Power struggles are an attempt by one partner to dominate the other and are generally a self-esteem issue. Self-esteem is tied to winning. In addition, there is the fear of being controlled by one’s partner. This makes for the classic one-up-one-down relationship, in which one partner dominates by intimidation and the other submits. In this relationship, although decisions get made, intimacy is lost. The partner who submits often seethes with resentment, feels badly treated and tends to express anger in various covert ways. In addition, the dominant partner is unwilling to admit fears, doubts or second thoughts. There is no possibility of confiding or vulnerability.
Often, the one-down partner ends up suddenly leaving the relationship or sabotaging it in other ways.
Another variation of the power struggle is the conflicted relationship where neither one is willing to accept the other’s position. The relationship is marked by so much tension, hostility, competition, and resentment that intimacy is not possible. Survival and winning become the only issue. Conflict can be valuable when it is used to show the strength of the desire for changes, but it is important that constructive and reasonable tactics be used to achieve this.
To avoid a power struggle, it is important to acknowledge and make one’s own desires explicit and to make a consistent effort to understand each other’s needs, fears, limitations and viewpoints. Differences are to be expected, but it is important to habitually look for mutually satisfactory ways of resolving these differences, instead of viewing conflict as something to be won or lost. It is important to be able to listen to or express anger and look beyond it to the legitimacy of complaints expressed. It is important to know that you have your own power and you can CHOOSE TO ACCEPT your partner’s desires, and if you do, IT IS YOUR CHOICE, not something to resent or act out against or seek retribution for (e.g., Positive Belief: “If I do what pleases you, I do it for the sake of our relationship and for the PLEASURE I HAVE IN MY POWER TO GIVE YOU PLEASURE. I trust there will be times when I feel strongly that you will consider my desires with equal goodwill — and that you will make choices to accommodate my interests.”)
Those issues that are crucial to each do need to be fought for, and if an issue is of equally vital importance to both, yet they are in opposing positions, it becomes a matter of creative problem solving. However, some issues may be found to be non-negotiable.
~ Lori Heyman Gordon