Power in Relationships
We recently read a blog by Mark D. White on the Psychology Today website called Dealing with an Assymetric Relationship. Asymmetry refers to the imbalance in a particular area between the partne rs in the relationship. For example, one partner may have a higher paying job or more financial assets. Another partner may be much more outgoing and have many more close friendships.
In our minds, we call these strengths and weaknesses, or merely differences. When we enter into a relationship, we accept the other person with all of his/her strengths and weaknesses; that is, we accept the person as a total package. In fact, in our book Madly In Love Forever, we devote an entire chapter to “The Power of Appreciating Differences.”
A problem can arise when one partner attempts, knowingly or unknowingly, to control the other partner. This partner may use his or her strength, or exploit the other’s weaknesses to his or her own advantage. For us, “control” and “love” do not belong in the same sentence. Here is an example of a potential problem Lewis and Diane could have if they do not address an asymmetric issue.
Lewis and Diane want to go on a vacation. Lewis has volunteered to pay for it out of his larger bank account. They are deciding where to go. Lewis might try to control the location selection by subtly hinting that his choice should be given more weight since he is paying for the trip. How might Diane respond to the subtle “suggestion?” Diane might acquiesce, thinking she is grateful for a paid vacation. She might acquiesce and at the same time feel some resentment. Her resentment might manifest in trying to use one of her strengths to her advantage. For example, Diane is a “people person,” making friends very easily with strangers. Her resentment could surface by her finding many strangers to talk to while on vacation and ignoring Lewis.
With a good sense of self, Diane might see through Lewis’ subtle suggestion and confront him about it. Diane, while being appreciative of the vacation offer, might state that while he is paying for the vacation, she is still investing her time and energy in the vacation and feels her location choices should have equal weight. This latter alternative is much more empowering for Diane and makes Lewis’ offer much more authentic and generous.
What does it take to prevent these asymmetries from strangling your relationships? For the person with the “power,” it takes awareness and honesty that you have this power and are trying to use it over your partner. How does that make you feel to look yourself in the mirror, knowing you are using power over your partner? What does that say about how you value your partner and your relationship? If you are the person without the “power,” it takes courage to confront your partner. If you don’t confront your partner, what does that say about your own self-esteem?
We invite you to examine how you are handling the asymmetries in your relationship. While this may not be fun, it will be worthwhile. Sharing power in your relationship (or at least not abusing it) can be a way to remain Madly In Love Forever.
Diane and Lewis