Creating a balance of power in a relationship
If you were asked to describe the balance of power in your relationship, do thoughts of “Lord and Master” or “She who must be obeyed” spring to mind? Or would you answer ours is a relationship of equality, my partner is the yin to my yang, and we work in harmony – always.
If you think “being the yin to my yang” feels like a line from your favourite rom-com, not reality, you are not entirely wrong as couples’ research suggests that it is the exception, not the norm for a relationship to have a balance of power all of the time. Finding an equilibrium of happiness in decision making can be difficult and it is common for an imbalance of power to be the reason a relationship fails.
When you think about decisions made that affect you both; do you:
- Always “give in” and let your partner set the course of your relationship – anything for an easy life.
- Threaten to leave, pick a fight, or withdraw from your partner until you get your way.
- Feel resentment because you are the one who is always left to decide. You feel that your partner does not love you as much as you do because they “don’t do as much as you do.”
- Have set divisions of labour in your home, e.g., you control/raise the children while your partner works/controls the finances.
All four scenarios are examples of an imbalance of power in a relationship. They may not be an issue if you are both aware of them and genuinely happy with how your power dynamic works. You may even consider the division of labour scenario a cultural or religious norm that makes perfect sense to you. But, if you feel like your needs are not considered when decisions are made “outside of your respective wheelhouses” or that you do more than your partner to keep things going, then scenario D can negatively impact your relationship.
At the beginning of a relationship, it is perfectly normal for an imbalance of power to occur as you both come to terms with considering someone else’s needs when making decisions that affect your lives. Traditional courtship rituals also create an environment where, initially, one is more attracted to the other and attempts to convince them they are the one they have been searching for. The feeling of power over someone else’s affections can be quite the aphrodisiac for the chaser and the chased. However, to create a long-lasting relationship, the power dynamics need to change; the chaser and chasee should become a relay team instead, working together to create a partnership, not a contest of affection to be won.
Understanding the power dynamics of your relationship
Power struggles can be a long-term ingredient in a relationship and will either negatively or positively influence you both. Positive power struggles create a change for the better, i.e., acknowledging your behaviour is negatively impacting the relationship and changing that behaviour for mutual benefit, e.g. changing your style of communication from stonewalling to open dialogue. Negative power struggles, however, are when oppositional positions are constant; you pull away from each other instead of connecting. For example:
- one is always demanding change or confrontation whilst the other stonewalls or ignores problems
- one tries to heal problems through increasing affection whilst the other withdraws from intimacy when there are issues and complains of being smothered
- one uses the fears and insecurity of the other to control the relationship.
Creating balance in your relationship
To reset the balance of power in your relationship to one where you are both happy with the ‘dynamics of your couple hood’ requires effort and will not happen overnight, but it can happen. As always, communication is key, as is an understanding of what makes you tick and what you want from and bring to the relationship. The other essential ingredients in creating a healthy balance of power in your relationship include:
- Ensuring both of your emotional needs are met. Note it is easier to ensure emotional needs are met than physical needs as the physical fluctuates over time and depends on outside influences, e.g. health, hormones, children, work. Emotional needs tend to be constant, e.g. feeling loved, listened to and content in each other’s company.
- Being a positive influence on each other. You bring out the best in each other, not the worst.
- Being flexible with the needs and demands of your relationship. There will be times when you lean on the other more for support, or your needs have to come second, e.g., a health crisis.
- Respect for each other and admiration for each other. You turn towards each other in times of hardship instead of away or to another.
- Feeling good about yourself. When you are confident in yourself, your partner is too.
- Being open and honest with each other when you feel vulnerable. Admitting you are not perfect helps in accepting your partner isn’t either, and mistakes are bound to happen.
- Ensuring the division of labour in your relationship is fair and equitable. It might be your wheelhouse, but you are not the only occupant. Your partner might like to be consulted or feel like taking a turn at the helm too.
Creating and maintaining an equilibrium of power in your relationship requires effort and commitment. It may look like the couples in the movies live happily ever after once the initial power struggle is sorted, but it is only because the film studios insist on a screen time of fewer than 120 minutes.
If you are not sure where to begin resetting the power imbalance in your relationship or how to talk to your partner about how you feel, I am here to help. You can book an appointment as an individual or a couple, in person or online via a video link. The tools and methods I provide have been researched and proven to help couples worldwide navigate the ups and downs of their relationship and build a partnership that works for them.
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