Power struggle in relationships
Power struggles in relationships can create a dynamic that is not healthy between 2 people. They are often caused by deeper traumas that have happened developmentally in earlier childhood or some point in previous relationships a belief about love or safety has taken over and it seems that there is only room for 1 boss. Underneath this is a deeply hurting person struggling to find a place of peace within.
Definition of power struggle in relationships
A power struggle is an attempt from both people to take control of the relationship because it seems scary not to be in control, fearing being taken advantage of or losing something, the power struggle shows up and can cause complete breakdowns of relationship unless people are really willing to look within.
When we immerse ourselves in a relationship that seems simple at first, it quickly becomes the most difficult struggle.
The importance of understanding power struggles in relationships
If you really don’t understand what is going on in yourself you cannot understand what is going on in someone else, you will continue to each argue and point the finger at each other as the source of the problem, yet you each have your own unique perspectives of the situation, there are no facts, only subjective experience.
Types of power struggles in relationships
There are different types of power struggles in relationships but they all serve and are driven by the same thing, although they show up in different ways, around different circumstances.
Power struggles over decision-making
Underlying beliefs about what it means to be the major decision maker will power this struggle, it will seem that if I don’t make the decisions, then it will mean I am weak, can be taken advantage of, or maybe you associate worth with being allowed to make decisions, you just go along with the other person, but then take it as a reflection of your own self-worth. This plays out in many ways
Power struggles over finances
Some beliefs about money can mean that we become really adamant when it comes to financial decisions that certain spending should be done or not done our way. When insecurity drives financial decisions there can sometimes seem like no rational explanation for decisions that we feel so strongly about.
Power struggles over control
Control is again a fear/insecurity that shows up between two people that are unable to listen and ‘see’ each others side of things. It just seems more important to be in control and to get things our way, so we do whatever we can to make sure we feel that we do not give away our power.
Power struggles over attention and affection
This is very common in relationships, especially if we have had some developmental trauma in childhood where we were left feeling unlovable, based on our parents influence. We attempt at all costs to get affection and attention from the other person in our relationship and then we are triggered when we cant get it. We often pick people who mirror our parents, and then wonder why our relationships never work out. That’s because we pick from familiarity and we are going to relive the same experience (mistaken for chemistry)
Causes of power struggles in relationships
Several issues create power struggles in relationships but mostly it is driven by one thing, our past upbringing and influence, our conditioning that leads to our fears and insecurities.
Differences in personality and values
While its common to look towards changing someones behaviour, or their personality as a fixed entity, or their values as reasons for power struggles these are nothing to do with it, it runs much deeper than that, even if you cannot see it, conditioning is often unconscious.
Unresolved past issues
This is the key to all power struggles, even if you cannot recognise it, I have lost count of the amount of people who suggest they had a great childhood, are protective over their parents but there is always something, this is not a criticism of parents but an honest look at how you experienced things in the past, and how you made unconscious decisions to avoid certain things, feelings, situations, and how your nervous system became dysregulated and how that plays out as a power struggle in today’s relationship, now.
Insecurity and fear of loss of control
Insecurity, fear and loss of control are all fears that show up based on the above point, they are the result of the unresolved past issues, they are not behavioural but driven by dysregulated nervous systems, or belief driven mind based decisions made out of self protection mechanisms, all to stay safe, usually people cannot reconcile this in the cognitive brain, it takes a deeper look at it, sometimes somatically too.
Effects of power struggles in relationships
Power struggles can damage relationships in all sorts of ways, below are some of the aspects that get affected but the bottom line is intimacy and affection is gone, a story develops in each mind of the partners and then we become in relationship with the story, the present moment gets missed and we drift apart and sometimes separate because it feels so off.
Damage to trust and communication
Trust and communication appear to be damaged, but they are the wrong place to look the deeper wounds show up and create the power struggles but common misunderstandings about relationships try to paper over the cracks and fix this consequence of the misunderstanding, rather than fixing the issue at its core.
Negative impact on emotional well-being
Any distance created through power struggles with have a negative impact on both partners emotional well-being, until someone really sees what is going on, and turns inwardly to look at themselves as a 50/50 contributor to the problem and is willing to go on a journey inside, then it will just get worse.
Decreased intimacy and affection
Intimacy is the deep connection of 2 human beings, experiencing the love within themselves via the reflection of another, the clear open space that happens when we are not living the story we have created in our minds. So at this point, these things will be little to none, affection will feel off unless it’s purely for physical gratification and intimacy will be difficult because each partner will be wrapped up in their own story. It takes one brave person to start to look inwardly first.
Increase in conflicts and arguments
Naturally conflicts and arguments will grow, and happen more frequently, because the core wound has been activated on a consistent basis, so each little triggering event will feel deeper than normal. You might find yourself arguing over what seems like nothing, not emptying the bin or missing a phone call turns into world war three, this is nothing to do with the bin or the call, it’s the deeper hurt that is showing up and manifesting this way.
Coping with power struggles in relationships
Power struggles may show up because often there are some wounds from the past that are just completely unconscious that relationships bring out in us. Finding ways to cope getting help or doing your own inner work is always the answer, but if you have never done that before you may not know where to start, below are some basics, they are not a substitute for looking inwardly but they may help communicate and get heard to each of you, and find a place where you can agree on a next course of action like relationship coaching where things like this can be unpacked.
Communicating openly and honestly
Try to set a time to communicate, on neutral ground if you need to, if you have kids at home wait till they are in bed, ask if the other person is available to listen, communicate from the I perspective, never start a sentence with you did, you say, you are, because it always will create a reaction. Try to articulate your feelings, and simply listen when it’s the other persons turn.
Setting boundaries and establishing mutual respect
Communicating in this format can help you be able to set boundaries, “when we argue, I feel hurt and upset, it would be much better for me if we picked a time to talk, and then heard each other out” this way it will help to see each other’s points of view. Sometimes if the unresolved deeper wounds show up, you will feel the trigger and just know, now is not a good time, and be honest about that.
Seeking support from a therapist or counsellor
Come to coaching or get a therapist, in relationship coaching we will help you work through all these hurdles, to see each other’s side, to communicate with each other better, you will get practices and things to do by yourselves, often even if only 1 person comes to coaching it can change the relationship in a very positive way.
Finding a healthy balance of power and independence in the relationship
Often earlier developmental traumas and beliefs can create a co-dependant relationship, we are relying on the other for our good feelings, they are relying on us us for theirs, we need them to be happy for us to be happy etc. Starting to communicate more clearly, and setting boundaries, having a life of your own outside of the relationship can be beneficial to your own well-being, that goes for each of you.
Power struggles can often be a sign of a deeper issue, you will especially know if the experience you are having feeling familiar, something you have had before, and perhaps brushed under the carpet or deal with in a different way. Don’t get stuck trying to deal with them at the behavioural level if whatever you are trying isn’t working, get help, it can save your relationship.
Power struggles in relationships are a common and normal occurrence
It is common that these power struggles show up, they are not a bad thing, they can often teach us so much and they are a gift in disguise, because if you are willing to work through them and really see the other persons vulnerability, this will only bring you closer together where you build a strong bond, it also helps you know you can work through things as a team and build a lasting relationship.
With understanding and effective communication, power struggles can be resolved and overcome
It takes patience, understanding and willingness to face yourself, but with this and good communication power struggles can be overcome and can be the gift that helps your relationship grow and change for the better. If you are struggling or just want to chat about this, reach out.