Relationship Help: Why Couples Must Own Their Power

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have a great deal of power–and so does your partner.

In love, in your marriage or relationship, your power lies in the words you use, the actions you take (or don’t take), and in how you engage with your partner. Whether you use this power wisely or haphazardly rests ultimately with you. But the first (and often most important) step is understanding that you do indeed have power.

Couples aren’t always comfortable acknowledging and owning their power. It’s as if the idea of power has only negative, politically incorrect connotations and is best avoided or denied for the betterment of the relationship. (“People abuse power…”; “We’re equals, so we don’t have to worry about issues of power…”)

But when we deny or avoid our power, we deny our own agency and the responsibility that comes with the tremendous influence we have on our spouse/partner. In this context, power equates to influence—because of the love you and your partner share, even if you tried, you can’t avoid influencing/impacting your partner in some way.

You Have the Power To Choose, and Your Choices Give You Power 

Your power gives you choices, and these choices lead to decisions—decisions that will affect your partner and shape your relationship (potentially in profound ways). Here are a few examples of decisions couples often make in relation to one another:

  • Biting your tongue during an argument when every fiber of your being wants to say something hurtful;
  • Lovingly greeting your spouse after work even though you’re too exhausted to smile;
  • Reassuring your partner that you believe in her/him, especially at those times when they repeatedly doubt themselves;
  • Taking ten deep, calming breaths before addressing a sensitive issue with your spouse/partner;
  • Acknowledging that you did indeed have a “bad attitude” before heading off to work and instead of sulking the entire evening, you sincerely apologize for behaving like a jerk;
  • Sharing something you are grateful for about your partner for no “special” reason other than it will make him/her happy.

Power Denied Is Potentially Reckless

Whenever we disown our power/influence, we become passive in relation to the power of others—virtual puppets whose strings are controlled by the will of others (“You made me do that!”; “I had no choice…”; “I got swept up in the moment and couldn’t help myself…”). While social psychologists have shown us that context and circumstance can significantly influence behavior, it is important for couples to acknowledge and take ownership of the power they have with one another (that we are not just being victims of circumstance, but rather, that our power allows us to shape the circumstances of our relationship).

Mutual responsibility and ownership of power keeps a couple’s power (and its potentials) in the shared consciousness of the relationship. This allows you to openly discuss and negotiate what is needed and what, if any, changes need to occur (part of these discussions should also center on what is already working for you both). 

Being in a conscious relationship means being open to and accepting of each other’s power.

Knowing that you can impact your partner (that your needs, desires and concerns matter to her/him and that s/he will be [or try to be] responsive to you) is central for relationship security and intimacy. For this to occur, couples must understand and appreciate the enormous leverage and impact they have on each other (that you each have the power to and are shaping the relationship, for good or bad).  

When couples deny their mutual power or close themselves off to each other’s power/influence, when their words and feelings stop mattering to one another, then the power to influence gives way to more dramatic (and potentially toxic) power dynamics.

Helplessness (a perceived lack of power/influence in your relationship) is often a driving force behind abuses of power—such as the need for power/control or attempts to have power over another. In these instances, mutual power/influence (a give-and-take that ideally is openly negotiated) has been lost and replaced with attempts to control and overtake the will of another. These are often fear-based maneuvers—desperate, last-ditch efforts to prevent loss and hold onto a loved one. And, of course, these attempts fail miserably, frequently just adding fuel to an already out-of-control relationship fire.

Relationship Help for Couples Action Step 

Taking ownership of your power:

In order to take ownership of your power, you must acknowledge your power to yourself and your partner. This can be done by speaking directly about the power and influence you each have in the relationship and with each other:

Here are a few sentence completion statements for you and your partner to get you started:

“I realize I have the power to_____________.” (Discuss both the positive influences of your power and potential negative influences.)

“I want you to know that you have the power to ______________.” (Let your spouse/partner know the different ways in which s/he impacts/influences you.)

Use your answers to the above prompts to initiate a dialog that can help increase the awareness of your own and your partner’s power in the relationship, as well as a responsible use of this power for positive, mutually acceptable influence.

All best!

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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