These somewhat unrelated topics converged in my brian the other day.
My way of approaching intimate relationships was very strongly influenced by my parents' marriage. My father manipulated, coerced, threatened, guilted, cajoled, browbeat, and physically forced my mother into de facto submission for as long as I can remember having any sense of what those things were - which - given the extent to which I was steeped in them, was pretty young. My mom felt afraid, obligated, guilty, and hopeless. She was certain that she couldn't make it without him, and that she would be judged and shunned if she left, and that we children would be taken from her. He controlled her through fear and manipulation. She did for and gave him anything and everything and she became someone who wasn't herself.
Very much because of this, I had always been extroidinarily oversensitive to manipulation or mind games, or even disingenuousness from boyfriends, including the one who was to become my husband. I also fought very hard against being controlled, too hard I'm sure. I was defensive and controlling and opinionated and strong willed. (I wonder what he did see in me?) But I was adamantly wysiwyg - take me as I am or not at all.
In talking with my husband about how we have ended up where we are now and how we were before - he explained that, starting when we were dating, he consciously acted in certain ways, and not in others because he saw how my parents interacted, and how I reacted, and how I defended myself so strongly. He didn't push me so that I wouldn't feel I needed to push back. He says that he has always known that I would follow him, that I would do what he wanted if he really asked. But he asked only very rarely because he knew I wouldn't stick around if I felt controlled.
I have gone back and forth in how I feel about this. Was that disingenous of him, was it manipulative, or was it simply the inevitable compromise necessary for two people to live and find their way and thrive together? Was it a smart, even loving decision; the means justified by the ends? Was he really bringing me his true self if he were intentionally leaving out certain behaviors? For that matter, if my behaviors were so much in reaction to my parents, was I bringing my true self?
We are both learning and finding more of ourselves now I think. And in that - we are each bringing more of our true selves into our relationship. His decisions then weren't designed to change me or mold me into something else, just to keep me. And neither of us now is asking the other to change who we are, or even to act counter to who we are.
Beyond having relinquished final control, this lifestyle requires me to step back and allow manipulations to happen. He orchestrates things frequently now - for fun, every once in awhile for laughs, but also to show me something about myself, to teach me something, or to explore something together. Often I see this for what it is at the time - but I go along. Sometimes it surprises me. But, I have consented to this, explicitly and with full knowlege.
I think consent is a complex thing. I believe that partners manipulating each other for their own purposes, or even ostensibly for the other's benefit, is wrong. And I believe that if I have consented to turn myself over to him, I make a huge leap of faith and trust that what he does will be for the good of both of us, then I am not being manipulated.