Power in Relationships
While on my vacation, I thought long and hard about all of the new information I had learned while extensively studying various aspects of Psychology. The most important thing I have ever studied was Attachment Theory, a theory first put on paper in the 1960’s by John Bowlby. It is one of those theories that you cannot ignore but also one that is not completely sufficient by itself. But it was when I studied said theory that I was faced with a dilemma and a solution: we can improve the way we assist individuals in relationships if we understand their more innate aspects, ensuring that advice is much more tailored to the couple’s individual needs.
With that, we are left with coming to terms with some beautiful truths and harsh realities. Many people operate on a “should” by “should” basis, meaning that they expect others to share their values and act on them; they are in awe when this is not the case. But we live in a world that includes the good and the bad, and, sometimes, good people get in relationships with bad people.
So what is one to do?
The obvious thing to do is get off on the right foot when swimming in the mate-selection pool. To come out of it unscathed requires one to know what their needs are first. When we understand ourselves, we can better eliminate those that will only do us harm or fail to meet our needs. And this hints at the reason that this article is written for.
In a relationship, right and wrong are ideas rather than concrete subjects. What feels “right” to someone is something that determines whether they are “good” or “bad”, or the victim or the abuser. There are individuals that get easily offended and an act of justice in the form of punishment is the just cause. When one dons the mask of the victim, they no longer view their actions as “bad” even though they can easily be considered as emotionally abusive.
It is the hardest aspect of Psychology to work with, that people with good intentions do awful things to people they love. But it is about more than righting a wrong but power. Some relationships are in a constant power struggle, comprised of two analogously patriarchal rams butting heads at similar energy levels. There are other relationships comprised of the authoritarian figure and the ever-imprisoned.
The two-ram relationships are simpler to understand and can sometimes be considered stable, seemingly needing periodic battles. But it is the authoritarian/ever-enslaved relationships that seem more prudent to discuss so as to identify the real essence of power in a romantic relationship.
The authoritarian individual is always right and easily offended. You see, in a bad relationship, the normal mechanical workings of romance can rotate in the opposite direction. In this relationship, power is obtained by inflicting pain and enacting justice. Being offended is what sets this off. “Allowing” the discord to end is what lets the authoritarian still feel good about themselves. When I labeled the ever-imprisoned indvidual as such, it was meant to give the image of the romantic partner that is always in trouble, always having done something wrong. But unfortunately the opposite-rotating romantic mechanical workings in this type of relationship are not mutually shared.
The ever-imprisoned romantic partner is rarely, if ever, allowed to be hurt, to be upset, to have been offended. For them to have feelings conflicts with the authoritarian’s ability to hold absolute power. It weakens their quest for power via enacting acts of justice. When the ever-imprisoned dares to attempt to mention or show their feelings, the authoritarian is quick to turn it into a new offense that they must capitalize upon. Usually, this is going to be the anxious/avoidant relationships explained in Attachment Theory, which tend to be doomed to fail or to live in perpetual misery. But is there hope?
I find hope in the countless individuals that don’t play such games. And unfortunately this can mean that the ever-imprisoned individual might have to decide that enough is enough at some point and leave. As a coach, it is not something I want to say but something I have to say. Because in a healthy relationship, voicing one’s feelings is an opportunity to bond. Feelings aren’t used to do harm; they are used to grow and maintain closeness. It is a different type of power. Power can be, instead, obtained by acts of unconditional love, where one earns more sway over their partners heart by giving time, love, and affection.
I would urge you to take this information to heart, discover who you are and what your needs are, do the same for your partner, and then figure out what your relationship looks like. For many couples, there is hope. We can start there. I have hope because of the wonderful men and women in the world that choose to give in order to be happy. I have hope because there are those that can adapt and overcome life’s struggles and can love anew.
I have hope.