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I’ll begin with a disclaimer. The #1 thing I address is not heavily researched. However, in my view it is the underlying element to the problems couples identify in surveys.
Can you guess what it is? Clues are imbedded in the title. Observe the couple.
Can you solve the riddle? It’s one word.
The #1 up and down struggle most couples have is balancing power.
- Power up
- Power down
- Power struggle
As water is to fish, power is to people: It is the medium we swim in. And it is typically just as invisible to us. Hara Estroff Marano
What is Power?
Power is your fundamental right to think, feel, speak and act on your own. Exercising your voice and choice.
The expression of power is effective when it is done with respect toward the other person.
An underlying concern among couples is “will the expression of your power be helpful or hurtful?”
- Respectful power brings influence.
- Disrespectful power exerts control.
- “Will he keep his promise to help with the kids?”
- “Will she watch her spending?”
- “Will he control his drinking?”
- “Will she control her anger?”
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3 ways you can maintain a balance of power in your relationship
Balancing power in couples’ relationship is not as easy as one may think. Perspectives regarding roles may differ. Based on background, ethnicity, culture, or other influences individuals enter relationships with preconceived ideas about who is the de facto leader.
Traditional views give the man the power up position. Feminist views advocate for the empowerment of women not to be reliant on men. Egalitarian views promote a balance of power among couples.
When it comes to balancing power I advocate mutual respect. Inasmuch as you want to have your “voice and choice” be sure you give equal consideration to your mate.
Here are 3 basic ways you can balance power as a couple.
#1 Accept your spouse as an equal partner in the relationship
Accept your spouse as an equal partner with a unique personality, traits and attributes that have a right to co-exist with you.
Encourage and support your spouse to be his or herself. Don’t try to change them into a version more suited to you. This is a misuse of your power and a violation of their boundaries.
When your spouse speaks, show respect by listening without interrupting. If you disagree, express it without being critical or demeaning.
I like what psychologist and author Harriet Learner says about intimacy and power.
“Intimacy rests on two people who have a capacity to both listen and speak up, who have the courage to bring more and more of their full selves into the relationship. Both need equal power in defining what they want and what they really think and believe. But you have to know you can leave a relationship. If you truly believe you can’t survive without a relationship, you have no power to really be yourself within it.”
#2 Affirm your spouse for the positive qualities they bring to the relationship
Be open to the influence your spouse brings to the marriage based on their knowledge, skill or previous experience that you don’t possess.
This is a form of validation that says “you matter to me/us” and “add value to this relationship”.
Notice the difference in this couple when they balance power.
- “You are so intuitive. I admire how you seem to know how exactly what to do when our kids are distraught. You seem to be one step ahead and ready to deliver.”
- “I notice how patient and calm you are under stress. How do you keep your cool when I feel so unglued in the situation?”
- “Wow, you are a great planner! I tend to be scattered and I know it frustrates you. This vacation was awesome! If it was left up to me it would have been a disaster!”
#3 Accommodate your spouse’s needs by being flexible with each other
A spouse’s needs can be squashed by their partner’s power. It can come in the form of neglect, invalidation, or being dismissive.
Rigidity is also a form of control that inhibits a spouse’s power. One person cannot rule a relationship or get their way most of the time. This imbalance of power forms a toxic pattern of passive-aggressive behavior in the relationship.
The antidote for rigidity is flexibility, loosening control and accommodating your partner’s need. If your spouse is rigid you can use your voice (power) to advocate for your needs. Here are some examples.
- “You’re great at managing money and I appreciate that we don’t have debt. We need to revisit the budget. Our kids are growing and we need more financial resources allocated to meet the demands.”
- “I acknowledge I am not as knowledgeable as you are at parenting, but I need you to step back and let me step in. Please don’t correct me in front of the kids. My style is different but we share the same goal.”
- “I don’t have the right to dictate your life. Please understand your pattern of drinking is affecting our family. I know you love us. Therefore, I ask you to address my concern.”
Flexibility is respecting your spouse’s voice and accommodating by taking action.
So what sets couples apart who balance power?
7 Benefits of Balancing Power
- Mutual respect.
- Increase in self-esteem.
- Better communication.
- Greater partnership.
- Stronger connection.
- Deeper intimacy.
- Fewer conflicts.