Power struggles can arise when one person in the relationship tries to dominate the other. This occurs when two people disagree and try to convince the other of the correctness of their position.
Power struggles often emerge over financial issues, intimacy, parenting, or how each person spends their time. A typical struggle emerges when one wants to discuss some aspect of the relationship, while the other avoids such discussions for fear of conflict.
Another kind of power struggle occurs when one partner wants a certain degree of intimacy but the other feels that is smothering and pulls away. The pursuer feels that their partner is cold, or withholding affection on purpose, or does not truly love them.
A further example of power struggles in relationships is the silence that follows arguments between couples. Often one wants to punish the other and lashes out with criticisms, which can cause the partner to shut down and refuse to communicate. Some couples will go for days or weeks without talking.
A power struggle is like a tug-of-war, each person trying to pull the other over to their way of thinking. Generally, this manifests as an argument, or perhaps a more subtle struggle, over who is right. The focus remains on an attempt to prove one’s point. Comments are made in support of one’s own position, and against that of the other.
Unfortunately, this rarely resolves things in a positive manner. Oh, you might well win the argument, or have the decision go your way, but likely there has been some damage to the relationship.
Does this mean we can never disagree? Of course not. However, there is a way to preserve and even strengthen the relationship, despite disagreements. The secret is to put your focus on truly listening and understanding the other’s position. Generally, people are more upset at not feeling heard and understood than about things not going their way.
Forget about arguing over who is right. This requires telling the other they are wrong. No one likes this, and it makes the other feel you are not listening to how they feel. Instead acknowledge you both see it differently, and then brainstorm ways you can deal with the difference and move forward.
Taking the time to really let the other explain how they are thinking and feeling about the issue. Genuinely, try to see things from their point of view. Doing this really de-escalates the struggle.
Rather than creating polarity, this approach brings the parties closer together. There is no better way to show another person that they matter, than to really listen and understand. Chances are, once you have both done this, agreement, or at least compromise, will come more quickly.
If we make the person more important than the issue, somehow there are fewer issues, and they tend to become smaller.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.