Breaking Out of a Power Struggle With a Loved One

Breaking Out of a Power Struggle With a Loved One

At least occasionally, most couples are bound to compete with one another, vying for power in the relationship – and, for some control over the nature of that relationship and where it's heading. Some partners do this all the time, putting power struggles at the very center of their relationship dynamic. When so much energy is expended on defining each other's identity within a partnership, and deciding upon who's in charge of what decisions and what aspects of daily life together, then where is there going to be any room for real warmth and intimacy?

Power struggles can take many forms, some of them obvious and some subtler. Many times, they change depending upon the social situation. A partner may be quiet at home, seething over some unspoken objection; but then, out at a gathering, he or she may start playing divide-and-conquer, trying to win empathy from others for the disappointment that was not expressed earlier to the person who should have been in the know: his or her intimate partner. Those of us on the receiving end of such a tactic are bound to feel blindsided and bewildered, and probably hurt.

Oftentimes, a power struggle develops as a substitute for a more genuine confession of vulnerability or hurt. For example, our intimate partners can make belittling or critical remarks to others, in our hearing, for some fault of ours that they never confronted us about directly. Or we may be the ones to air our feelings in such a covert way, because we've been afraid to open up and be vulnerable with the person who we love. It's easier to criticize than it is to be honest with someone close to us when they've said or done something that hurt us.

Freeing ourselves from these kinds of ugly situations requires that we be that vulnerable, for one key reason: the need for control always covers up some kind of fear. So, breaking the cycle involves letting that fear arise. What would happen if we let go, and let our partners be themselves, instead of trying to curb, influence, or manipulate them? Or, vice-versa: what would happen if we spoke up about the way we were hurt by their manipulations. Acknowledging our hurt, and speaking honestly, can diffuse tensions - and pave the way to more constructive and loving communication.

If we're engaged in a power struggle, then continuing to react will only perpetuate it. Someone has to be the one to say, "Enough! Do I want to be right, or do I want us to be happy?" Just acknowledging the pain of such a situation can prove to be a pride killer. This allows us to take a couple of steps back, and to start changing at least our own participation in the hurtful cycle.

drmondo: "by wayne the brain"(meet us in the quizzes)

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