Do you find yourself constantly arguing with your partner? Do you wonder why you can not just let the disagreement go and move forward? Do you feel the need to be right with your partner no matter how inconsequential being right is? If you answered yes to these questions then you may be stuck in a power struggle.
A power struggle in a relationship is a situation where two (and sometimes more) people compete for power or influence. This can occur between a parent and a child, between organizations, political parties, friends, and between partners in a romantic relationship. The first steps to working through a power struggle is to identify that it is there. Lets discuss some signs.
You Constantly Criticize Each Other
When two partners are in a power struggle they may find that they are repeatedly putting each other down. It can feel like the two are in constant competition with each other; the one criticizing the other while elevating him or herself. The criticism and competitiveness can seem to be over very petty things such as who goes to the gym more frequently. It can be a direct criticism such as a comment about a person's cooking or it can be a passive aggressive criticism such as casually stating that someone else you know makes a big effort at cooking, implying that you don't. Alternatively, if you find yourself or your partner being defensive frequently, it may likely be in response to this critical and competitive dynamic.
You Have No Interest or Less Interest in Doing Special Things for Each Other
Of course over time excitement about going on dates and doing special things for each other may lessen; however, in a healthy relationship there is still an interest in engaging in these activities. When a couple is trapped in a power struggle this interest either disappears or exists in a very limited capacity. At times, this can occur in a power struggle because each person does not want to look vulnerable or does not want to appear as if they are giving up some piece of power. One such special activity that can often be withheld is sex. Similarly, withholding sharing conversation about one's goals and dreams is also a common example, and can be quite destructive to the relationship.
You Often Mention Being Single
This sign can be expressed in multiple ways which can frequently elicit a feeling of threat to the relationship. For example, a partner may constantly speak about the "good old days" when they were single and happy. Other times partners may often ask each other about fantasies the other has about how their life would look like if they weren't together. A particularly threatening version of this is when a partner makes repeated comments such as, "I can't do this relationship anymore" without explicitly saying that they want to end the relationship, or frequently threatening separation or divorce without having any intention to follow through.
What Can I Do?
It is important to note that even if your relationship exhibits all of these signs, this does not necessarily mean that you are stuck in a power struggle. These behaviors can occur as a result of a power struggle, adjustment to a transition, life change or trauma, or emotional abuse. What is important is to identify why this pattern of interaction is occurring and to determine whether or not it is something that can be worked on and changed. It can be helpful to work with a couples counselor to understand what is contributing to these behaviors.
A relationship stuck in a power struggle is not necessarily doomed to fail nor does it always mean that the relationship should come to an end. Sometimes one or both partners simply do not know how to communicate their needs and they can end up feeling helpless and/or powerless in a relationship, which can contribute to a power struggle. Learning how to better communicate needs and emotions can be the remedy in these cases. Other times there may be something from either or both of the partners' past relationships that has not been resolved and is being repeated in the current relationship. There are many things that a couple can do to work through a power struggle, and if your find yourself unable to work your own way out of it, the right course of action can be determine with the help of a couples counselor.
If you are struggling to find your way out of a power struggle, I would be happy to schedule a consultation with you. If you have general questions about psychotherapy, you may find the FAQ page on my website www.GreenTPsychology.com useful.