Saturday, October 17, 2015

An Overlooked Reason For Marital Fights

These sample stick figure drawings reveal a primary source of marital problems
Occasionally in marriage counseling I've asked partners to do stick figure drawings of their relationship, with the height of each figure representing how much power or influence they see each person having.

Most agree they would like to be able to portray their figures hand-in-hand and of equal stature. But when there are significant marital tensions, couples may become aware they have perceptions (or misconceptions) much like those illustrated above. Often it is these perspectives that are far more problematic than the actual issues they are quarreling about. In other words, whenever we see our spouse as having a power advantage, we tend to try desperately to level things out, to do somehow bring the other person down and ourselves up.

Often partners have opposite perceptions, as in the case above. He thinks she has the power advantage and she is convinced the opposite is true. Understandably, this is a set up for constant conflict.

Power, unless exercised by a physically stronger person overpowering a weaker one, is largely in the mindset of the beholder. In other words, when it comes to emotional or verbal power, the power  wielder can have little effect except with a power yielder. Thus changing the relationship dynamic doesn't just call for wielders to become less aggressive, but for yielders to become more assertive, refusing to take either a on-up or a one-down position. In other words, we all learn to respect ourselves and others equally, no more and no less.

Equal, of course, doesn't mean identical, but means functioning on the same level, as two incomparably valuable and diverse partners.

Our feelings of powerlessness tend to have a long history, starting with the fact that we are all significantly under-empowered during the first formative years of our lives. Becoming of age chronologically doesn't automatically give us the feeling of stature and confidence we always dreamed of. So it's up to each of us as adults to claim and celebrate our full stature and equal power relative to every other adult on the planet.

Good relationships thrive where each person experiences an abundance of healthy power, not over others, but with them. Equally. Hand in hand.

Here's another post on this topic.

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