Human social concourse, to the extent that it is not criminal, is mutually voluntary. This goes for marriage, too, and it doesn’t do to say that wheedling, whining, nagging, ridiculing or brow-beating are somehow not coercive in their intent. You don’t have to beat your spouse to leave the other party feeling beat up. But: If the relationship is free of moral or physical suasion, then the other party should free free to be who he or she is without fear of reprisals.
If you believe that your own conduct has been subtly coercive, over time, then you need to change that behavior. But the other party needs to know this is happening, and he or she needs some way of letting you know when you are off the reservation.
My solution: A safe-word, as with elaborate sex, but without the sex. Y’all need to come up with a special word that means one thing only: “You’re over the line. Stop it right now.”
It can be anything — ambrosia, cedar chest, quadricep, whatever — just some word that cannot be confused with casual conversation. When your partner says that word, you need to back down at once, regardless of your opinion of the rightness of your cause. In the opinion of your spouse, you have moved from a mutually-cooperative conversation to unilateral coercion on your part.
What if you’re not willing to stop? That means you think your need to dominate your partner is more important to you than your partner’s sovereignty as a human being. That is, you respect the pimple-faced kid behind the counter at the convenience store more than you do your own spouse. That’s a very simple, very decisive bright-line distinction, isn’t it?
What if your spouse abuses the safe-word to shut down valid — and civilized, mutually-respectful — differences of opinion. That tells an interesting tale, too, doesn’t it?
Bad habits are easy to get into, hard to get out of, but a safe-word to the wise between you can help you get back to the path of better behavior, if that’s the path you really want to walk.
What does an ideal love look like? The Unfallen is my answer.