut mulberries back" as she hacked away at them. I indicated that I thought she was overdoing it.
"Oh no," she said. "Just wait and see." I waited three years for those trees to recover.
If there was an inefficient or difficult way to do something, that's the route Karen would take. When I'd try to tell her a better way (mine), she'd get angry and quit. I appreciated Karen wanting to help, but she couldn't take constructive criticism.
She said: "He always wanted to be the boss."
When I met Barry, I was captivated by the fact that he was a cowboy. I admired his uniqueness and all the things he knew about that I didn't. He taught me to dance the two-step, how to ride a horse, and how to tie a calf down for branding. I valued his strength of character and his fearlessness.
As a teacher, I enjoyed having a captive audience of kids who respected me and thought I knew everything. As soon as Barry and I got married, however, I found that he was not part of that audience.
When it came to the normal activities of life, such as paying bills, driving a car or doing yard work, Barry didn't like the way I did anything. He couldn't imagine why I kept paying bills until there was no more money left in the checking account, or why I would plan a meal without potatoes.
I've always been a strong-willed person, and I consider my own ways to be the best. The problem was that Barry thought his ways were best. I'd start to do something, and he would immediately tell me the way he thought I should do it. One day I was trying to surprise him by washing his car. But instead I was in for a surprise. Rather than being thrilled with the gesture, Barry told me the "right" way to wash a car. I got angry and threw the soapy cloth at him.
We couldn't work together on anything. It was a constant battle for leadership between two very domineering people.
What Karen and Barry Did:
For years the Robertsons struggled through every project. "No matter who did what, the other one corrected and criticized—whether it was driving, gardening or bookkeeping," Barry explains.
The situation began to improve after Karen attended a leadership conference. "At the conference," she says, "I took a personality test that revealed a strong controller (get the job done now, my way) temperament." She admits this insight came as no surprise. Later, at home, Barry took the same test.
"I had the same dominant temperament," he says. "We were both trying to be the boss."
To minimize conflict, the Robertsons decided to designate ahead of time who would take the leadership role in each project. The other would bow to that leadership. When Karen took over the in-town driving, their on-the-road relationship immediately improved. "She tends to be more alert in that type of driving," admits Barry. And they started arriving on time—without getting into arguments.
Meanwhile, Barry took over the freeway driving. "He's much better on the long haul," says Karen, "and I love to read in the car."
In the area of finances, Barry took charge of paying bills and doing the banking. "He had a better grip on the ebb and flow of his self-employed income and paid the bills accordingly," recalls Karen. "He put me in charge of balancing the checkbook and income tax preparation, which he abhors."
Barry became the boss in the landscaping department, while Karen was overseer of the housework and other indoor activities.
"It's not unusual for us to start a new project with the words, 'Who's going to be the boss?'" says Karen. "Establishing who's in charge up front makes the task so much easier because we know our roles."
"I still give Karen a hard time if she forgets to write a check in the register occasionally," says Barry, "and she brings my subtraction errors to my attention when she's trying to balance the checkbook. But all in all, we have divided up our leadership so we are doing what we each do best. And we now appreciate each other more."
Splitting up the leadership so that each of them complements the other brought a peaceful solution to the Robertsons' tug-of-war. "We are now more willing to trust each other than we were before, when we were vying for control," says Karen.
Adds Barry: "We truly feel like we are working side by side."
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