It’s interesting how we believe the winner of a power struggle is the one who does not lose the struggle. Because our true power doesn’t lie in winning or losing, our true power lies in leading our relationships in the direction we want them to go.
A friend of mine was in an argument with his wife, because he believed she was needy, high maintenance, always complaining about one thing or the other. This came on the heels of a weekend where he wanted to play golf and have his adult sons over for dinner. His wife just wanted the two of them to stay home together. See the power struggle? He wanted one thing, she wanted something else. They were locked. And his criticisms of her did little more than set up an I’m right-she’s-wrong-I’m-the-victim-who-married- an-overly-demanding-woman-who-is-keeping-me-from-doing-what-I-want-to-do power struggle.
The truth is, there’s no right or wrong here. There’s no reasonable or unreasonable person. We often put our relationships into this kind of black-and-white perspective, which does little more than perpetuate power struggles. It’s easy for us to jump to conclusions though. See a problem and “know” we have the answer. That’s because we often get caught up in the content of what’s happening and lose sight of the process.
Sidestep all the complex levels you believe might be going on and forget about naming who’s the “good guys” and “bad guys.” Instead, use the power struggle to lead the relationship in a direction you want it to go.
We’re not talking about manipulating the relationship for your own ends, we’re talking about leading it to a better place. Let’s say you want a relationship where you feel respected. Say you want less conflict in your relationship or more dialogue or more intimacy or more compassion, more freedom—whatever it is, the power to make that happen does not reside in the other person’s hands, it resides in ours.
How we act in our relationship goes a long way in determining how the relationship will be. If we want a relationship with less conflict, then we must act in a way that reduces conflict without being a doormat. If we want more equality, we need to act in a way that fosters that by treating someone in the same way we want to be treated or learning what we need to do when we’re not treated equally. If we want someone to understand us, then let’s act understanding without expecting it back (this kind of expectation breeds power struggles) or develop those characteristics in ourselves that allow us to become stronger when we’re not understood. If we want to be respected, then act respectful or learn how to set limits when we’re not respected. Set the stage for the way you want your relationship to be. Be strong, not aggressive, in how you’re going to act in order to have the kind of relationship you want.
Anyone can get in a power struggle, it takes a strong person to lead the relationship into the kind of relationship you want. Check back in with next week’s blog to see how my friend did by stepping out of his power struggle and leading his relationship where he wanted it to go.