Power struggles: Why being right can make everything wrong
You’re in the middle of another argument with your partner. They’re driving you crazy. Can’t they see that you’re obviously right, and they’re so totally wrong? Their sense of logic confounds you. You can hardly believe that they aren’t budging from their stance. Why don't they see that your way makes total sense, and their way is just, well… stupid?
You know it’s bad when even the smallest things start another round of bickering, tension and eye rolling — where to eat, what movie to see, whose responsibility is this or that, when-this-or-that was supposed to occur. What starts as a small difference in viewpoint ends up becoming a righteous, no-win, my way-or-the-highway yelling and screaming temper tantrum or an icy-cold freeze out. It feels like just a matter of time before either one of you decides that they no longer want to stick around.
The more you clash, the less attractive your partner seems. Doubts and judgments arise: "Are you and I compatible anymore?" "What on earth did I ever see in you?" "Why is it so damn hard to work things out?" You're beginning to wonder if all this arguing, frustration, angry glares and/or punishing silent treatment are signs that it’s time to give up the fight and move on from the relationship.
When winning and being right becomes more important than being in love, the victory and temporary sense of righteousness is hollow and short lived. Once the dust settles, these win-lose battles often leave both partners wondering, “Where the hell did our love go?”
You might think breaking up is the only answer, given that you clearly have different values and priorities. But is it? Is there a way out of this vicious cycle?
The good news is there is a way to fix things.
How to recognize a power struggle
Power struggles are poison to maintaining a healthy, happy, open relationship. I painfully admit that I've been there. And my guess is, so have you.
But how do you know whether you’re experiencing a power struggle or just not seeing something eye-to-eye?
A good rule of thumb is that if you and your partner both feel that yours is the only correct solution, no matter how much evidence is presented to dispute it, chances are you are in a power struggle.
Here are some behavioral clues and cues to watch out for...
- Not listening to each other.
- Becoming defensive.
- Feeling like you and your partner are on separate teams or planets.
- Emotionally freezing up and shutting down OR arming up and preparing for a war.
- Thinking "I’m right, you’re wrong." "This is YOUR fault." “YOU must change and do it my way or else.”
Answering yes to more than one of the above is a pretty good indicator that you and your partner are in the midst of a power struggle.
Here’s a surprising fact: Power struggles usually have very little to do with what you are actually arguing about! They have everything to do with how each of you feels about your place and position in the relationship.
The power struggle’s secret agenda and your love opportunity
“Seeing others as basically compassionate instead of hostile and selfish helps us relax, trust, live at ease. It makes us happier.” — The 14th Dalai Lama
As a marriage and family therapist for over 20 years, I can tell you that most of the time, whatever is pushing your buttons is usually a reflection of your own unresolved hurts and beliefs that are silently screaming for attention and healing. No matter how distant, angry or closed you may be feeling in the moment, this can be a perfect opportunity to stop reacting and start reflecting on the source of your feelings.
To discontinue engaging in a power struggle, you need to move away from the adversarial energy of competition and control (me vs. you, I’m the boss and you’re not, I’m better/smarter than you are) to one of cooperation and camaraderie (We are a team. We can work this out. I cherish you.).
Reconnection and the return to love can literally be just a heartbeat away. It involves taking a pause, becoming present and open to attune and commune in the spirit of curiosity, compassion and clemency. It’s about treating your partner as your best friend. It helps to remember a moment when you felt close and madly in love and begin to breathe that consciousness in.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:
- Why do I NEED to be right?
- Is STICKING to my position that important?
- Would I rather be RIGHT or HAPPY?
- Is there room to LIGHTEN UP and relax about this?
- If I could transform this moment, how would I want it to be?
- If this was my BEST FRIEND, how would I behave?
- What would it be like if I chose to BE THE GENEROUS, LOVING ONE?
A shift immediately happens when you can find the place (however small it is) where you understand and agree with your partner's point of view. When either one of you withdraws your energy from proving the other wrong to searching for where you agree, the power struggle crumbles.
Once you find that small place of agreement, you have a choice. You can change your mind, stop reacting or change the subject. You can choose to learn something about yourself instead of being hell-bent on making your partner wrong. You can choose to let these struggles be a road to ruin or a path to self-understanding, deeper love and security in your relationship.
The power struggle challenge becomes a blessing when you use it as a catalyst for self-awareness, a call to heal and a springboard into a new, mature, balanced way of communicating and loving.